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Film Study: Oregon Part 2

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Sure, UW scored 10 touchdowns, but the defense wasn’t too shabby either

NCAA Football: Washington at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the UWDP analyzed Jake Browning and the Husky passing game. Today, John and Brad are back, having sleepily emerged from the Dawgpound filmroom with blurry eyes while wiping potato chip crumbs from their face; ready to provide the Husky faithful with yet another film study piece.

In Part 2, it’s the defense getting the attention:

2nd and 7:

This play is what’s known in the bizz as a “coverage sack.” In order, credit on this play goes to:

1: The secondary. Oregon’s QB Justin Herbert actually has plenty of time on this play, but he can’t find anyone open. The secondary, lead by the names you know and hear here and elsewhere on a regular basis do a phenomenal job.

2: Joe Mathis. He is lined up as a seven-technique defensive end (outside of the tackle). Mathis uses a speed rush to get around the offensive tackle. While he doesn’t quite get to Herbert, he causes Herbert to feel pressure and move in the pocket.

3: Greg Gaines. GFG does his primary job of occupying two blockers, and is then able to keep his eyes up to either put his hands in Herbert’s field of vision to take away a passing lane, or in this case, clean up with a “slop sack” after Herbert is forced to move. Gaines’ usual job is to help his teammates get the stats and associated glory; in this case, his teammates return the favor. This play is an “entire defensive effort.”

You can really see what Herbert sees from this angle. No where to go with the ball, and heat from the edge in the form of Mathis. Great job by Gaines to stick with the play.

1st and 10:

This play makes the cut as an instructional video for fans for two reasons.

First, it’s a “Football 101 Study Tip.” People hear the term “zone read” without really understanding what it is. This play is the zone read. “Zone,” because that’s the blocking technique utilized by the offensive line; the center and right side of Oregon’s line steps in unison and essentially creates a moving wall of blockers to open any of a number of potential holes the ball carrier (if there was one) could choose to attack. “Read” because the quarterback is playing option football here. Oregon’s left guard ignores the defensive tackle (Damion Turpin) over him, and moves to the second level to block a linebacker. The quarterback takes the snap and puts the ball into the belly of the running back (called the “mesh point”) while watching what that defensive tackle does. In this instance, Turpin charges hard to the mesh point and after the running back. Herbert pulls the ball out, and attacks the space left open by the defensive tackle. If Turpin had stayed home and not attacked the mesh point, Herbert’s read would’ve been to hand the ball off to Royce Freeman, who would’ve looked for a hole behind the offensive line’s zone blocking to the right side of the formation.

The second reason this play is here is to give fans an idea of how the Arizona Wildcats were able to hurt the Huskies with the QB run in Tucson. After the Arizona game, some members of the defense talked about “over penetrating,” which created running lanes for the Wildcats. This is what they meant. By attacking the mesh point of the zone read, the defensive tackles made the decision for the quarterback to keep the ball, and the Huskies paid for it.

Oregon attacked Damion Turpin with this play a handful of times on Saturday. To Turpin’s credit, this was the only time he made this mistake. Every other time, he stayed home, making the QB’s read to be “handing the ball off.”

3rd and 3:

This play is a simple inside zone run by the Ducks. The Huskies are slanting their down linemen (Turpin and Vita Vea) to the short side of the field (top of the screen, narrow side of the field) and bringing linebacker DJ Beavers on a run blitz from the wide side.

Normally on this play, the offensive center and right guard would double team the defensive tackle on their right side (Turpin) to create a cutback lane. Because Turpin is slanting away from the hole and is handled by the guard, the center decides to move straight to the second level linebacker (Ben Burr-Kirven). What kills this play is the sheer strength and violent hands of Vea.

Vea isn’t particularly quick off the ball on this play; Oregon’s left guard is actually in position to make an effective block. But Vea delivers a huge blow, knocking Oregon’s player backward and in to the designed hole of the play. This causes Oregon’s running back Freeman to look to bounce the play to the outside. Mathis is the end man on the defense’s left, and his fighting through a blatant hold in order to keep the edge contained. He does enough to make Freeman hesitate, and Vea shows good quickness in closing in from the back side.

This play is physical ownership from Vita Vea. We’re glad he’s on our side.

3rd and 5:

This is the same zone read as above, and in this case, Vea does an excellent job of staying home. Herbert reads Vea, sees no room to run on the QB keeper, and makes the wise choice to hand the ball off.

Tevis Bartlett (the end man on the defensive line to the defense’s left) has lost containment on this play. He’s turned his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, and gotten too far up field (over penetrated). There’s a gaping hole. Thankfully for Bartlett, two things happen: First, Sidney Jones has read the play beautifully. He’s avoided the stock block of the receiver over him, and charged forward without overcomitting to the ball carrier (note him “breaking down” to make the tackle, and to keep Freeman from using him as a cutback point). Second, and more importantly, Azeem Victor is a Husky. He scrapes to the play, and keeps his eyes on the lineman who’s about to attempt to seal Victor off. Victor uses a surprise hard charge to get into the backfield, and slow Freeman down. Bartlett, to his credit, is eventually able to fight back through the tackle and largely get back into position. Freeman is slowed just enough that Bartlett is able to finally make the play for a minimal gain.

Holes open and holes close. Just like that.

1st and 10:

People love the highlight of Joe Mathis chasing down Oregon’s Charles Nelson on an attempted reverse. As well they should; it’s a fantastic example of Mathis’ athleticism and desire. But this play is better. FAR better.

The Ducks are essentially running their version of the “power lead” that we looked at last week from the Stanford game. Instead of the lead block coming from a fullback, though, it comes from Oregon’s H-back, who’s on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage from the play.

The left side of Oregon’s offensive line all blocks down, leaving Mathis free at the line of scrimmage. The idea here is that the pulling right guard is going to come around and knock Mathis back into the cheap seats, while the H-back leads the running back through the hole and on to the glory of “Winning the Day.”

Instead, Mathis reads the guard coming at him. He steps in to the oncoming block while keeping his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage. Mathis delivers a big enough blow on a man who outweighs him by 40 pounds and has a running start to knock him off his feet. Freeman reads the congestion and attempts to bounce the play around Mathis (although the smart thing to do would’ve been to follow his lead blocker through the hole). Mathis has enough left in him after that collision, and has the athleticism required, to beat Freeman to the corner and bring him down for three-yard loss.

This play encapsulates everything about great defensive football: desire, strength, athleticism, you name it. Mathis just wasn’t going to be beaten.

Just wow. We don’t expect everyone to be as infatuated with this play as we are, but we hope that you can appreciate it all the same. We’re absolutely blown away by how well Mathis has played this year.

1st and 10:

This play is a phenomenal individual effort by Elijah Qualls. And sadly, it’s plays like this one that increase the odds that this is his last year in a Husky uniform.

Oregon is running a power play to their left. The offensive line on the left side is blocking down, meaning that Qualls is being blocked by Oregon’s left tackle. The left guard actually chips on him as well, before releasing to the linebackers at the second level. Qualls is so quick off the ball that he’s actually making contact on the Oregon side of the line of scrimmage. At the handoff, Freeman reads the congestion at the point of attack and attempts to cut the play to the back side. That cutback is frequently available, and can go for big yardage as has been previously illustrated in other film study sessions.

After blowing up the play at the point of attack (and fighting through a minor hold) Qualls is still strong enough and quick enough to work back to the play. Had he not made it, any of a number of his teammates would’ve made the tackle - Jaylen Johnson, Conner O’Brien and Keishawn Bierria were all there. But after that effort, it’s simply fitting that Qualls gets the reward.

Like Vea in the play before, this is simply dominance by Qualls. His quickness off the ball is simply amazing. There’s just no way he should be beating offenses as frequently and as badly as he is.

2nd and 10:

After giving Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls a chance to show their dominance, it’s only fitting that Greg Gaines gets a chance. Gaines’ first sack was mostly due to the coverage from the secondary. And while the coverage was great on this play as well, this showcases Gaines’ strength. Remember, this is the same guy we saw on video hang clean 405 pounds this past summer.

Husky coaches and defensive linemen have been quoted about being “violent” with their hands - delivering a blow to the offensive line’s chest or shoulders to create space and movement. This is what Gaines does here. At the snap, Oregon’s center is helping to his right side on Elijah Qualls. This leaves the left guard one-on-one with Gaines. Gaines attacks the guard’s right shoulder at the snap to get the guard leaning right, and then comes back with a blow to the left that’s more punch than push. It’s usually the first part of a “swim”move, wherein Gaines would rip his left arm over the shoulder of the guard to push him out of the way. In this case, Gaines’ first push is so effective, he’s given a clear path, and simply heads toward QB Justin Herbert. Herbert is feeling the pressure from the outside (Mathis again), and effectively runs himself into Gaines’ waiting arms. Even if Herbert hadn’t, Gaines had him dead to rights.

I can’t imagine it’s fun to stand in the pocket against any of these linemen coming at you with a head of steam and bad intentions.

This angle doesn’t really do justice to the violence of Gaines’ punch, but you can see how effective it is in removing Oregon’s guard. Note also Mathis. Up until this point, he’s been beating Oregon’s tackles with speed. On this play, he’s nearly able to duck under the attempted arm bar of #66 Brady Aiello. Mathis does enough to make Herbert feel uncomfortable.

Wonder if there’s some type of counter move to that speed rush?

3rd and 16:

Turns out, there is. One that could be useful on the very next snap from scrimmage, in fact. Mathis sets up the tackle with a hard charge up the field, to the tackle’s left shoulder. As soon as the tackle commits to that move, Mathis uses his left arm to deliver a blow and keep the tackle moving to his left, and then “swims” through him with his right arm (hence the name “swim move”).

Mathis is up the field far enough that he’s out of Herbert’s line of vision, and he’s got a full run right in to the freshman QB’s back. To make matters even worse, the force of Mathis’ impact propels Herbert in to a hard-charging Psalm Wooching.

Mathis’ swim isn’t exactly textbook, but you can see how it gets the job done in this case. He used his own tendencies to set Oregon’s tackle up for this counter move.

The Huskies’ defense has been playing exceptional football this year. It’s a collection of great individual skill for sure, but that talent collectively is greater than the sum of its parts.