Ohio State is back in The Horseshoe this weekend and the Buckeye faithful have been waiting for this match up for over a year; not just the opportunity to play Oregon, but an opportunity to pack The Shoe for the first time in nearly two years. The Buckeyes play host to the Oregon Ducks, who narrowly avoided spoiling this long-anticipated, out-of-conference match up after a close battle against the Fresno State Bulldogs. When it comes to this battle between midwest dominance and new west coast prominence, the match-ups have flipped over the decade with Ohio State bringing in a high flying offense and the Ducks bringing some defensive firepower.
After taking control in the second half and putting the game on ice, the Buckeyes walked out with some question marks in their game against Minnesota. Oregon provides an opportunity to learn some new things about Ohio State, and will provide a different set of challenges that OSU hasn’t faced this year. We will see C.J. Stroud and the offensive line against an elite pass rush, the linebackers will get another shot at a decent set of backs, and OSU’s DL will get an opportunity to take on a much smaller, but more athletic, offensive line than they did in the Gophers.
The Ducks in year four under Mario Cristobal have completely transformed their identity to a defensive team led by an elite front. On the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Tim Deruyter brings a 3-4 scheme, which is predominantly what the Buckeyes saw a week ago against Minnesota. Oregon runs a lot of one high looks, but have shown tendencies to play a variety of coverages.
On offense, they rely on a power-run scheme, as well as some zone concepts; the key to their success is good OL play. After years of high octane, spread, no-huddle, Oregon has become more methodical in the Cristobal regime. Joe Moorhead has taken over the offense after losing his job at Mississippi State and has a knack for creative play-calling. Minnesota used rotations to match personnel and gain advantages against the Buckeyes, expect a lot less of that from Moorhead.
This Oregon team provides a lot of different challenges for Ohio State, so without going any further, let’s get into what you might see from the Ducks.
On the offensive side of the football, it starts up front with the run game for Cristobal and Moorhead. A familiar foe in Moorhead, who was the OC for Penn State for a couple of years, he is known for a simple, formation-based offense, so we know that his teams will likely live in 11 personnel. He enjoys the match-up problems that tight ends create and the additional blocking that they provide.
Whether they are in a traditional tight end set, trip sets, or two-back sets, always expect at least one tight end on the field at all times. This creates the ability to get creative in the run game, especially with the added quarterback-run dimension from Anthony Brown; Ohio State’s front will have to be at its best. In the first video below we see them inside the 10 yard line, which is where Oregon’s offense lived in the first half against Fresno State.
The alignment is 11-personnel with the tight end to the short side and three receivers in a trip set to the right. This play shows the creative play calling of Moorhead, because there were a few things that made it hard to decipher.
This play had multiple concepts in it and, in the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that this was an option play with a QB running and inside trap. Brown has an option to throw a quick bubble to the RB if the numbers are favorable, or to count the numbers in the box to see if that’s favorable.
The quarterback-keeper was the read and the tackle from the left guard pulling gives the indication that this is a QB trap. This is a staple of a spread power run game and something to expect, not only with Brown involved, but both running backs as well.
Oregon also utilizes quite a bit of zone running schemes, which is what a lot of run schemes have gone to in recent years. With Moorhead being a zone-run coach and Cristobal coming from the Alabama power-scheme, the run game is creative. On the same series they ran both play types and this one below is an inside zone scheme.
Cristobal wants to be physical upfront, and that is the key to their offensive success, this is a huge 180 from the Oregon we last saw in 2014. The Buckeyes will need their DL to be up for the task, and all indications show that Oregon does not have a set of five starters they’re confident in with them rotating multiple guys in.
When it comes to the passing game, Moorhead relies on a lot of RPOs and traditional West Coast passing concepts, which we’ve seen before. My co-host on the “Buck Off” podcast, Jordan Williams, said that everyone runs RPOs now and that they should not be surprised when they happen.
Ohio State will once again rely on man-to-man coverage to beat the RPOs, but what you can expect is a lot of different route combinations in the traditional passing game.
The West Coast Offense is timing and level based. This comes into play when the quarterback is making his reads which are always definitive 1 through 4 and checkdown. The play below is a common one in the West Coast system, a stick-fade concept.
This is a one-side read and a great man beater; as we can see the slot receiver is able to gain separation and get into space.
Oregon relies on a mix of three or four passing concepts, but this one was the most prevalent and they attacked Fresno State with different pre-snap looks to get there.
This a play that Ryan Day brought to Ohio State and it’s effective against man and zone, which makes it a reliable play. In this instance you can see the mesh and backside over concepts, but the play ends up going to the check down.
Moorhead’s offense is built upon two things: trusting the personnel and trusting the quarterback to make the right decision. Anthony Brown has a lot on his shoulders and given the simplicity of the offense, combined with the reliance on multiple reads, each play can become an opportunity for Ohio State to get in trouble due to overcommitting defenders. If Ohio State plays true and straight up, this game can be won with match-ups.
Defensively, Oregon runs a 3-4 front, relying on a true nose tackle and four linebackers. At times this looks like a 3-3-5 due to them playing a big safety and trusting Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe to be playmakers along the line of scrimmage. Deruyter as a defensive coordinator relies on one high safety looks and a lot of blitzes, due to the three down linemen.
The success of the defense all starts with their pass rush, which is elite when Kayvon Thibodeaux is unavailable. Early in the game against Fresno State, the pass rush got home often and this really set the offense up for a lot of success early.
This shows the single high safety, man-to-man coverage, and an elite example of designed blitzes to create pressure. The pass rush got home on third and long and ended what could have been a momentous drive for the Bulldogs.
The next play is a huge strip sack that was created with a one-on-one pass rush with Thibodeaux.
If Ohio State can match up their offensive line and protection schemes, I trust their tackles in one-on-one matchups, but if Thibodeaux is available, the offense may have to scheme away from him as much as possible. This can be done in a multitude of ways, but like last week, setting up the pass with the run will play a significant part in that pass rush being slowed.
In the defensive backfield, Oregon runs one-high looks including cover-3 and cover-1. The Buckeyes will need their receivers to be at their best to take advantage of these matchups and the seams in the zone. Day will need to get creative in a lot of ways to keep the Ducks guessing on what is coming next.
Oregon is a base cover-3 team and they will run it against any alignment, in the below example if you pause it in the middle you can see how this coverage is designed to work.
This play leads to a nice gain and we are able to see the coverage breakdown pretty well due to the camera angle at midfield. You can see the safety take the inside tight end running to the middle, the linebackers drop into their respective zones, and the corners take the outside thirds. Ohio State has taken advantage of cover-3 a lot of times under Day.
The key for the Buckeyes will be attacking the seams and manipulating the deep safety to create downfield passing plays. With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson that should not be a problem, but the number one key to this game after watching the film, is that Ohio State must protect Stroud at all cost.
Oregon relies on their offensive and defensive lines to establish the physicality of the game on both sides of the ball. They have an elite defensive line that can wreak havoc for spurts, but lacked elite consistency in Week 1 against Fresno State. If Thibodeaux is not available, OSU’s OL will be able to move them easily and their run game should be able to establish itself early. Thibodeaux is an absolute monster as a pass-rusher — likely the best in the country — be is not nearly as strong against the run, but Flowe and Sewell are athletic and all over the place, so it will not come easy at the second level.
On the offensive side of the ball, Moorhead creates complexity through limited personnel packages, but once you get passed the window dressing, the plays are usually very straight up. Almost 90% of the plays in a Moorhead offense have the quarterback making reads; Moorhead has stated that he never wants to leave a player out to dry, so he gives him literal options.
That means that responsibility falls on the quarterback, so Brown will have a lot of weight on his shoulders against an elite front behind a struggling OL group.
In conclusion, Oregon does a lot on both sides of the ball, but there shouldn’t be a huge need to rotate personnel like there was last week when Minnesota threw out multiple looks. Offensively if Day, Stroud, and co. can manage the elite pass rush, Ohio State should be able to establish the run game and open up a lot of downfield passing opportunities.
The game plan should be simple, rely on the run and make the passing game easy for Stroud, don’t force him into a lot of situations where Oregon can comfortably blitz, and keep the game in front of him. If all that goes well, Ohio State should be able to take care of business in The Shoe.