Plugging the Inside and the Outside: How Stanford slowed down the Ducks' run game in 2012

Steve Dykes

Stanford stifled Oregon's deadly run game in Eugene a year ago - How did the Cardinal do it, and can Stanford do it again?

When is 198 rushing yards in a game a bad thing?

Average it every week, and it'd put you 35th in the NCAA this year - just half a yard behind Miami, and half a yard ahead of Stanford. Those are two of the better running teams in the country... so that seems like good company. So how can 198 rushing yards be a bad thing?

It's a bad thing when you're used to averaging 315 yards a game on the ground.

That's exactly what Stanford's defense did to the Oregon offense a year ago - took the nation's 3rd best running offense and turned it into the nation's 32nd best for just one game - and that was enough for the Cardinal to score a huge upset win.

So what makes Oregon's running game so good - and how did the Cardinal swamp the Ducks' runners in the mud a year ago? Let's go to the tape and find out.

First, it's important to note a few basics of Oregon's run game. The majority of their runs come on two plays: an inside zone and an outside zone, and the quarterback almost always has the option of keeping the ball and running with it himself. (There's also a straight speed option that the Ducks like to run, but it's blocked like the outside zone play.)

So let's first look at a successful inside run - a touchdown run - and see how the Ducks win up front.

On second and goal from the six yard line, Stanford stacks the box with eight guys. Five down linemen, two outside linebackers walked up on the line of scrimmage, and a middle linebacker. Generally, this is not a front you want to run into.

Inside_loss_medium

At the snap, the entire line slides and blocks the man to their left. Meanwhile, Shayne Skov steps up and waits on the line, knowing that he's unblocked (Oregon only has six blockers) and if he slow-plays the option, he'll force Marcus Mariota to hand it off to De'Anthony Thomas. Stanford did this throughout the entire game a year ago - asked the outside linebackers who were being read in the read-option to step up slowly and force Mariota to hand the ball off.

Inside_loss2_medium

But by leaving Skov unblocked and focusing on getting six blockers on six defenders, the Ducks win easily - the block that opens a running lane is just the center shoving Terrence Stephens to the ground (red arrow). Thomas, who's short and shifty enough to slip through these small holes, easily gets through the line and into open space.

Inside_loss3_medium

Now it's just Thomas against AJ Tarpley. And that's a one-on-one matchup that Thomas will win every time. He's just that fast. Touchdown.

Inside_loss4_medium

Don't let De'Anthony Thomas do this to you. You know how this ends. These kind of one-on-one opportunities make him tweet things like this:

However, this wasn't the case most of the night for the Oregon running backs - they had a lot of trouble running the ball inside. It all starts with a small defensive alignment adjustment up front. Instead of having the two defensive ends in Stanford's 3-4 defense line up in a traditional fashion, Derek Mason pinched those defensive ends in, setting them up over the Ducks' guards. That pinch creates problems for teams who want to run inside.

Here's an example. It's third and one, and the Ducks will try and use the inside run to pick up the first down. Stanford's two middle linebackers are set back from the line, while the two Stanford defensive ends are pinched in.

Inside_win_medium

At the snap, the right guard pulls (red arrow) - this play is designed to be run like the famous "power" run play - and the right tackle is supposed to (legally) cut block the backside defensive end. But the DE is just too far inside for the tackle to reach, so he ends up flopping on the turf (yellow arrow). Meanwhile, Henry Anderson basically bear crawls into the backfield to stop the play dead in its tracks.

Inside_win2_rgpulls__medium

Inside_win3_medium
Inside_win4_medium

This little change in defensive alignment gave Anderson the chance to make this play and gave the Ducks fits in the interior run game all night. It also kept the Stanford linebackers free to make plays because the Ducks' o-line kept struggling with blocks up front.

So what do you do when you're struggling to run it inside, especially when the defense is set up to stop the inside run? Just run it outside.

Here are two examples of the outside zone run that Oregon uses - two perfect examples of why this run is so deadly.

On the first outside run, the Ducks set up with three receivers to the wide side of the field to help space out the defense a little bit - and to move a linebacker out of the lane they want to run it into.
Datrun_1_trips_to_wide_side__medium

At the snap, notice how every Oregon interior lineman has swamped the defensive line, pushing Terrence Stephens over and Ben Gardner into the backfield, while the left tackle has come up and stonewalled outside linebacker AJ Tarpley. As De'Anthony Thomas starts to turn the corner, there's only one guy who can stop this play - Shayne Skov - and he's not in position to stop Thomas. He's too far inside and not fast enough to close that gap.
Datrun_2_medium

That's a big hole to run through, and it goes for a ten-yard gain. That's an (almost) perfectly blocked, perfectly executed outside run through the hole it was designed to go through.
Datrun_3_medium
Datrun_4_medium

On the very next play, the Ducks run the exact same play - an outside run - but this time they run it to the other side of the field. It's the same basic setup, with Oregon snapping the ball from the hashmark and running it into the wide/open side of the field (they like to do that).
Cutback1_medium

As the play develops, David Parry decides that he's not going to let Thomas get wide once again, so he starts pressing up the field and into the path of the running back.
Cutback2_medium
Cutback3_medium
Thomas waits as long as he can - he almost runs into Parry - then cuts it back up the middle for a ten yard gain.
Cutback4_medium
Cutback5_medium

Even though this play didn't go through an outside hole, Oregon's outside runs are designed to have cutback lanes open up if the defense rushes to get outside. Parry pressing up the field gives Thomas an easy decision to cut it back, and he picks up two consecutive 10-yard runs on the same exact play, even though it ends up looking quite different to the naked eye.

So did Stanford stop these outside run? Flawless fundamentals, and making the Ducks run game more predictable. After these two outside runs went for 20 yards, the Stanford defense held the Ducks to just 9 yards on 13 carries outside the tackles.

Here's a textbook play of how to stop the outside zone run. Once again, Oregon is going to run this play into the wide side of the field.
Outside_win1_defender_moved_to_other_side__medium

At the snap, the weakside outside linebacker (who's being read on the zone-read) slow-plays the handoff, which once again forces Mariota to hand the ball off. Because everyone knows the ball is going to the running back, that gives all of Stanford's linebackers the time to start to flow to the running back, but they don't rush and over-pursue the action (like Parry did on the last play).

Also notice the Stanford defensive line: they've all flowed toward the action and are holding the Ducks' offensive linemen up like it's a bench press. Nobody gets swamped down inside at the line of scrimmage. Every D-lineman is now able to throw their O-lineman out of the way to get to the running back, no matter which way he goes.
Outside_win2_medium
Outside_win3_no_overruns__medium
Kenjon Barner is left in no-man's land here. Look at all the white jerseys bearing down upon him. There's no lane to run through where he was supposed to go, but there aren't any cutback lanes either. Nobody has overrun the play, and every defender on the backside is waiting where they're supposed to be.
Outside_win4_medium
He ends up squeezing forward for a 3-yard gain, but the result is definitely a win for Stanford. This is how you stop Oregon's outside run.

So now that it's a year later and the stakes are just as high, how does Oregon counter the Stanford defense in 2013? I think they'll borrow Texas A&M's offensive style and let Mariota go full Manziel. By using the pass to set up the run, Oregon can get Stanford's defensive backs running backward, and Mariota can just carry it himself. (Or throw. He hasn't thrown a single pick this year). If Mariota can handle the rock all game long, he might take a few extra hits - but he's fresh and he's big enough to handle a few shots.

But for now, Stanford's playbook to stopping Oregon's prolific run game remains the same as last year: Be aware of where you are on the field because they're probably going to run it to the wide side. Plug the middle with your defensive ends. Have the outside linebacker force Mariota to hand it off. Play with flawless technique on the front side. And don't allow cutback lanes. Got it?

Now we'll see if the Cardinal can do it again - or if these Ducks have some serious tricks up their sleeves.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Rule Of Tree

You must be a member of Rule Of Tree to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Rule Of Tree. You should read them.

Join Rule Of Tree

You must be a member of Rule Of Tree to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Rule Of Tree. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker