Oregon Football: Marcus Mariota's 5 Go-to Plays on Offense
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If you've ever watched an Oregon football game, you don't need a playbook to recognize some of the go-to plays used by the Ducks' high-flying offense.
While the offense has shown the ability to successfully move the ball in any situation, it's the four or five bread-and-butter plays that truly put the defense on its heels.
What makes this more impressive is the fact that much of the defensive game-planning is likely geared toward stopping these plays, and yet, the Ducks have continued to run one of the best offenses in the country.
Sure, Oregon has its share of trick plays and home run hitters, but for quarterback Marcus Mariota, the key to a great game is getting in rhythm early.
Here are Mariota's five go-to plays that you're likely to see every time the Ducks step on the field.
Note: These are general terms for the routes/plays. They obviously have their own names in Oregon's playbook, which I'm not privy to.
Bubble (also Called Jab) Screen
De'Anthony Thomas celebrates after scoring on a screen pass in the Fiesta Bowl
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The bubble (or jab, as it's referred to more commonly now) screen is one of the staples of Oregon's offense because its sole purpose is getting athletes in space.
You'll hear those words a lot in reference to speedsters like De'Anthony Thomas and Bralon Addison, but this particular screen utilizes their athleticism perfectly.
What usually happens is Mariota will take the snap and drop back, looking around so as to not give away his intentions. At the same time, the receiver will sometimes fake like he's blocking before stepping back and waiting for the pass. Mariota will then turn and lead the receiver as he heads back toward the offensive line, catches the pass and turns up field.
What makes this play work is the blocking that sets up running lanes. You'll often see a lineman or two out in front of the receiver as he makes the grab, which allows him to get up field quickly and make his move toward daylight.
De'Anthony Thomas scored on this play in the Fiesta Bowl, and Josh Huff tacked on a touchdown in similar fashion against USC. Former Oregon wide receiver Jeff Maehl used to pick up several catches per game on this play.
While it doesn't always yield huge gains, if run correctly, the Ducks typically pick up a first down.
Wide Reciever/Tight End Curl Route
Oregon wide receiver Bralon Addison
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This particular play is often seen at the beginning of the game or at the start of an offensive series.
It's a relatively easy pass to complete and doesn't require a variety of reads. But when the quarterback is struggling, you'll often see this route run as a way of getting him back in the groove.
The curl route can be run to a variety of players, but the most common recipient is the tight end or slot receiver. At the snap, they'll run 5-10 yards from the line of scrimmage, angling toward the center of the field.
If the defense is in man coverage, the receiver will turn around and shield his defender from the pass. If the defense is in a zone coverage, the receiver will find a gap in the zone and spin around to face the quarterback.
It's then Mariota's job to find the receiver in the best position to make a catch and fire a pass in there so it arrives shortly after the receiver has turned around.
This play rarely, if ever, gains more than 10 yards. But it's a high-percentage pass that often sets up short-yardage downs.
When Oregon is in need of a quick gain, this is one of its go-to plays.
Tight End Seam Route
Oregon TE Colt Lyerla with an athletic move against Washington State
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Oregon was ahead 15-10 in the Fiesta Bowl and in danger of losing all momentum heading in to halftime.
The Ducks took over after a missed field goal with little time left on the clock. They proceeded to hit Lyerla several times over the middle, setting up a touchdown pass to Kenjon Barner which put them ahead by 12 heading into the break.
The weapon of choice on this particular drive: the seam route, which ripped apart the middle of the Wildcats' defense.
The tight end seam route typically involves Lyerla bursting off the line of scrimmage at the snap and getting behind the linebackers. It's then Mariota's duty to decide whether he can fit a pass in before the safety arrives at the tight end.
This play is all about timing, because when Lyerla is running full speed, Mariota can let the ball go before he even gets behind the linebackers. The pass will then arrive just as Lyerla gets behind the defense, allowing him to gain yardage before the safeties arrive.
Lyerla's combination of speed and physicality makes him a perfect target on this pattern, because defenders have a tough time bringing him down in the open field. You'll see this play run more often as Lyerla continues to develop into one of the nation's premier tight ends.
Quick Throw Toward the Sideline
Oregon WR Josh Huff
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Just so we're clear, "quick throw to the sideline" is not a technical term.
It is, however, another staple of Oregon's fast-paced offense.
This is a play that allows Mariota to get rid of the ball quickly, and it is typically thrown to the far wide receiver.
In one instance, Huff would fake like he's going to block and then step back, awaiting the pass. Upon receiving the ball, he would find a lane created by a block from the slot man and head up field.
This play requires fast receivers who can get yardage before the defenders converge. It's tough to gain a lot of yardage because while a block is created by one receiver, another defender is usually left alone to make the tackle. That's where the Ducks trust their athletes to make a play.
If both defenders are lined right up against the receivers, the Ducks won't run this route. But when they are playing several yards off the line, you'll see this pattern over and over again. It's a play that can be run quickly and gain bunches of yards if the defenders are out of position.
Oregon RB Byron Marshall
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The zone read is Oregon football.
Ever since Dennis Dixon left opponents mystified with his ball-fakes and running ability, the zone read has come to define Oregon's offense over the past few years.
It can be run several different ways, but there are basically two formations: the inside zone read and the outside zone read. The inside zone read occurs when the running back is lined up to the side of the quarterback, and about a yard behind him as well. The outside zone read occurs when the running back is simply lined up next to the quarterback.
On an inside zone read, the quarterback will stick the ball into the gut if the running back, watching the defensive line carefully. Should blocks develop and a running lane become established, he'll hand it off. If not, he'll keep it and run outside.
This is where the fun happens, because on some variations of the play, a second running back will be running outside waiting for a pitch, as you might see on a traditional speed option. Yet another option exists for the quarterback to fake the handoff, begin to run and throw the ball to a wide receiver whose defender has left him in order to stop the run.
The outside zone read is very similar, but it allows the running back to use his speed to get to the edge and head up field behind blocks from the receivers. On this version, the quarterback can also keep the ball and run the other way.
The zone read is what makes Oregon's offense so special, and there's a good chance you'll see it on the very first play of the 2013 season.