Speed kills in football. But how, exactly, does it kill?
Sometimes simplicity is the best formula, and Oregon has that philosophy down to a science. The Ducks really don't run a complicated offense, but they do run it almost flawlessly. The offense clicks on all eight cylinders at a frightening pace, but its potency comes from a simple concept.
Reacting to what the defense presents as the ball is snapped.
The Ducks run a spread offense that incorporates a lot of zone reads. What's important to note about the zone read are two important terms: the mesh point and canceling out a defender.
The mesh point refers to the point where the running back and quarterback intersect and one of two things happens at that point: the quarterback keeps the ball or gets rid of the ball. The canceling out refers to an unblocked defender being forced to make a decision on who to target and the quarterback countering that defender by reading his stance or angle.
The fact that Oregon runs a no-huddle offense complicates things for the opponent's defense. In their rush to line up they don't have time to adjust to what the offense presents. Conversely, Oregon can take advantage of the defense's positions by adjusting the play to get the numbers in its favor.
The key to running this offense is to have a quarterback who can make quick decisions as the ball is snapped to him—his eyes must be focused on an unblocked defender.
So imagine this scenario: Quarterback Marcus Mariota lines up in shotgun formation with running back Kenjon Barner right next to him. When Mariota has the ball in his hands, he holds it tightly and watches for the unblocked defender's reaction. If the defender crashes toward Barner, Mariota keeps the ball to the backside. If the defender holds his position, Mariota hands the ball off to Barner, who follows his blockers.
It's all about the numbers.
Example No. 1
Marcus Mariota lines up in shotgun next to No. 21. After the ball is snapped, Mariota holds the ball close to his belly while watching the defender on the right (No. 97) fight off a block and make a move toward Mariota. At the mesh point, Mariota hands the ball off to No. 21.
Example No. 2
Mariota lines up in the shotgun position with Kenjon Barner (No. 24) to his left. As Mariota receives the ball he is watching to see what unblocked tackle (No. 90) will do—the unblocked tackle crashes in toward Mariota who quickly hands the ball off to Barner for a touchdown. No. 90 was canceled out.
Example No. 3
If the defense is spread out with only two linebackers in the box, a run up the middle favors Oregon's speed once the running back gets past the line of scrimmage. In this example, De'Anthony Thomas takes a hand off right up the middle and goes 91 yards for a touchdown. Note how the quarterback and a second running back both move to the left which causes two linebackers to move away from where Thomas is running.
Example No. 4
Darron Thomas takes the snap from shotgun and as the slot receiver on his right crosses in front him, Thomas notices the defense crashing toward the receiver with the linebackers frozen. Thomas then throws the deep ball to an open receiver down field for a touchdown.
Example No. 5
Sometimes, the mesh point never changes during an entire play. Tight end Colt Lyerla and quarterback Bryan Bennett were both in possession of the ball when this touchdown happened against Arizona.
Oregon's offense doesn't seem to make sense from a traditional football fan's point of view. The Ducks pass on obvious rushing down-and-yardage situations and rush on obvious passing down-and-yardage situations. They routinely "go for it" on fourth down when logic dictates a punt.
The Oregon Ducks are also winners and probably have one of the scariest offenses in the country.
And one heckuva mascot.