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Inside the highlight tape: Six plays that show why the Ducks keep winning

Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup and the YouTube channel madmike1951 does some superb work compiling highlight videos and interviews for Duck fans, and a closer look at this week’s highlight video from the Virginia game shows the fundamentals and skills that add up to excellence in Oregon football:


2nd and 10, Oregon 11. The Ducks have so much confidence in their line and quarterback that they readily throw from deep in the own territory. Against Nicholls the week before they dug out of holes for four long drives, and each time they led with a successful passing play.

Here, Mariota finds Colt Lyerla releasing on a out route on the left sideline. Lyerla had a terrific day blocking for the Ducks but would go on to make three uncharacteristic drops in the game, but the execution on this play is excellent. The Cavs rush four but everyone is sealed off. Lyerla drives upfield on his defender and breaks his route past the first down marker. Mariota delivers on time and on target, and the tight end looks the ball into his arms. 1st down, and some much-needed breathing room for the offense after a negative play and long-yardage situation.



With the Ducks increased emphasis on the intermediate passing game, they have more options in recovering from negative plays, and they’ve done a solid job in that area over the first two games. Knowledgeable fans will watch closely to see if that trend continues against tougher opponents, beginning with a ball-hawking Tennessee defense that forced 7 turnovers last weekend.

1st and 10, Oregon 23 yard line, 14:32. Mariota 8-yard run.

The Ducks fake an outside zone read and Mariota keeps left. Center Hroniss Grasu pulls out in front of him and gets a good block on the linebacker. Tyler Johnstone and Hamani Stevens push the tackle and end out of the play. Keanon Lowe ties up the cornerback. It’s great team blocking for an 8-yard gain, setting up second and short as the offense builds tempo and  momentum in favorable situations.

3rd and 5, Oregon 29 13:19

This is how the Ducks get you. The defense stops one play and then another. The officials tack on a 5-yard penalty. The fans think the threat is averted and the defense is clapping its hands with enthusiasm, but then Oregon deflates them completely with a shock and awe play.

This time the Ducks show a look they don’t run often, emptying the backfield and forcing the Cavaliers to spread out wide with them. Scott Frost said after the game that this was a matchup the coaches identified in film study during the week. He told Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sports Northwest,

“They played a bunch of man-free against BYU. We don’t usually get much man-free because we have a quarterback who can run and there’s nobody to account for him.”

The middle becomes a vast plain of open space as Jake Fisher seals off the defensive end, and Grasu and guard Mana Greig double team the tackle. The entire secondary and linebackers are following fake pass routes on the designed quarterback draw. Mariota trusts his speed in the open lane, simply outrunning the strong safety, and his long, graceful strides fly him 71 yards untouched. Bralon Addison screens off the last defender to have a chance, and after the two-point conversion Oregon leads 8-0. The quick strike has a devastating psychological effect. It promotes a sense of inevitability.

Virginia ball 3rd and 4, own 29. 12:04. Running back Kevin Parks stopped for no gain by Arik Armstead on an off tackle left.

The sophomore defensive tackle, 6-8, 280, had some problems with his pad level as a freshman. On this play he starts in a four-point stance, a technique that encourages the tall, agile player to fire out low and get leverage on the offensive guard. He wins this game-within-a-game, gets great penetration, then wraps up the running backs legs in a very athletic tackle for a big man. 

It’s a great football play by Armstead, one that shows his progress and development. If he continues to grow as a defender in the middle, the Ducks defensive line, which has already been very salty on a defense that has 8 sacks and 6 turnovers while allowing 3.7 yards a play, could become stifling and dominant in the weeks to come. New line coach Ron Aiken has a wealth of experience in the NFL and coaching top defenses at Iowa State, and he’s clearly been working with Armstead on his technique and quickness. #9 does a good job of delivering a blow to the blocker, shedding him and reacting to the ball carrier, making a terrific open-field tackle.

4th and 7, 8:34 first quarter, Virginia punt from the 14.

Blocked! Josh Huff scoots around the shield and lays out to block the punt. He does a good job of taking the ball off the punter’s foot, avoiding contact if he misses. The Ducks’ Keanon Lowe and Tyson Coleman tied up the shield defenders, allowing Huff to dive in untouched. 

It should be noted, all three of these guys are starters, playing a key role on special teams. Many teams say “we take pride in special teams” but the Ducks actually do. Later in the game, Lowe stuffs a kickoff return inside the 10. Oregon puts some of its best athletes on the field to defend and gain field position, resulting in a lot of big plays. Both Jeff Maehl and Kenjon Barner used to be gunners on punt coverage, and De’Anthony Thomas has been used there as well.

7:40, 2nd and 11 on the 15. 14-yard pass complete from Marcus Mariota to Daryle Hawkins, down to the one-yard line.

The Ducks send out five men in the pattern with four wides and De’Anthony releasing out into the left flat, giving Virginia a lot of open space to defend. Hawkins is the underneath receiver with a big cushion as the linebackers chase Huff, Lowe and Addison into the end zone. Who would blame them. With the offensive line giving him a nice window in which to throw and plenty of time, Mariota delivers a strike to Hawkins who bowls over a defender at the goal line, just touching down with his elbow before he breaks the plane.

It’s a well-executed route with a lot of options. The middle linebacker freezes and is late chasing Thomas out of the backfield, and when he breaks for Thomas that completely opens up the middle. A great illustration of how Oregon’s multiple threats make them so hard to defend.