How was that for a boring Spring Game?If that wasn’t the worst Spring Game I’ve seen in thirty years—then it was in the top three!Truly, the best entertainment was the coaches on TV, the touching halftime tribute, and the salute to the Armed Forces at the end.Yet I still learned some important new surprises to the offense beyond the reporting from the multitude of usual media sources.
Probably the first major surprise was the weather!Spring in Oregon this year has been awful with winter temperatures, and much more rain than usual.See that picture at left of Darron Thomas?Look at the blue sky behind him—a rare sight in the Willamette Valley lately, thus I was prepared with a poncho, layers of clothing, extra hats, and even gloves.I did not count on the need for sun-screen, hence between my exposed scalp and face—I became a “Red-Head” on Sunday.I didn’t see that one coming!
A New Look for the Offense–and it isn’t the camo uniforms
A big surprise came in the form of a new formation that they had been using in scrimmages extensively; I had been “sitting” on this Duck egg for weeks now, as I will not write about injuries or formations unless he puts it out there for the world to see on ESPN, as he did in this Spring Game.We have all complained about using a shotgun formation in the Red Zone, especially inside our own and opponent’s five yard line.Imagine my surprise when I see us run a Deep Power “I” formation for about 40% of the total plays in the last scrimmage!As you see in the photo above, our formation of taking snaps directly from center is similar to the West Coast type of sets we ran under Bellotti, only the depth of the RB from the QB is DEEP.It reminds me of when Oklahoma ran a deep “I” like this for Adrian Petersen in 2005 as it allows the RB to fully see the field, pick the hole and hit it hard.It also allows us to force the defense to line up balanced, hence when we pull an Offensive Lineman—we can gain a numerical advantage on a side.Usually in the Spring Game we ran a powerful double-tight end set, although in this photo we are more spread out.
In the photo above we see Mana Greig pulling out from his guard position and beginning to go to his right as he eyes the Linebacker that he is going to blast.Meanwhile you see excellent blocks by his teammates on the White Defensive Linemen creating a hole inside between in the guard-tackle gap.We line up balanced, but by pulling an O-Lineman we create an extra blocker on the right side which pops a potential good gain.
We see in the next photo how Greig (#63) has tore into the LB and with Golpashin (#70) and Armstrong sealing the inside—we have nice hole formed in the middle of the field.The WR is going to block down, and the RB Forde (#33) is going to burst through this hole, break a tackle, and head to open field.
The last photo of this series above is an O-Lineman’s dream; look how the RB is breaking into open space.Observe where the blue arrows are as those are piles of Defenders plowed out of the way by our Offensive line.A finesse offense?I think not, as that is a classic Big-10 type of power football.It is IDEAL for inside both five yard lines and when we need to burn clock at the end of the game.The time to practice it and get all parties adjusted to it IS right now in the spring, and I am delighted to see this extra fly in the tackle box.
Paulson packs a punch
One of the more amusing plays of the game was David Paulson getting a pass in the flat and simply brushing aside Cliff Harris as you see above.He then made some defenders miss and almost scored on the play!People have been wringing their hands about the loss of two starters among the Wide-Outs, and my contention is that we only need ONE new WR to emerge.We will have Huff, (who didn’t start, but played almost as much as one) Tuinei, Paulson, and a new starter.Hence we only need ONE to step up, and my gut feeling is that we’ll probably have TWO from the new Wide-Outs who’ll jump into the two-deep.We have been saying for years that we need to throw to the TE more; well we have a money-man like Maehl was, in Paulson, so let’s throw to him this year!It was comforting to see the TEs get as many passes Saturday as the WRs, and since that will be a strength of the offense this fall,–I expect to see increased opportunities for the TEs and H-Backs.
We saw how you can gain big yardage with the Deep “I” formation by pulling a guard and running inside the gut of a defense.But early in the game we saw the “I” formation, but the blocking was designed to go outside.Note in the picture above how Darron is about to hand off to LaMichael James in this power formation, and how you see a guard and tackle pulling to go outside to their right.Inside we see Golpashin and Armstrong block the inside pursuit from going outside, and we see a WONDEROUS block by Colt Lyerla (RED ARROW to #32) on the DE, which is crucial to seal him from going outside.If the DE defeats that block, he can string the play to the sideline for no gain, hence the TEs block can make or break this play.
We see the play progress above as the guard and tackle have hustled outside and made contact on the LB and safety, thus opening a lane down the sideline for LMJ to run.Colt is out of view as he has buried his man in the pileup of defensive bodies.
The final aspect (above) to create a Touchdown is the outside blocking by Tuinei on the corner, and James has to make one defender miss, as he does with his speed through the hole.From this formation we can line up balanced, but overload a side either inside or outside as we’ve seen from the Spring Game to run the ball effectively when needed.Is this a new offense?No, it is another option Coaches Kelly and Helfrich have as the game dictates.The concepts of pulling are similar to blocking schemes we already have and the letting the RB pick his hole is also similar to what we already do with the Zone Read plays.A new component to the offense; WE LOVE IT!
The biggest surprise?The bigger impact than the new Power-Deep “I”?Look at the next series of pictures as I am knocked out of my chair; see above the superb power formation by the White Team with double-TEs.Looks typical so far—
What we see now (above) is Weems (#74) pulling to his left, but also the CENTER, Armstrong (#78) pulling!I could not believe my eyes as I saw both centers in Grasu and Armstrong pulling to block outside in this game.We haven’t done that in three years since Max Unger was at center!Note how all the interior Offensive linemen have the D-linemen superbly engaged, and how Paulson, (#42 & the Red Arrow) has the crucial sealing block to keep the defensive linemen INSIDE.Weems and Armstrong are using their speed to get outside quickly before the defense can catch up.
Look above how Paulson has done a magnificent job (Red Arrow) sealing the inside and keeping the defenders bottled up.Karrington Armstrong (Blue Arrow) is showing how to nail those defenders out in open space, and thus begins to create a lane for Barner (#24) to run down the sideline.(Orange Arrow)See how Weems (Yellow Arrow) has used his speed to get outside and now he is preparing for his obliteration of anyone in his way.
Wow.I worked with this picture above for awhile and yet when I pull it up later—I still hop in my chair.That is MAN-BLOCKING out there as we see the greatest evidence of Armstrong’s block, (Blue Arrow) being a heap of jerseys on the turf.Look at what Paulson (Red Arrow) has wrought—nothing but a mound-on-the-ground.Darrion Weems (#74 & Yellow Arrow) is in the middle of a major hurt on a LB, and a moment later he stretches out his body and blocks a second defender for a two-fer.It creates an easy lane for Kenjon to run and he picks up a huge gainer with only one man to beat for the TD.Holy Crap that is great blocking!
The Offensive Line: agile, and much stronger than the critics think
This is not a subtle change, as this can impact the entire offense.The center’s lack of size creates speed and agility on the edges to give us an extra blocker in open space that we previously did NOT have.Having centers that can pull, get to the edge, and crush a LB gives us a huge edge running outside, and defense will immediately have to react as soon as they see the pulling center.The over-pursuit outside will create enormous gaps INSIDE, thus if the edge isn’t open, the RB can make massive cutbacks the way we saw JJ and Snoop do in the past.The defense must quickly offset this advantage in blocking numbers on the outside which will make them vulnerable to play-action passes.In other words—the speed of our centers and their athleticism to block in the open on the edge improves our offense far beyond simply one player.It is a huge development.
What was once thought of as the weak link of next year’s offensive line has now become a new strength!
As it was—the consternation about replacing three starters was vastly overblown.Weems was making a couple of blocks in Knoxville on LMJ’s highlight run; he was there blasting a defender on our first Touchdown in the National Championship Game.Nick Cody made two glancing blocks on one play at Memorial Coliseum to help pop James to a 43 yard TD against the Trojans.The clutch drive at Cal taking up nine minutes featured the inside blocking of Ramsen Golpashin.These guys are not newbies; you plug and play with them.Thus when you consider the starters of York and Asper we see that we only have one new starter, and that being the center who we now see is going to add a major new element to our offense.Welcome aboard the new Centers of Karrington Armstrong and Hroniss Grasu!
The halftime show was moving as we were given an explanation of the flag-folding ceremony, which was stirring as they presented the flag to the widow of fallen Eugene policeman, Chris Kilcullen.The lump in my throat and glistening of my eyes did not abate as I saw her and her daughter sobbing on the replay screen as they held the flag.It was an important moment to remind me that this IS just silly football.I am very grateful to Coach Kelly for giving us the opportunity to say THANK YOU to the men and women in uniform both locally and abroad.We all owe so much.