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video: The Views from a New Oregonian: The Importance of Oregon Football

Monday, January 12, 2015

 

I only recently moved to Oregon and everything here is new and different. The following is my effort to explain to those I left behind the passion and energy committed to the Oregon Duck's football season and quest for a National Championship:

Ducks fever has reached a state of frenzy here in Oregon.  The Ducks to which I'm referring, of course, are the University of Oregon Ducks, our beloved college football team that just won the Rose Bowl, and will be playing in the first annual College Football Playoff National Championship game next week.  Although I am not a sports fan, especially when it comes to football, even I cannot help but be impressed by the prolific local and national media coverage of this team, and the overwhelming hometown spirit that is in the air in this city.  For the first time in my life, I am actually reading the sports page.

The Oregon Ducks, who had the most celebrated individual season in Oregon football history this year, got even more national media attention when their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, was awarded the 2014 Heisman Trophy in December.  He was the first Heisman Trophy winner in Oregon Duck's history.  Then, one week ago, on January 1st, the Ducks won the Rose Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles.  Milt and I happened to be in Florida visiting his mother during the New Year's holiday, and Milt, who is a huge Ducks fan, proudly wore his Ducks hat everywhere.  It didn't dawn on me that we were in enemy territory until a local asked if he could "wipe the dirt" off Milt's hat, and a bartender almost refused to serve Milt because of that same hat.  And this was BEFORE the 59-20 blowout game.

One cannot listen to, watch, or read any local media here without a headline story about the Ducks.  The stories involve everything from their chances of winning in the upcoming game, to what their strategy will be (yawn!), to what their game day uniforms will look like, and where Portlanders should go to watch the game (needless to say, almost every local restaurant, bar, and hotel will be having a game day party.)   Today's big local story was that the Ducks Store hosted a pop-up tailgate party in downtown Portland's Pioneer Square, complete with free food, beverages, and Ducks gear.  In the national media, The Wall Street Journal wrote an article yesterday about the untraditional coaching methods at UO. USA Today featured a story calling Oregon the most innovative and trend setting team in college football, and Sports Illustrated predicted that in the upcoming National Championship game, "the Ducks will prevail."  Jimmy Fallon did his "puppy predictions" for next week's game last night, which featured a litter of Golden Retriver puppies who predicted that Oregon would win in the upcoming game.  Who knows better than a Golden Retriever?

 

The National Championship game, in which the Ducks will play the Ohio State Buckeyes, will be held tonight. It is the hottest ticket around. Phones have been ringing off the hook at local Portland travel agencies. As of a few days ago, there were very few airfares from PDX to Dallas for under $1000, and vey few game tickets to be had for under that price. For alternative transportation, one could drive from here to Dallas, with gas costing approximately $500 round trip, or rent a private jet for only $4000 per hour. Hotels?  Most in Dallas are already booked. Better bring your camping gear if you are just starting to plan your trip now.

Oregonians, who truly love their gear, are buying Ducks gear by the truckload. In fact, less than 24 hours after Oregon won the Rose Bowl, fans were sporting the highly popular "Won Not Done" T-shirts. There have been huge lines outside Ducks stores around the state. Shelves are emptying quickly. The stores have been receiving shipments of logo merchandise DAILY since the Rose Bowl victory, and will continue to re-stock stores every single day until the National Championship game.  

We managed to find the particular Ducks gear item he was looking for after several attempts at different stores. The item we bought?  Perhaps the ugliest pair of shoes Nike has ever created.  I gasped when I saw the bright green and yellow sneakers, and, after glancing at the price tag, we asked ourselves if they could ever be worn again. The answer is these shoes only need to be worn tonight.

Duck Jello shots, anyone?

 

Related Slideshow: Slideshow: How Oregon and Ohio State Coaches Changed the Game by Running the Spread Offense

Here are some of the ways Oregon and Ohio State coaches changed the face of the game:

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Made Spread Quarterbacks Valuable to the NFL

Utah Quarterback Alex Smith was selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He signed a six-year, $49.5 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

Smith going number one brought the spread legitimacy at the next level.
The 49ers drafting a QB who ran Meyer's spread option attack in college did not fall flat on the rest  of the league - the first quarterbacks selected in the next several drafts ran some form of the spread as well.

Thanks to Meyer, spread quarterbacks were escaping the "gimmick offense" label that had plagued players from other programs that ran four and five-wide receiver systems in college.

In the ten years that followed, NFL general managers began looking to spread-option gunslingers to save their franchises.
 

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Resurrected the Option

Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer and former Oregon Coach Chip Kelly added the option to the spread offense in several innovative ways.

Chip Kelly began running inside zone runs, optioning off of the defensive end, executing the spread option from the inside out (contrary to the philosophy of the offensive coordinator who preceded him).

Both Meyer and Kelly were able to incorporate the short passing game into their option attacks.

Meyer was able to design passes that were almost runs, like when Tebow would throw a dump pass to the tight end near the goal line. The Ducks were able to run their own variations of the run-pass option, like when Jeremiah Masoli would pull the ball from the arms of a running back and throw a lateral to a waiting wide receiver.

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Put Power Positions Back into Formations

For a long time, tight ends were a rarity in spread offenses, which were often ran in four and five-wide receiver sets.

When Meyer left Utah to take the head coaching job at Florida, he embraced certain aspects of old school football. Playing to his teams' talent, Meyer began implementing tight ends and fullbacks into some of his formations in an effort to beef up his running attack against SEC defenses.

The Ducks also embraced the tight end position, relying heavily on players like Ed Dickson, Colt Lyerla and Pharaoh Brown.
 

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Dumped Schemes that Weren't Working

Oregon was committed to running the spread before Chip Kelly's 2007 arrival in Eugene. Gary Crowton held the offensive coordinator before Kelly and also ran a spread option offense, albeit unsuccessfully.

Crowton's offense was overly dependent on presnap motion by receivers and running backs. Despite having talented running backs like Jonathan Stewart, opting to have a receiver carry the ball was common strategy. When the Ducks found themselves in third-and-long situations, they often just ran a screen pass or heaved the ball toward a crossing route down field, with mixed results.

It didn't work out. Crowton left Oregon and took the same position at LSU.

Chip Kelly stepped into the vacated offensive coordinator position at Oregon.

The rest is history.

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Abolished the Huddle

One thing Chip Kelly perfected the no-huddle offense.

Seemingly, any kind of team is capable of running the no-huddle - spread offenses just have a lot more opportunities when they do so. You can catch the defense mid-substitution,or a with a player out of place, and score on a single quick strike.

The huddle is now becoming more and more obsolete, although many teams still do it.
 

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Tempo. Tempo. Tempo.

Another thing Kelly brought to football was an extremely fast paced brand of the no huddle that allows an offense to run a play ever few seconds. A team can run an exorbitant amount of plays with a minimal time of possession, all while racking up major points.

It used to be that the team with the greater time of possession won the game, but that trend is reversing.

When Kelly brought his rapid fire offense to the NFL, he proved it could work on any level of the game.

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Used the Spread as Run-First Offense

From LaMichael James to Ezekiel Elliot, there have been no shortage of successful rushers in spread systems.

More often than not, linemen line up far apart from each other. During the play, they employ zone blocking - double teaming members of the defensive front before breaking off to attack the second level.
 

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Made Linemen Leaner

Over the past ten years, broadcasters have often marveled at how lean and athletic the lineman on Urban Meyer's team's seemed to be. Instead of big, slow lugs down in the trenches, Meyer recruited athletic freaks with size and speed to compete for a spot on the line.

The Ducks did more or less the same thing (Bo Thran, Jake Fisher, Hroniss Grasu).

Now, Meyer prototypes like the Pouncy brothers are all-pros in the NFL and the lean lineman chasing down a safety is no longer a rare sight.

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Turned Receivers into Blockers

Receivers under Meyer and Kelly (and later, Helfrich) were expected to do one thing if they wanted to stay on the field: block.

The philosophy helped make receivers grittier than ever and led to an increase in big plays.

When you have players who break tackles and rack up extra yards after contact, like James and Tebow or, now Elliot and Freeman/Tyner, the big play ability of the ball-carrier is exponentially bigger with their team mates securing blocks downfield.
 

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Made Play Calling More Fun

Before Chip Kelly, calling a football play was a relatively boring routine. The quarterback would get the play from his coach while his teammates would huddle up, in two rows of five.
Looking each one in the eye at least once, the quarterback would say something like:

"Gun..trips right, zone right, cut. On one."

And that was it. That was a football play.

The process changed dramatically Chip Kelly broke out play-calling postboards divided into four, random quadrants.

Now, the process is much more fun for coaches, players and viewers. The play-calling posterboard has increasingly become the norm for a number of college teams.

There are goofy catch phrases, pop culture references, inside jokes and awkward close-ups of broadcasters.

It's fun, and people like it.

 
 

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