We have seen the formula that opposing teams employ to try to slow down the Bear Raid: pressure Jared Goff and play with deep safeties to limit the big play. Jared Goff's passer efficiency rating has dropped from 182 down to 128 since Washington first started employing this strategy (and sacks are up from 2 per game to 3 per game - Sac State numbers not included). This has caused Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin to increase the number of snaps Luke Rubenzer receives and the number of passes thrown to Daniel Lasco.
I expect that Mike Riley's Oregon State Beavers will continue to employ this strategy. Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker, used several blitzes to disrupt the Stanford passing game. The results were mixed: early on the pressure caused inaccuracy and interceptions but you can gamble only so many times before getting burned.
Pressure Up the Middle
Early in the 1st quarter OSU gets Furd in 2nd and 21. Stanford lines up with most of their personnel clustered in the center of the field with two Wide Receivers towards the top of the screen. The Beavers have a base 4-3 defensive package.
#7 is Ty Montgomery, Stanford's most explosive player and Quarterback Kevin Hogan's most trusted/favorite target.Stanfurd has designed this play to be a pass to Montgomery. #7 will run a 2 yard deep crossing route while the Tight End runs a crossing route the opposite direction at 2 yards deep. This will "Rub" the defender, linebacker #40 Michael Doctor, off of Montgomery. The Wide Receiver at the bottom of the screen will run a 7 yard deep route to the middle of the field to occupy a linebacker while the running back wheels out of the back field and heads deep to occupy the Cornerback.
Oregon State has ideas of their own on this obvious passing situation. They have both Defensive Tackles stunt to the outside of the offensive Guards forcing the Guards to block them. At the same time both Middle Linebackers blitz the A-Gap on either side of the Center.
Between the Center and the Running Back these two blitzers should be accounted for, but the running back is either obligated to go on his receiving route or he does not notice the blitz. The Center certainly does not recognize it as he helps the Right Guard block the defensive tackle allowing BOTH blitzers a free run at Hogan.
All of the carefully diagrammed routes, planned to defeat the middle of the field coverage are for naught as OSU leaves the shallow center of the field vacant. A one handed catch of a hurried pass allows Montgomery to turn this into a gain but we will see that the Beavers have planted fear of the blitz into the minds of Hogan and Stanford head coach David Shaw.
A Show of Force
On the same drive, Stanford has 3rd and 13 on the edge of the Oregon State Red Zone.
Stanford expects this to be another blitz by both middle linebackers: they keep the running back in the backfield to block and look for a vacancy in the middle of the field.
Except this is a feint, Oregon State has called a Tampa 2 defense (hey! 2 former Cal players mentioned in the linked article).
This is a Cover-2 zone defense with the middle linebacker responsible for an intermediate deep zone. We can see that there is a hole in the zones right in the middle of the field. Below are the linebackers dropping into their zones.
I'm not sure what coverage Kevin Hogan thinks this is, but the Tight End is heading to the hole in the coverage. Instead Hogan forces the ball to his safety blanket, #7. #25 is the OSU Nickelback, Ryan Murphy who gets a gift.
Interception Oregon State.
Fool Me Once Shame On You, Fool Me Twice Shame On Me
Stanford has the ball on their own 16 yard line on 2nd and 11. Stanford has an empty backfield and 5 receivers (two towards the top and three at the bottom). Oregon State once again has Nickle personnel.
Oregon State appears to be in Cover 0: no safeties, man-to-man coverage on all receivers. Because OSU is showing blitz with both Linebackers they have 6 pass rushers to Stanford's 5 pass blockers. It is on the Quarterback to throw the ball quickly. To make things more confusing the Beavers have moved their defensive end inside and their defensive tackle into the end's spot.
At the snap all of the potential pass rushers fire out forward to engage the offensive linemen which leaves #54 Defensive Tackle Brandon Bennett-Jackson with an unobstructed path to the quarterback. The offensive linemen want to pass defend from inside out since the outside players have further to go to get to the quarterback, giving him more time. Stanford chooses to block the man on the end on the quarterback's blind side while allowing him to see the unblocked man.
But once again OSU has disguised the coverage, this is a Zone Blitz where a defensive lineman #96, 300 pound Bud Delva, will drop into a shallow zone coverage along with linebacker #40 Michael Doctor.
Kevin Hogan, knowing his time is limited quickly throws the ball to his #7 safety blanket again... Who is triple covered! Michael Doctor is able to get an interception and return it to the 5 yard line.
Next Verse, Same as the First...
Or is it? 2nd and 15 in the 2nd quarter at midfield. Once again the Beavers are showing dual linebacker blitz. Stanford has 2 Wide receivers and a Tight End towards the top, Ty Montgomery at the bottom and a Running Back in the backfield.
Oregon State does blitz the linebackers just as we saw in the first play we looked at. Stanford runs almost identical routes excepting the pick route as this time the Running Back is going to block (one of the wide receivers runs a wheel and go instead of the running back).
The Center actually blocks someone this time and the running back picks up the second blitzing linebacker.
BUT there is a Zone Safety Blitz too. #25 follows the linebackers up the middle and there is no one left to block him. Both Defensive Ends drop into shallow zone coverage.
The result is a semi-comical pursuit of Ty Montgomery by two defensive ends in the open field.
Send the Light Cavalry to Hit Them in the Flank
The very next play is 1st and 10 from the Beaver 40 yard line. Stanford has trips receivers at the bottom of the screen with one receiver at the top and a running back in the backfield. Oregon State is in a 4-3 look.
OSU is once again dropping into Tampa 2 pass coverage and is bringing a corner blitz from the top. The Stanford running back stays in to block the blitzer. Kevin Hogan has plenty of protection but he saw the blitzer and Ty Montgomery is not on the field! What is he to do?
He pulls the trigger on a throw to the ONLY covered receiver on the field. Not just covered but DOUBLE covered. If he had followed the axiom of throw the ball to where the blitz came from he would have found the receiver at the top for an easy first down. Still if the throw had been on target to the tight end perhaps it would have been a touchdown.
Play With Fire Often Enough and You Get Burned
Two plays later Stanford is in 3rd and 7. Once again Ty Montgomery is not on the field... Lets look at who is:
Stanford has RB Remound Wright (#22), TE Austin Hooper (#84), WR Michael Rector (#3), WR Devon Cajuste (#89) and WR Jordan Pratt (#87).
Oregon State counters with a personnel group that looks like it is from a Madden Football team where someone is playing the players with the highest rating regardless of position...
Three Defensive Ends: #75 Titus Failauga, #45 Dylan Wynn, and #86 Obum Gwacham
Two Linebackers: #4 D.J. Alexander and #44 Jabral Johnson
Two Cornerbacks: #15 Larry Scott (not that one) and #2 Steven Nelson
Four Safeties?!?! #8 Tyrequek Zimmerman, #17 Cyril Nolan-Lewis, #25 Ryan Murphy and #39 Justin Strong
The Beavers execute a complex blitz comprising six players: The DEs playing on the inside head for the A-Gaps, the DE and the LB on the ends go for C gap, while B gap is taken by the stunting S and LB.
The rest of the Oregon State defense is in Man-Free coverage. The Receivers are matched up one-on-one with a single deep safety. #8 remains shallow to cover the running back if he sneaks out as a safety valve.
Both Stanford players in the backfield stay in to block. Seven pass defenders vs. Six pass rushers means that all the blitzers are picked up.
Kevin Hogan has his choice of open receivers.
Bad pursuit angles and good blocking lead to a touchdown.
Stick Them With the Pointy End (or The Point at the End)
Early in the game Oregon State was able to impact the Stanford passing attack with pressure. Although they only tallied a single sack, the blitzes did force two interceptions. The Beavers only managed 7 points off those two turnovers (they also forced 4 fumbles but recovered none of them).
I expect Oregon State to be just as creative in personnel packages and generating pressure as they were against Furd. If they used a 3-2-6 against an offense that bills itself as a power rushing team, what are they going to use against the Bear Raid? The key for the game is that Jared Goff will have to exploit the holes in coverage that the blitzing creates. Luckily Goff reads coverage better than Kevin Hogan and the Cal receiving corps is more than just one man. Look for short passes on hot reads. If that fails I would expect to see Luke Rubenzer throwing on the run once again.