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Cal vs. Oregon know the enemy: Previewing the Ducks offense

The Bears head to Eugene to face a less vaunted but still dangerous Oregon offense. And Puddles the Duck

Sonny doesn't think the ref knows enough about the Oregon offense
Sonny doesn't think the ref knows enough about the Oregon offense
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

A week after yet another heartbreak against the dastardly Trojans of U$C, the Bears head north to face some Ducks in Uncle Phil's Playground. Oregon hasn't been their powerhouse self as of late, having lost to Utah and Washington State already. They are more vulnerable then they have been in recent years. Marcus Mariota covered up a lot of problems that the Duck have, and it is becoming more apparent this year when the quarterback play hasn't been up to the same standard. Now that Vernon Adams is back, they've looked a lot better than the Lockie/Alie led games. They have still recruited excellently, and there's a lot of talent on that offense.

Time really is a flat circle when it comes to the Oregon offense. It's mostly the same from year to year, with some tweaks thrown in. They had to go away from the passing game while Adams was out, leading to pain, suffering, and the theft of all the Fireball in Pullman. Now that Adams is back, the offense appears to be rolling, though not at Mariota levels of efficiency. And Jeff Lockie is busy organizing his Creed CDs.


Vernon Adams is much better than the alternative. Adams has struggled this season with a broken finger, and had only played about 3 healthy quarters. Now that he's officially back, Oregon has won their last two games (albeit the Arizona State win was mostly due to the utter brilliance of Pac-12 refs), and Adams won Pac-12 offensive player of the week. He plays with the kind of improvisational technique that you'd expect from an Oregon quarterback, but it hasn't been statistically successful. He's been sacked 14 times in the five games he's played in (9 in 3 conference games), and his completion percentage has been below 60% in every game except the opener against Eastern Washington. Here are his pertinent stats:

  • 58.8% Completion, 8.59 yards per attempt
  • 233.6 yards per game, 150.8 QB Rating
  • 10 touchdowns to 3 interceptions

Adams is the right fit for the Ducks at the moment, but he's not at the level that Mariota brought them to. He's maybe at 2008 Jeremiah Masoli levels right now, and that's a quarterback that's eminently beatable. That being said, Uncle Phil's recruiting machine has brought in a ton of offensive talent for Adams to work with.

Royce Freeman, alternatively known as "Rolls" Royce Freeman, is a big reason why Oregon hasn't lost more. The Ducks lost Byron Marshall to a leg injury in the Utah game, and Freeman has been there to pick up the slack. He's third in rushing among P5 schools with 1109 yards and 13 total touchdowns. Freeman is a bigger back, at 230 lbs, but he has some uncanny breakaway speed. He busted a 64 yarder against Arizona State last week. The only issue he's really had recently is a lack of carries. He's averaging 6.7 yards per carry, and he only got 15 carries against Arizona State. He will probably get more thane 15 against Cal. The worst part of it all is that he's only a sophomore, so he will stay around the haunt the Pac-12 for at least another year. He will be spelled occasionally by Taj Griffin, who is the pure speed back for the Ducks

Bralon Addison, Darren Carrington, and Dwayne Stanford form the receiving triumvirate for the Ducks. Addison is the leading receiver right now, and he's their go to guy. And according to Pac-12 refs, one of his feet can transform into only a heel. He's got magic powers or something. On a more serious note, he's very talented at the receiver spot, but for some reason, Oregon used him as a wildcat quarterback. It didn't work at all. It actually lost yards every single time it was used. Addison has the break away speed, as well as the craftiness to make plays over the middle.

Carrington just came back from an injury, but judging by his performance in the Arizona State game, he's healed up well. He can stretch the field on vertical routes, and is their speed guy. He is comparable to Trevor Davis. Lastly, Stanford lives up to his name as the Ducks' big wideout. Like everyone else on Oregon's team, he is not slow, but he's not going to burn everyone. Instead, he's going to be the guy who makes the crazy catches that you'd expect from a 6'5" wideout, like the one he made at the end of regulation last Thursday.

It's going to be a challenge for the Cal defense. For the most part, Cal's defense played an athletic USC offense relatively well last week, holding Juju Smith-Schuster down pretty well. The Oregon offense is just as dangerous in that regard, so we will see what happens on Saturday night.


First off, there are two base running plays that build up the Oregon offense, the inside zone read and the outside zone read. There's probably other, better names for them, but this is what I call them. Anyway, an inside zone read looks like the play below, where the read is of the backside defensive end. If he crashes on the running back, the QB takes it. If he stays outside the running back gets it.

Outside zone reads are essentially the same thing, just with an outside handoff, and the read is of the playside defensive end. It looks like this:

For the most part, every Oregon play has foundations in these two concepts. Since the threat of them is very real at any time, that leads to some fun variations.

On this play, we have a triple option variant of the inside zone read. While it isn't truly a read play, as they block the defensive end and the reverse is the only ending to this play, the threat of it is still there to the point that it draws a couple of defenders in. The speed option action also draws a couple defenders to the point where Carrington has a free path for 21 yards. He could have had even more if he hadn't stepped out.

That isn't the only running play set in their arsenal. The thing about Oregon's offense is that it's eminently predictable, but they've always had the talent and skill to take down even good preparation. This year, the talent isn't as preeminent, so they've changed up a little bit, and have started to use some pistol.

In the tradition of Oregon's playbook, they've kept the play simple. Straight ahead blocking on a dive play, something that sets up play action later. Pretty much everyone on Oregon's offensive line blocks terribly here except for the right tackle, who is the biggest part of this play being successful. The other part of it is Royce Freeman being pretty darn good. Actually, it's mostly Freeman. He's really good.

From there, we have the passing game, which ha been very limited without Adams. With him, they'll run a plethora of different plays through the air. He can make the solid throws that he needs, like this one to Addison below. Many of these plays will utilize some motion to draw some defenders out of the play, and to give easier matchups to the receivers, much like what Chris Peterson is doing at UW.

The running back motions out on this play, which draws a couple of the defensive backs down a step. That's all that's needed for Addison to get open for a first down on the vertical route up the middle. The short passing game combined with motion sets up even deeper passes, such as the one below.

We have the same running back motion here, with an in route going over the middle. The near side safety jumps on that route, leaving one CB to cover the wheel/skinny post combo route. Carrington ends up wide open, and that's six.

It's a kind of hippie offense if you think about. Simple enough, but every play has another one to lead into. The question is whether Cal can stop it. I certainly think it's possible to stop Oregon. The game this Saturday will be played in the rain, although not quite in the monsoon conditions of two years ago. The rain will limit the passing game and will force Cal to stop the run. The jury is out on how well we can do that, but at least it's more predictable. Plus, the last time Cal beat Oregon was in a torrential downpour, in all yellow jerseys. History can repeat itself, but the jury is out on this one. Either way, Go Bears!