A Blueprint For Beating Oregon: Pressure Mariota
By Dan Harralson
Oregon has showcased one of the more potent offenses throughout college football during the early part of this decade.
Mark Helfrich took over for the departed Chip Kelly, and Oregon hasn't missed a beat two games into the new season.
"Helfrich was very much a part of the Chip Kelly success," Jerry Allen, radio play-by-play announcer for Oregon, told Football.com. "He was offensive coordinator here with Chip. They worked together in the offense and to say they needed to make any changes in the offense would be a huge understatement."
The Ducks have only lost four games this decade, which is pretty remarkable. An overtime loss to Stanford last year derailed their hopes of Kelly making his second national championship game appearance in three seasons. LSU and USC (2011) and Auburn (2010) were the other three Ducks losses in the 2010s. Here's the breakdown of Oregon's four losses since 2010 and why they lost. The statistics speak for themselves and are nearly identical.
|Team||Year||Off. Plays||Sacked||INTs||Fumbles (Lost)||Punts||Third Downs||Fourth Downs|
Oregon lost these games to teams with big, fast athletic defensive lines that have the ability to cause chaos and disturb the timing of Oregon's fast, methodical offense. These four defensive lines were able to get in the backfield and that was the difference.
"There's no doubt about that," Allen said. "I think any team that has success and wins a lot of games, it starts up front. Not only the defensive line, the offensive line, and good linebackers ... we faced that in Stanford last year and against Auburn in the national championship game."
Trying to slow down the fast-paced Oregon offense is one thing, but to actually stop it is another. Butch Jones and his Tennessee defense are next in line to try.
"We talk about mental conditioning, that toughness is going to be on display," Jones told Football.com. "We're going to have to be able to withstand (not) substituting seven, eight, nine plays in a row. Can our defensive front play winning football eight, nine plays in a row without substituting? Can we get lined up fast and decipher the call and execute on assignment? You can't hear. You can't communicate. You're on the road. You're in a hostile environment."
So, what does Helfrich think about the blueprint to defeat his own fast-paced offense? Is it really all about rhythm, timing and being able to identify what the defensive front is doing?
"We've never been a team that says we have to snap it in X seconds," Helfrich told Football.com. "There's certain things that we're going to do almost at a frantic pace regardless of what the defense will be showing us.
"There's going to be times where we need certain things, a certain technique, or a coverage that we want in the passing game. I think when you're in rhythm and everybody's playing confident and playing fast, you kind of just feel it."
The Vols have their hands full Saturday, but they also know they have a chance to compete if their defensive line can get into the backfield enough to disrupt Oregon.
This season, in two games, 17 of Oregon's 19 scoring drives took less than two minutes and four scoring drives happened in less than one minute. The reason? There's no pressure in the backfield against Helfrich's offense. The fact that Oregon has faced only 20 third downs, punted twice, hasn't turned the ball over and hasn't allowed a sack illustrates how little pressure quarterback Marcus Mariota and the offense have faced.