In the second part of this series about the Beavers’ offensive line, I wanted to focus on instant success. While many in Beaver Nation lament the offensive line play the past few seasons, I think that is an over simplification of the issue. In many cases, the line did well, but there were a lot of extenuating circumstances that lead to plays breaking down.
I think Coach TJ Woods is an excellent coach and I expect people to be surprised by how quickly dominant this group becomes in the coming months. While it will be simple to attribute this to TJ, I think there are other aspects of the changes going on at Oregon State that will make this transition smoother than expected.
For the handful of you that watched the Super Bowl, you might have noticed that last play did not go the way the Seahawks drew it up. The problem was not that the play was bad, or that the blocking or route running was poor. The problem was that the defense knew exactly what the play was before the snap. The player who intercepted the ball did not hesitate or take false steps, but sprinted from the start of the play to the place he KNEW the ball would be. Everything about the play was executed well enough by the Seahawks’ offense to succeed — except for the fact that the defender knew where to go.
This was often the case for the Beavers last year. We can lament the job the line did, but in many cases, they were either not to blame or they were the victims of a defense that knew where the play was going. In a conversation I had with a former duck player, this year in the Civil War, the Ducks’ defense knew when OSU was running a screen play — the one play that requires the defense going the wrong way — and yet 100 percent of the time, they knew what was coming. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch it. Not pretty.
Below is a GIF (not JIF) of the first play of the UW game. It ends up in a sack, but it’s not due to mistakes by the line.
If you notice, OSU uses a running back on play action to try and block a future first round draft pick at linebacker. The offensive line handles everyone fine, but UW’s linebacker sheds the running back block and the go-to receivers are covered. Not only is this probably a bad decision in terms of a blocking scheme, but notice that no one on the defense takes a false step or even looks like they have any concern over where the play is going. They all immediately spread to cover the receivers, so even if Sean had not gotten hit, he didn’t have much available.
Below is another example:
In this play, despite the linebackers swarming instantly, the line actually does a good job sealing off the tackle and getting to the linebacker on the play side. Unfortunately, the tight end cannot get any push and his end crashes down to plug the hole. Both of the first two plays dealt with failures in scheme, a lack of any confusion on the defenders’ parts, and some bad mismatches on the non-offensive line blockers.
On the next play, while it isn’t enough for a first down, it is the first time the defense has to think, and they guessed wrong for the most part.
The backers don’t just go, but have to set up and watch, the guard gets a good block, and the center is able to release so you have bodies on everyone. Had the first play not been a sack, this would have been a first down run. The big thing is Storm Woods had options if he wanted to bounce it out.
When you remove the mystery around the play, you remove the defense having to think and be disciplined. That happened far more in this game — and many of the games that the Beavers played this last year.
So how do the Beavers fix this? Well, for starters, you can use plays like the read option. In the case of the option, not even the QB knows for sure at the snap where the play is going. It depends on what the defense does. You can also vary how you call plays. OSU rarely, if ever, runs on the first play of the game. Play action is not very effective if your tendency is to pass anyway. Another issue OSU had the past few years was the bi-polar nature of their play calling. Many times, there were drives where the Beavers ran 70 percent of the time, followed by two or three drives where they passed the majority of, if not all, of the time.
In a scheme such as what Coach Baldwin runs, you will utilize the run game to set up the rest of the offense. It relies on using every advantage available, on creating mismatches, and getting players in space. It it also relies on what battles are being won. The biggest mistake that the Beavers have made, and that the Seahawks in turn made this weekend, is to think you are going to catch people off guard. While sometimes you do, for the most part if you have plays they are sniffing out, unless you are running some sort of wrinkle off of them, you are not going to fool teams. Down and distance situations are guidelines, but defenses go by what they see more. If they know what you do in Formation X when receiver Y is lined up in just that exact spot, down and distance means nothing.
There is a good chance that OSU will look like they have a miraculous line all at once. TJ Woods is a very accomplished coach, but if the Beavers do look like a different team up front, a lot of that is because defenses have to look and see what is going on. If all they have to do is go without fear of making a mistake, no line can stop them. But if they have doubt, they slow down and if they slow down, all the sudden they are block-able, moveable and controllable.
Don’t be shocked if the same guys whose names you were cursing in 2014 you are celebrating in 2015. If we are, it will be a far better year than many of us expected.