In Part 1, we nibbled around the corners of the Scott Frost offense. Now it’s time to take a deep dive into it, examining not only the Oregon parts that will always be present, but also the additional wrinkles he’s thrown in since leaving Eugene. This is a lot of film, and I can’t embed it all into one post without locking up your mobile devices.
Accordingly, I’ve linked a lot of what I’m going to discuss, so when you see a hyperlink, it’ll open up a new tab showing you the concept I’m discussing. In other words, this is probably a post you want to view on a computer rather than a mobile device. If not, it’s going to take a while to load and you’re forever going to be opening and closing new tabs. You’ve be warned, so let’s get to it.
Like all Chip Kelly disciples, Frost’s is a box count offense. If you play with 5 defenders in the box, he’ll run the ball all day long. If you go to 6, UCF will still run it, but they’ll mix in a pass now and then to keep you honest. If you get to 7, that’s where the tables start to turn and you’ll see them pass it. 8 in the box never happens simply because of the formations they run; lining up with 8 in the box would leave you with a slot receiver uncovered.
Why does the box count work? Because the entire offense is designed to put the safeties in the wrong place at all times. Teams that beat Chip Kelly and his disciples fall into one of three categories. One, teams with a dominant defensive line. They can play five in the box all night long and not worry about getting gashed on the ground because it’s not a simple game of one on one when you can’t block the down linemen. Suddenly your five can’t block their five, so you have to go away from the run or add more blockers. And with more blockers comes more defenders. Two, teams that can man up on the outside receivers without fear of getting beat deep. Again, why? Because then you don’t have to worry about playing a safety over the top in pass support. Instead, he can get into the box and plus 1 the offense by adding one more defender than there are blockers. Your outside DBs don’t get beat, so there is no need to help them. Three, teams with outstanding open field tacklers at safeties. This group will still give up more yardage than the first two types of defenses, but the ability of their safeties to make one on one tackles in the open field prevents the big play. The safeties can still play over the top in pass support while coming up in run support as needed, and it makes the offense work its way down the field over several plays rather than busting one open.
Of course, the beauty of the offense is that there are very few teams that fall within those three categories. Alabama and Clemson tend to have the defensive lines that can give the Kelly offenses fits, but not many other teams do. Occasionally you’ll run into a random Pac 12, SEC or ACC team that can man up outside with two elite corners. And maybe a team has an All American safety they can use to clean up the run and pass game. Otherwise, it’s big yardage and a lot of points against 90% of the teams out there.
Sounds great, right? You bet. But how do they actually do it?
The beauty of the Frost offense is that UCF only runs 5 blocking schemes for a large percentage of each game. Sure, they have a few nuances that they’ll roll out now and then, but the overwhelming percentage of their plays are run from these 5 base schemes:
This is old school blocking but from single back personnel rather than two-back personnel with the fullback kicking out the end. Without a fullback (it feels dirty to type that Scott), the playside offensive tackle turns out the defense end, the backside guard pulls around while the center and playside guard down block, and the QB has the option to give it or keep it behind the pulling guard. Frost will also run this with the RB following the pulling guard while the QB has the option to keep it the other way.
This is the real staple of the Chip Kelly offense, and functionally the blocking by the offensive and defensive line is no different than how Nebraska run its now. UCF will run inside and outside zone, including with jet sweep, but the real difference is that they add the QB read into the scheme to hold the backside defender. This evens up the numbers in the box and prevents that defender from crashing down to play the RB. Though zone was a large part of UCF’s offense in 2015, they’re relying more on Power, Dart and Pin and Pull this year.
Pin and Pull
Again, fundamentally no different than how Nebraska runs it with perhaps one exception: UCF will frequently put three linemen in motion, while Nebraska generally tends to move only two. Use the defensive line’s initial alignment to create down blocking angles while you pull guys around them. This was a core staple of the Chip Kelly offense along with inside and outside zone.
As we mentioned earlier this month, after a hiatus for all of 2016, Nebraska is sparesely running Dart again much like it did in 2015. For UCF, though, Dart is a core concept that Frost and offensive line coach Greg Austin love to run. Much like Power above, it’s a downhill concept featuring a puller. Unlike Power, however, Dart features the offensive tackle pulling rather than an offensive guard:
This is somewhat of a departure from the Chip Kelly zone-based running game and instead borrows from man blocking principles that Art Briles used to consistently have Baylor among the nation’s top 20 rushing offense. In it, you’ve got your offensive line matched up hat on a hat and then you fold an H-Back through the line to pick up a linebacker.
Fine, that’s all easy enough, right? Nebraska runs inside and outside zone, Dart, Pin and Pull, and ISO too. So why does it look better when Frost runs it?
Three keys in my opinion, and as with all offensive football, they’re each about math and real estate. One, Frost has the added element of a QB run, which provided the QB is a competent passer, creates a numbers bonus in the box. Defenders can’t get a plus 1 on you (1 more defender than blockers) because he has to account for the QB. Math.
Two, space created by formations. As a 10 and 11 personnel team, Frost forces defenders out of the box simply by having to defend three and four wide receivers all night. Like I mentioned above, unless you can simply man those guys up, you’ve got to move guys out of the box to help in the passing game. Real Estate.
Bubble Screen Packaged With Runs
But the third element is the real key in my opinion and something that defenses can’t solve, which is why the Oregon offense and its iterations have been so dominant for a decade now. That element is the threat of a Bubble screen on an overwhelming number of running plays. Why? Because the Bubble prevents the defense from adding immediately safeties into the run fit. With Oregon counting the box, you’d ideally like to bring a safety down into the run fit to help. But the Bubble puts the safety in a bind: he wants to help against the run but he’s also the clean-up defender in space to help tackle the Bubble man if the cornerback can’t make the tackle. Math and real estate.
Knowing that, Frost runs Bubble action, though not necessarily Bubble screens, all night long. Even if UCF doesn’t throw it, the action ensures that the safeties can’t come down in the box to help the run. In most run fits, the backside safety has run support responsibilities on the cut back lane. Knowing this, Frost will run Bubble to the backside to hold that safety and widen the cut back lane for the ball carrier:
This is when you see the big plays start to come from Oregon. Though the ball carrier didn’t cut it back above, you see the natural space created by the Bubble screen because it holds the backside safety. You also see what Frost’s formations do. Even though Maryland spins the safeties into the boundary, which is where UCF is running, the Pin and Pull action picks up the safety and leaves the cornerback unblocked.
Frost will also run the Bubble action to the front side of the play to expand the space where the ball carrier is headed. And as with all Oregon iterations, he’ll run the Double Bubble and pair it with a run concept, in this case Dart, to split the defense the defense down the middle:
On most of these plays, the QB has an RPO read. If the box has 5, run it. If the box has 7, hit the Bubble. Because the QB can run it on most if not all of these plays, it really tilts the math and real estate game on the defense’s head. Without dominant front four defenders, you’re going to give up yards to this offense one way or the other.
By running the Bubble, Frost’s offense guarantees that the safeties are taken out of the game. If they play run hard, it’s a pass. If they stay two high and play pass, it’s a run. What most often happens as the game goes on is safeties start to get frustrated and they freeze, taking themselves out of both the pass and the run. When that happens, it’s over for the defense.
Much like the running game, Frost’s passing game isn’t particularly complex. But because of UCF’s formational spacing and the stress it places on safeties, it doesn’t need complexity through volume because there are only so many things the defense can do against those formations. And as Frost loves to say, the offense is designed to have an answer built in for all of them.
Though Frost’s passing game does have some medium depth concepts, it’s overwhelmingly about the vertical and short passing game. Stretch the defense horizontally with your formations and stretch it vertically with a combination of screens and deep routes, many times on the same play. Frost will go vertical from anywhere on the field, including his own goal line. He’s a big fan of Switch concepts with his tight ends coming off motion in the run game. And if it doesn’t work initially but he likes the look, he’ll come back to it later in the game, frequently for a big play:
Additionally, you’ll get true play action late in games where, much like his college coach Tom Osborne, he tries to sneak a tight end out on play action from an in-line position. As we saw above, he includes a healthy dose of Bubble screens and Smoke and Tunnel screens as well.
Once the safeties’ heads are spinning from trying to figure out where to be on all those things above, out come all the wrinkles. It wouldn’t be an offense called by a former Nebraska player if it didn’t include the Third Commandment of Husker Football: thou must run some version of the Option.
Here, Frost runs a triple option from split backs in the Shotgun. One RB is the dive player, the other the pitch player away from the dive. Watch how badly it distorts the field safety in between the hashes. This type of safety confusion is common when you watch teams defend Frost. Beyond this triple option from the Spread, Frost will also run Speed Option from the Shotgun.
He’ll additionally start hitting the defense with tight end delay routes, some pass protections that involve cutting all the defensive linemen, the Chip Kelly staple of stacked WRs, and unbalanced formations to make sure the defense is paying attention before the snap. And what would a Bubble screen team be without the Screen and Go in the playbook to further confuse safeties.
Add it all up, and you get, as Bob Diaco would say, a “lot of offense” despite only a few core concepts.
Wrapping It Up
The beauty of the Frost offense, and really any version handed down from Chip Kelly, is that complex simplicity. Kelly disciples only run a few core blocking concepts, but they run them from a lot of formations, they run them fast, and they use Bubble screen action to ensure you can’t overplay those run concepts. In many ways, this is no different than Mike Leach’s offense, which uses the same complex simplicity but applies it more to the passing game.
And that complex simplicity also makes the offensive staff’s job much easier during a game. Part of adjusting in-game play calling is gathering intelligence about how the defense is going to play your concept and then using it against them later. You call the concept, see how a particular defender plays it, and make a mental note to come back to it in the game with a slight wrinkle to take advantage of that defender.
But what often happens is that offensive coordinators run so many different concepts in a game that they never really gain actionable intelligence about the defense. Run 50 different concepts in a game and you’re gathering intelligence sometimes into the fourth quarter. And even if you do gain that intelligence, you don’t have enough total plays to repeat a concept with a new wrinkle to take advantage of the defense before the clock strikes zero.
Frost’s offense has no such problem because it’s the same core concepts over and over with just enough variation to keep the defense guessing. They may run Power five times in the first quarter, but only three of them will be runs with two other Bubble screens. So when the defense sees Power and keys the run, it never knows whether it’s going to be right on that key. And the whole time Frost is gathering data on how the safety plays it. If he starts coming down, run Power but with a vertical pass behind the dropping safety. Or Bubble it out and make the CB make a one on one tackle that results in a TD if he misses. If the safety stays high in pass support, Run The Damn Ball. Over and over and over.
In essence, it makes Frost a soothsayer. The offense does have an answer to everything because it can gather the necessary intelligence quickly during the first half, and sometimes the first quarter, and apply the answer immediately. That’s how you get an offensive system that continually puts teams inside the top 10 in total offense for over a decade without defenses finding a solution. Because short of dominant defensive personnel, there is no defensive solution for Frost’s offense.