By Rob Moseley
Used to be, facing a four-man defensive line was the norm, and a 3-4 look was considered “exotic.”
Used to be.
Given Oregon’s own move to a three-man front since 2009, and the prevalence of the scheme from recent opponents, the UO offensive line has become quite familiar with that look. When the Ducks face Virginia on Saturday, it will be the Cavaliers’ four-man line that requires some adjustment.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” UO guard Hamani Stevens said. “It’s going to be a new thing.”
Virginia’s defensive line has repeatedly elicited praise from Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich this week. The Cavaliers have two big tackles in Brent Urban and David Dean, an athletic end in Eli Harold and stout Jake Snyder on the other end.
Oregon has two new starting guards this season, Stevens and Mana Greig, and on Saturday they’ll essentially have one-on-one matchups with Dean and Urban, respectively. Virginia plays straight-up prior to the snap, without swapping guys from one side to the other or altering their gaps much.
“My guy is my guy, and that’s who I’ve got to go against every play,” Stevens said. “I’ve got to learn his technique, learn his moves, really watch him on film and see what he’s going to do.”
But if Virginia is uncomplicated prior to the snap, all bets are off once the ball is in play. Those one-on-one matchups could quickly break down as the defensive linemen begin playing havoc.
Oregon’s blockers will need to have each other’s backs at that point. The man you’re matched up with before the snap may not be the man you end up blocking on the play.
“A lot of movements, a lot of slants, a lot of twists – not just in passing situations, but what I call run twists,” UO offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. “It forces you to really be on your mark.
“You line up and you’ve got a guy on your outside shoulder, you step to put your hat on that outside shoulder and all of a sudden now he’s gone inside. Hopefully that’s where our zone schemes and zone concepts will really come into play, but there’s got to be the ultimate trust that, as you fire off, you’ve got your inside or backside gap covered by your teammate so you can go to the second level.”
Footwork and technique will need to be “on point,” center Hroniss Grasu said.
“Their front seven, they’re very athletic and fast,” Grasu said. “But our offensive line definitely can matchup with their athleticism.”
Grasu called playing a four-man front “less of a headache for me,” because it’s easier to identify prior to the snap.
“When they’re in an ‘odd’ front, you’ve got to determine if it’s a four-man odd, or a true three-man odd,” Grasu said. “Now, getting the ‘even’ or ‘over’ front every single play, you’ve just got to make one point to (identify the middle) ‘backer and go from there. It’s very simple. There’s not much communication going on – one call will get the whole line going.”
The danger there is that Virginia could alter its scheme, of course. But Grasu said all the various looks the Ducks get from their own defense in practice should prepare them for just about anything.
Then, it comes down to each man handling his assignments, and Greatwood said his line did against Nicholls last week as well as it has at any point in his career. That included Greig and Stevens, the two new starters at guard.
“I thought they did very well,” Greatwood said. “But again, this is a whole different deal. They were uncovered (by an opposing defensive lineman) nearly the whole game. And they’ve been uncovered almost all of camp. This will be the first experience where they’re going to be covered pretty much every snap. So we’ll see how they get in there, keep their pads down and get some punch up front.”