Oregon’s offense preparing for unpredictable, uncommon Iowa State defense


In an uncertain and sporadic college football season, the Oregon Ducks will cap off this season in the most 2020 fitting way possible with something they haven’t yet faced this season: a new defensive scheme.

As No. 25 Oregon is prepping for No. 10 Iowa State this week in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, one of the things that will stand out on film is the Cyclones defensive look featuring a 3-3-5 scheme.

This is something uncommon in the Pac-12 conference, but something somewhat familiar to Oregon Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead.

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It has been some time since the Oregon first-year offensive coordinator has seen this defensive look in his coaching tenure that dates back to 2004.

When he was at Akron University (assistant coach, 2004-2008), the Zips’ base defense was the odd stack. Then at his alma mater Fordham University (head coach, 2012-2015), conference rival Villanova played this scheme. Finally in his first game at Mississippi State (head coach, 2018-2019), opponent Stephen F. Austin ran the odd stack.

“Those were a little bit of a different configuration,” Moorhead told The Oregonian’s James Crepea on Wednesday. “Iowa State is not a true stack per se, their backers are kind of evened up in the box, so it is a little bit different in terms of how the box presents itself. 


“Our defense plays some three down odd looks, so the front is going to be relatively similar, but like I said it’s the three-safety and the disguise and those guys are buzzing all over the place. That’s what makes it most challenging.”

This 3-3-5 defensive scheme has given the Big 12 conference trouble all season. The Cyclones allow 343 yards per game (238.4 passing and 104.6 rushing) and are second in the conference in least points allowed per game (21.8). 

Re-watching the Big 12 Championship Game against the Oklahoma Sooners, the Iowa State defense has various pre-snap defensive looks as well as movement. This can be tough on the opposing quarterback’s read, especially one that doesn’t have a lot of experience. 

“They present a lot of angles, they present a lot of coverages and they fit in different ways,” said Oregon sophomore quarterback Tyler Shough. “We’re just going to have to execute our offense and execute what we do and adjust accordingly to what they’re doing. We feel confident in our game plan and going to attack it and play accordingly.”

The Iowa State secondary is where this Cyclones defense gives up the most yards. Against the Sooners, quarterback Spencer Rattler completed 22-of-34 passes for 272 yards and one touchdown. The Sooners put up 272 receiving yards in that Big 12 Championship Game and six out of seven receivers who caught passes registered catches over 10+ yards.

“You have to create explosive plays and limit turnovers with whoever we're playing. They're a great secondary," said Shough. "Whatever coverage they're playing, they're going to mix it up. So we're going to have to find ways to get open and do the best that we can. There's no certain situation or time of the game where we're looking to create explosive plays. We're always looking for those as an offense.”

A note: Redshirt-freshman defensive back Isheem Young, who was named a Freshman All-American and co-Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Big 12 this season, will be back on the field against Oregon after getting called and ejected for a targeting penalty on the second play of the game against Oklahoma.

Kickoff between the Ducks and Cyclones is scheduled for 1 p.m. (PT) on Saturday, January 2 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.