Can Colorado find a way to gum up Oregon's elite offense?
May 26, 2016 by Dave Lipson in Analysis with 0 comments
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After a down year for the accomplished program, Colorado Mamabird enters the College Championships further down the seedings than usual. This sets up a potential barn-burner in pool play against #2 overall seed Oregon Ego.
Colorado’s biggest challenge in pulling off the upset will be manufacturing breaks against a top-flight offense. However, Mamabird has been successful defensively this season when they disrupt opposing offenses’ throwing lanes, creating confusion and inducing turnovers.
One way they do this is by poaching in a man defense set. Here, bringing a poach off of the front of the stack gives Colorado an easy block against UMass.
Colorado also switches off the back of the formation – in this play they are able to get a defender with better position switched onto a deep cutter, ultimately getting the block.
The Mamabird defense also throws aggressive zone looks that are designed to shrink the downfield throwing spaces. Colorado runs both a 2-4-1 and a 2-3-2 zone set, using two defenders at the handler level to corral the disc and funnel it into the middle of the field. The three or four defenders responsible for the middle of the field match up aggressively on cutters in their space. These defenders have the freedom to range very far in order to deny downfield targets. In this possession, the middle and right-side defenders have followed handlers and poppers aggressively as they move to the disc-side of the field, while the third defender slides even further to the off-side of the field to cover the off-side wing.
Because of how aggressively the defenders pursue and how far they are allowed to roam, the zone look doesn’t keep a consistent shape. On this play, the middle row of the 2-4-1 starts the possession with clear and even spacing. As the play develops, the defenders are comfortable sticking with the cutters they’ve picked up, even if that changes the shape of the formation. By the end of this clip, Colorado has overloaded the space around the disc by sticking tightly to the Western Washington cutters collapsing towards the thrower. The result is a defensive look that bears almost no resemblance to the one the offense was seeing at the beginning of the point.
Because these defenses often don’t look the same from point to point (or even from throw to throw), they make it difficult for offenses to get into a rhythm. This clip shows how the confusion instilled by the Colorado defense flusters the Western Washington offense – Western just barely gets a swing pass past a Mamabird defender, then delivers a tough pass to a crasher coming towards the thrower at an awkward angle, and ultimately turns the disc over trying to complete a rushed pass to the sideline at a sharp angle. The whole sequence feels frantic, and Western looks like they are pressing — precisely what the defense wants to see.
Oregon will be the toughest test for Colorado’s defensive schemes, because Ego excels at offensive spacing.
Oregon’s offensive players are disciplined about maximizing the real estate for their active cutters. For instance, when they work out of a horizontal stack here, the cutters on each wing stay tight to the sidelines, which creates huge lanes for the middle two cutters to operate. When these cutters clear, they preserve that space for the next cutter, and keep the lane clear for an IO pass to the middle of the field.
Similarly, when Oregon looks to run the offense through its handlers on this play, they push their offensive formation far downfield, giving their players ample space to go to work one-on-one. In this sequence, the first option (an attacking up-line cut) is taken away by the defense, and Oregon throws a second-option swing pass. However, because they spaced the field so well, the swing cut can start from a position that lets Ego still gain yards and move the disc to a more threatening position.
Especially important for the matchup against Colorado, this spacing also takes help defenders farther away from the play, minimizing the opportunities for opportunistic poaches and defensive help that Colorado likes to hunt for.
Oregon’s disciplined spacing will also help them work through Colorado’s aggressive zone looks — this possession illustrates exactly how.
Oregon picks up facing a zone that’s trapping them on the sideline in poor weather. Re-setting the disc backwards, they change the angle of attack. The Oregon popper identifies open space in the middle which is now reachable by an inside forehand, and moves into it even though there is a defender currently taking him away. As a second Oregon popper cuts for the disc on the open-side sideline, that cut commands the attention of the Washington defender in the middle of the field. The defender commits to taking that cut away, which leaves the inside throw open – Oregon completes it easily, beating the trap and breaking open the zone.
By spacing themselves in the most valuable parts of the field, and making defenders choose between taking away two viable targets, Oregon pulls defenders out of position, and creates clear openings for easy throws.
Colorado will go into this game looking to disrupt Oregon’s throwing lanes. Oregon will lean on their spacing and discipline to keep those lanes clear and create holes in the defense. Whoever can win this battle will have better odds of emerging from a critical pool-play matchup, and taking one step closer to a deep run at the Championships.