Fri Oct 22 06:14am EDT
Oregon's chart-topping offense turned heads in the usual ways Thursday night, eviscerating UCLA with its relentless speed and versatility in a 60-13 massacre. But it was also the first time a national audience has gotten a good look at the system of seemingly random, unrelated images relayed from placards on the Duck sideline. What gives?
Regular readers may recall that the boards were first introduced in the spring, after offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich began to suspect the offensive signals "were, maybe, compromised" at various points last season. Recalling the brightly colored, bizarrely encrypted clown boards the Ducks encountered against Oklahoma State in the 2008 Holiday Bowl, Helfrich decided to add a few more layers of inscrutability with a dada motif of his own. From the Oregonian:
So this spring, Oregon is instituting a new system of signals. In addition to the gesticulations from the sidelines, members of the team will be holding up poster-board-sized placards, each containing four images.
Those images can seem a bit peculiar. One is of the planet earth, another is a shamrock, another is the face of Shaquille O’Neal, another of a sprinting wild animal. To the untrained eye, there is no rhyme or reason to the images, but to the Ducks, they are signals that are easier to see and harder for opponents to decipher.
Not only are the images easier to see, but they are much quicker to read. And for an offense built on tempo, that can mean a valuable second or so saved.
“Part of it is to increase the speed, and part of it is the undercover mode that we're trying to be in," Helfrich said.
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The system is "real basic" and doesn't require any complex deduction, according to right tackle Mark Asper ("It's not, 'OK, I have to add the top square and the bottom square.' We're not dividing matrices out there."). But it is designed specifically to be eye-catching and occasionally funny enough to stick in the minds of a bunch of exhausted 20-year-olds in the fourth quarter. A shamrock, for example, could stand for a particular formation or alignment whose name that has something to do with "lucky" or "Irish"; Asper said the call when the snap count is on two may be "Mickelson," because golfer Phil Mickelson "always comes in second." Et cetera.
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So if you're trying to piece together some of the play calls against UCLA, they might roughly translate to "King Swamp Battleship on Bush," or "Corso Chipmunk Caddyshack on New Hampshire," which, yeah, isn't a lot of help to the layman, either. Of course, against UCLA or almost anyone else the Ducks have buried under a mountain of touchdowns during their 7-0 start, they might as well have been telling the offense "do whatever you want," because they could have handed over the entire playbook and still covered the spread.
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