Constantly on the lookout for new ideas or approaches on offense, it wasn’t long before Mike Riley’s attention was caught by the work of Mark Speckman at Willamette.
Speckman had taken the fly sweep and made it the foundation of his offense.
Intrigued, Riley dispatched offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh to Salem to learn some fly sweep concepts.
“It was unbelievable,” Cavanaugh said. “That was a big part of their offense and they ran it out of a variety of ways.
“They had red light, green light, yellow light, basically where that ball could break at certain times as the sweeper came around. That was a little too complex. So we tried to keep it simple.”
Cavanaugh and Langsdorf returned to Corvallis with some basics that they could install into OSU’s pro-style offense.
The play essentially involves putting a receiver into motion, faking to a running back and handing the ball to the receiver, who sprints to the corner with the idea of getting into the open.
“It gives you the chance to put the ball in hands of some of your good players,” OSU receivers coach Brent Brennan said. “Some of your guys that have good speed in space.”
Cavanaugh said the fly sweep is fairly easy for the linemen to block for but puts pressure on the perimeter players to clear the way in space.
That can mean hitting a linebacker or a safety.
“That’s what we need to do on the perimeter is we’ve got to block,” Brennan said. “We’ve got to handle those guys and they’re not easy blocks because you’re out there for a long time.”
It wasn’t long before it turned into a major part of the Beavers’ arsenal.
James Rodgers did so well with the fly sweep that the Beavers became known for the play.
Rodgers put up some solid rushing numbers with the fly sweep and raced in from 25 yards to give the Beavers a 38-31 win over Oregon in two overtimes in the 2007 Civil War game in Eugene.
“Since James was here and we started making it a part of our identity, it’s been good to have for us,” Riley said.
Markus Wheaton also had some success with the fly sweep but the Beavers have needed it to bolster their run game this season and they’ve had the receivers to make it work.
Brandin Cooks has carried the ball 16 times for 106 yards and a touchdown, and Victor Bolden has six rushes for 43 yards.
The fly sweep was particularly effective at Washington State. Cooks had four carries for 34 yards and his score and Bolden had 27 yards on two attempts.
“When we have fast guys, explosive guys like Vic and Brandin, those fly sweeps will come alive,” receiver Kevin Cummings said. “They’ll start pulling people out of the box and give our run game chances to increase it in the middle. We kind of saw a little bit of that at Washington State so we saw it was working and what we can keep getting better at. It will develop.”
Langsdorf said the Beavers always test the waters with the fly sweep to see if they can get a big play.
Some games it’s clicking, others it gets shut down.
“There are teams that prepare for it better than others,” Langsdorf said. “Last week we used it more and we felt we had some good plays against them, so we kept doing it. If they have an answer and they devote some people to defend it, then it’s not so good and that’s week-to-week. It just depends on how they’re playing it.
“We continue to test that and see early on if we think we have it or not and when we do we keep running it.
As long as Riley and the Beavers keep getting players like Rodgers and Cooks in Corvallis, they’ll run the fly sweep.
“It’s our old standby,” Langsdorf said. “It’s something that’s stood the test of time and it’s given us great production.”