Experts Say Oregon, Helfrich in Decline … Again

Freeman, Strobeck

The number of preseason predictions touting Washington as a conference front-runner and Oregon as a fading asset have surprised me. Like so many of you – I thought we earned our stripes by ranking in the top ten nationally so often during the past decade. Yet it seems experts are quick to downgrade the Ducks for imperfections (while giving other teams and coaches a pass), standing at the ready for the inevitable decline so many of them know will take place.

Things really haven’t changed that much in the eyes of the media over the last 20 years, have they?

Athlon Sports has Mark Helfrich listed as only the seventh best coach in the conference. It predicted Oregon would finish fourth this year … in the north division! Of course, these are the authorities that listed Helfrich as the 11th best conference coach before the 2014 season – where Oregon went to the National Championship game – and put Todd Graham of Arizona State as the best coach of the Pac-12 last year before his Arizona State Sun Devils went 6-7 last year. Stick a fork in that!

Oregon HC Mark Helfrich

John Sperry

Oregon HC Mark Helfrich

ESPN has Oregon ranked fifth in the conference for 2016, although there are some media sources that place the Ducks as high as second in their predictions. It has always amazed me how so many schools get respect for just being there, while Oregon has to be superb all the time to maintain confidence of the media. Many media pundits routinely predict the demise of the Ducks on an almost annual basis. This year they’re more eager than ever.

Good gosh - Phil Steele has a pretty accurate record over time and he has been supportive of Oregon in the past, yet even he lists the Ducks as FIFTH in the Pac-12 in his predictions for the upcoming season.

Neither Los Angeles school got to nine wins last year, but both are predicted to win the conference in a number of early-season analysis articles. Oregon finally falls to nine wins after an incredible run of success, and it is seen as weakness leading to an obvious bottom-about-to-drop-out scenario under Helfrich’s program. The Ducks scratch, kick and claw their way for years to be in the elite, and with their first nine-win season the media and many opposing fans say, “I knew it wouldn’t last.” How quick everyone desperately wants to write off Oregon!

These football pundits remind me of economists in the investment business … usually wrong, but never in doubt!

Let’s take a closer look at the results of coach Helfrich, and the basis of the bias against Oregon.

The Offense

One thing has been consistent at Oregon: whether Mark Helfrich was offensive coordinator or head coach, this Duck offense has been in the top five in the nation in scoring for each of the last five years. That is a remarkably long time to stay elite. I have seen innovative game plans from Helfrich since the Chip Kelly days, and a more balanced, more skilled passing game than under his predecessor. While coach Kelly could be stubborn to a fault – coach Helfrich has shown me that he will be flexible and adjust to real-time game conditions. The proof is in the scoring.

Quarterback Recruiting

Had Adams been healthy all season...

Craig Strobeck

Had Adams been healthy all season …

There has been a ton of criticism heaped on coach Helfrich for the lack of quality quarterbacks to follow Marcus Mariota, which resulted in an uptick in losses in 2015. It seems only the long-term Duck fans have any perspective on what truly occurred.

Helfrich did his job, but sometimes you just have bad luck at a particular position in recruiting. It has happened many times at Oregon in the past at other position groups where players were recruited, coached up, but due to a variety of factors did not work out. Thus the Ducks were left short at that position, even though the scholarships had been filled.

As you recall, St. Marcus was originally a three-star quarterback, and following him the Ducks recruited three-stars QBs Damion Hobbs and Jeff Lockie. Oregon did better in recruiting four-star quarterbacks Jake Rodriques and Morgan Mahalak. Yet none of the four worked out for the Ducks. And this is Helfrich’s fault?

Sometimes you just have bad luck at a position group. Oregon’s QB troubles were not from a lack of recruiting or coaching – it just happens and is, unfortunately, part of the deal in college football. Some would say that my interpretation of events is giving the coaching staff a pass, while I choose to consider it realistic; I’ll remind you that many of those recruiting choices were made under Kelly.

The good news is that the problem appears to be resolved. I am very comfortable with the QBs on board and those joining us shortly.

Overall Recruiting

Oregon did not finish as well as many would have wanted last year, but our recruiting analysis on this site has shown that Oregon needs only to have a top 20 recruiting class in order to continue in the top five over time. Some years will be under that and others over, but with an average in that proximity due to vetting of players on the front end, and coaching up the talent on the back end – Oregon and Helfrich will be fine. Hands were wringing about the Ducks slow start in recruiting for 2017, yet this past month has put Oregon back in the hunt for their usual place in the recruiting pecking order.

Hiring

Counting Brady Hoke, coach Helfrich has hired six coaches – of which five have worked out well. (The one negative performed well his first year, and while Hoke is unproven – this writer believes it will prove to be a superb hire.) Even if we pare it to success for four out of five, how many of us are as talented in our endeavors to have an 80% success rate? Mark Helfrich leads the Pac-12  in wins during his tenure, (22-5) and with a three-year record of 33-8 has again reached the 80% success rate in overall and conference wins.

Charles Nelson

Craig Strobeck

Charles Nelson

Not a Chip off the …

Coach Helfrich has demonstrated the ability to quickly adjust where needed, whether it be Xs and Os or recruiting. I have noted massive changes/improvements to the base plays of the Oregon offense since Chip left, as this evolution was needed with all the other conference teams duplicating the Ducks in the Spread Offense. Last year Mark began offering scholarships much sooner than ever at Oregon because that was the trend with prospective players, and now he is following prospects on Social Media unlike any time or any coach previously at Oregon.

He did not let the defensive problem fester; it happened – and he made immediate changes after one year. How much more can you ask considering how good the defense was in 2014?

An Institution?

He is learning on the job, but for what purpose? He is improving in every phase of the game, and it does not appear to be for creating a resume’ to jump to the NFL or another college team. He will take these lessons to make him a better long-term coach at Oregon, and when you consider the short and long term, is the best result for us as fans of the Ducks.

I believe the majority of the media is quite wrong about the 2016 season for Oregon, and just how good coach Helfrich is becoming for the University of Oregon. It will be a rare role considering the recent success of Oregon, but I think the Ducks will wear the “underdog” tag just fine this year and surprise millions.

“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

My friends - we are in a massive site conversion process to highlight and feature more than 240 analyses over the last five years, and we will ultimately return to video analysis, as well.  In the meantime – I WILL be writing an article about every ten days, so DO check in and see some of the dandies I’ve got brewing in me. If you haven’t, DO sign up for the newsletter so that when we begin the new format we have you on board with the new articles and analysis. THANKS.  (FishDuck)

Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

 

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • duckusucker

    I wish you’d write more. Go ahead and retire from the financial sector, already!
    Strong criticism for QB depth is warranted. Sure, you can recruit a dud or two at any position— but that many? None proved even adequate. A transfer saved the post-MM day, somewhat, but the complete and utter lack of ability by long-time Lockie is inexcusable. Coaches should have seen that in practice or real game experience. Simply inexcusable to not have. It’s okay to call out coaches when they’re inept at critical areas of their performance, i.e. recruiting, training, evaluation— over several years!
    Overall coaching: I agree with all other points. Helf is killin’ it w/coaching decisions w/the glaring exception of Pellum— and he more than made up for that with Hoke. And Yost.
    Offense is great to watch, but D is money. A hard-nosed group of defenders that play with controlled mayhem should take us to the next level.
    Of course the 2016 Ducks will have a lot of question marks— this is college ball. But I think it’s safe to say the D will be much better. Severe weaknesses appear to be much improved. Offense: stalwart and productive, as usual. Kicking game looking to be even better.
    Yeah, let the experts put us way down the polls.
    I’m betting that a wily ol’ pro like Hoke will use that further to motivate this young and unproven bunch to dominate as no D has at this school for quite some time.
    Let’s get ready to rummmmmmmmble!

    • FishDuck

      Thanks ducku, I will try to write once every ten days or so…or an average of that.

      With the QBs…it is so hard to tell. I recall the Bill Musgrave had the WORST talent in practice among 4-5 QBs, but was a gamer and the only way to find that out was to play him.

      EVERYONE including me that Mahalak was a lock….and there was something there we will never know as my sources tell me that players on the team and even an assistant coach on the team felt that he should have been playing–or at least given a chance last year.

      The film on Rodriquez was impressive…and when he transferred to San Diego State the coach there said that Jake would “start us on a whole new era.” Jake ended up third string last year for the Aztecs and played only a handful of plays.

      It is harder than it looks and considering the incredible quality of quarterbacking and QB coaching at Oregon over the years–it goes to show that nobody is perfect. Even one of the best programs makes mistakes and we could point to other programs as proof.

      Heck we have had walk-ons at QB come in save the day as Ryan Perry-Smith did in 1996 , but alas….not in 2015 for the Ducks.

      • duckusucker

        Of course, commenting on these things is arm-chairing, but keeping that in mind:
        knowing your starting QB could go down at any time (zone read QBs have lots of injury potential, it seems), why didn’t Helf play Alie and Lockie before it absolutely was necessary?
        The only answer, it appears, was to give Adams more experience since he was so green to the system. But, in games that were out-of-reach, it would make sense, wouldn’t it, to weigh which would be better: give a highly performing QB more time to further sharpen or give an absolutely green backup much needed snaps for both experience and evaluation?
        At any rate, I think the answer now is clear: whoever wins, Prukop or Jonsen, I hope Helf let’s the other guy get multiple snaps, especially in garbage time.

      • Anthony Joseph Gomes

        i was always skeptical of mahalik because of the lack of film on him. he played in the shadow of jared goff in HS for all but his last year. i think frost took him because he thought he would be goff part 2. i was hopeful and optimistic but nothing was ever proved in his case as i saw it. i didnt think they had enough information on him to give him 4 stars/

    • Anthony Joseph Gomes

      jeff lockie is one of those guys a helfrich type coach loves. straight A student. 130% work ethic. impeccable attitude. mr. overachiever. players with these qualities often are known to beat out talented sluggards chip kelly once stopped practice and told darren thomas in slow one word sentences “MAKE QUICKER DECISIONS”…which is what i wish helfrich would have shared with lockie. . lockie might be the most intelligent QB oregon ever had but when it came to acting on instinct he had an IQ of 70.

      • duckusucker

        every team needs guys like this to push the better athletes. he appears to be a great teammate, a wonderful young man.
        my criticism was meant for helf/frost in not A. noticing he was lacking in starting talent though they had years of evaluation to go on; B. giving him enough playing time (garbage, if nothing else) to have made that clear.
        these aren’t minor mistakes. these are systemic, long range failures.
        hopefully, the disappointing season coupled with the startling bowl game loss shook something awake inside coach.

        • Anthony Joseph Gomes

          helfrich is the 5th winningest coach of all those active with a 33/7 record. a man can either stand on his record of achievements or piles of hot air posting online.

          • duckusucker

            Mr. Gomes: I’m sorry you are unable intelligently to respond to my points. “Helf is God” isn’t an argument. You even contradict your own post, below, in which you place yourself above Frost in evaluating Mahalik. That implies (your reasoning expressed in piles of what, cool air?) you see yourself as an expert above Frost in evaluating QB talent, though somewhat below Helf (because, after all, he is God to you).
            Strange.
            This is a discussion forum, one of the very best. If having others disagree with you is so injurious to you, perhaps it isn’t for you?

  • goducks58

    Glad to see another thoughtful post here, Charles. And have to say that I agree with you on most of your points. I do have a bit of concern with Helfrich and the game play calling, but only in certain instances. (We had literally no business losing to WAZZU and of course the debacle vs TCU) Other than that I think the Ducks will be fine, pending the stepping up of some key position players. While my aggravation with recruiting success will always be present (How many times does Oregon need to finish in the top 5 before we actually get a top 10 recruiting class? With classes that Alabama or Ohio State get EVERY year, the Ducks would have double digit championships.)
    GO DUCKS !!!

    • FishDuck

      Hey 58…I have accepted that Oregon will NEVER get the recruiting classes of the Alabama’s and Ohio States of the world if we were going to–it already would have happened with all the impact that Oregon has had on college football with our uniforms, the Spread, and the No-Huddle.

      It did not happen under any other coach, and will not happen now–just my painful conclusion from years of watching recruiting. However we don’t need that to win a NC in my opinion.

      • duckusucker

        Glass half-full. We’ve done fantastic w/skill positions: though Nelson, Allen, et al weren’t recruited like Mixon, Adoree Jackson, or Juju, they’ve produced at a similar level.
        If Hoke’s addition does what I think it will, and we’ve had some good pickups already in sought-after D players, we could be in for big long-time improvements, overall!

  • Anthony Joseph Gomes

    are these the same “experts” that claim U$C will win the conference every year for the last 5 years. are these the same experts who claim whoever U$C is pimping for heisman will be a contender as they will be a contender for the natty ahead of proven oregon and stanford? if they are REALLY experts why are they always wrong? ill tell you what i think. i think they are not experts at all but idiots who get paid to speak from a certain perspective that has money attached to it.

    • FishDuck

      Funny how you mention USC, as they are touted as high as #8 by one expert and they have not won the conference in a while. For the dummies back east….USC is a default when they really don’t want to do much homework. Thanks Anthony.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    They just love to HATE on the Ducks and thats never been that big of a secret. They hate the fact that Oregon did it innovatively and not traditionally. Phil Knight lets just all agree is 1 of the main reasons Oregon has gradually climbed the Football Mountain the last 10 years. This is a big business and who of these NAYSAYERS wouldn’t love to have Uncle Phil as their Biggest booster on their team. Jealousy and Hate have been 1 of the biggest hurdles to Oregon’s Championship dreams. We should already have the hardware in the case if it wasn’t for Chip Kelly’s stubborness in the RZ against Auburn. Lets not forget the NCAA’s unfair advantage they gave the Buckeye’s in the last Championship we played. I mean does everyone forget the year we should of played Miami in the Championship game instead of a 3 loss Nebraska. I’m quite sure Oregon would of given Miami a better game than they did. I’ve got the feeling all is well again in Eugene and the Ducks will get right back to the PAC 12 Championship and then the Playoff’s. What really pisses me off is that these ASS CLOWNS get payed the money they get to down grade the Ducks. Really though for Oregon to get the respect they want they must once they get back to the playoff they actually need to win it all. I believe with the talent on our roster as well as the great 2 new hires in Hoke and Yost Oregon will have righted the ship because Helfrich’s young career as a HC depends on it.

    • FishDuck

      Your last sentence says it all Maitai, and I completely agree. I will be doing an in-depth prediction for Oregon’s season in a few weeks, but have some other subjects to cover first.

  • Mike West

    Charles,

    Glad you’re back in full force. I too am surprised the media has dismissed our Ducks so quickly. I do have a MAJOR concern about this year’s team. That would be the Run Defense against Spread formations.

    Now, if those two JC LBs turn out to be fast, agile and athletic, then this team will be awesome. As long as both backup QBs continue to develop, the Ducks will win games like last year’s TCU and WSU ( and really MSU).

    Rarely has a team with THREE close losses (with a horrible Defense last year to boot) been written off like this. The Ducks have too much upside at QB, and the skill set at both RB and WR is Top 5 nationwide.

    Now that Defense can handle an LSU Offense ( don’t laugh, the Tigers STILL don’t have a starting QB that can keep Defenses off balance-and the Ducks shut down Stanford’s run game when the Cardinal lined up like LSU usually does).

    The Ducks don’t have Ronnie Lott ( Palomalu for you young ones) type safeties to cover the natural gaps Spread Offenses create against Defenses though. Safeties like those two have the ability to handle both run support and 1 on 1 coverage against the 3 WR set in a Spread formation.

    I think Hoke is wise enough to give the Offense their looks. I also believe Lubick is a more creative Coordinator than Frost. Thus I see some upsets this year. CAN YOU SAY MONEY LINE!!!!!!!!

    • Hey Mike,

      Later on when I go into my official season predictions for the Ducks I will spell it out more in detail, but I have the same concerns at safety as you do. When Charles Nelson was back there…I felt that he was our ultimate firewall, but now that he won’t be–I am concerned about big plays against the Ducks.

      Our classic outside LB profile has changed to adjust to the Spread Offenses of the conference, and I think Brady Hoke has a firm understanding of that and how we need to tweak our personnel to it.

      Thanks for writing!

  • douglas fur

    I’m comfortable with being underdogs. It’s easier to play from a position in which you have a target in front of you than a target on your back.

    • Amen Douglas….and the disrespect has continued since I wrote the article!

  • bbb

    Charles,

    As always, I love reading your analysis – all of it. I have been chewing on your other article about the end of the BBDB defensive strategy. I wanted to make a comment on that, but couldn’t find it. So, here’s my take – not necessarily as informed as others, but drawn from a series of impressions.

    I think the BBDB defensive strategy played its part for the time it was used under the Chip Kelly era. At that time, Oregon’s big edge was in the area of conditioning, both on offense and defense. There was much made of the rotating defensive units Oregon was using. Considering the potency of the offense and the conditioning edge Oregon enjoyed, they would have huge advantages in the later stages of games. During that time, the offense was executing amazingly well – with notable exceptions, as you have noted in the NCG against Auburn. The pressure quickly mounted on the opposing offense to go out of their game plan and the defense only had to keep things in check.

    In the last few years, the conditioning and innovation edge of the blur offense has subsided. Teams like Stanford and Ohio State (among others) have used the power set to flood one point with blockers, making it easier to gain yards against the two gap linemen. Oregon has been a year or two late in making the evolution – one year with a great defensive group that went to the NCG in 2015 and last year as the tipping point. As with you, I am thrilled that the coaching staff seems to recognize this and are willing to make adjustments that keep the program moving forward.

    This next year promises to electric with excitement. I am glad to see the Ducks projected low. It means the only respect they get is what they earn on the field. And that is a great place to be.

    • bbb….that is very thoughtful and great commentary. I do appreciate your writing, and would invite your well written thoughts here anytime….

  • tc mcgillicutty

    charles, you are a genius, everything single point you made was wrong. everything. wow

  • tc mcgillicutty

    i mean literally every single point you made