Mark Helfrich’s Quarterback MESS at Oregon

We have read the pundits in the media along with the opinions from the ”experts” on the Oregon message boards; the quarterback recruiting in the past at Oregon has been a disaster after Marcus Mariota, and the present is a muddled mess due to the emergence of freshman QB Justin Herbert unsettling the usual quarterback rotation. These assertions would sound something like …

Head coach Mark Helfrich first failed to plan for an adequate quarterback successor to Mariota, then in desperation had to turn to graduate transfers without anyone experienced in relief. Then later this year Oregon will lose a talented quarterback via transfer due to the mess in the rotation among the current QBs. Helfrich has squandered the visibility gained from Heisman QB for the Ducks, and proven to not be up to the task as head coach at Oregon.

I really hate the nonsense I see written about coach Helfrich from people who do not know football or do not understand or appreciate the unknown factors that change things for the Oregon program, just as unforeseen events change the lives of us all. Nonetheless – perfection is required of the head coach, and anything less is unacceptable to these critics.

You really DON'T want a Skull Session with the Grizzled Ol' Coach.

Charles Fischer

You really DON’T want a Skull Session with the Grizzled Ol’ Coach.

Before we proceed … remember one of the FishDuck truths learned over the past five years; football coaches in college and high school have a knowledge base of 9.5 to 10.0, while fans think they are at 7.0 … but they are at 1.5 in reality.

I was your classic example; I played high school football and knew more than most. I watched football for another 37 years and knew that I was an astute football observer. At least I was until the Grizzled Ol’ Coach spent a skull session going over games the first time with me and I was shocked at what I did not know.

Most football fans truly don’t know what they don’t know.

In the process of making more than 50 instructional videos on the Oregon offensive and defensive schemes and more than 200 written analysis articles, I’ve learned a lot from the coaches (my knowledge pales in comparison to them), hence I can make these statements from the unique position of once being where a typical fan currently is.

I’ve progressed a ton, but not enough growth to warrant anything more (or less) than what a high school JV coach would know. Don’t believe me? Come to my ManCave, and I’ll bring a coach to go over games with you, and he’ll deliver a slice of humble pie. The taste sucks, as I can confirm.

But let’s examine the recruiting that Helfrich and his staff achieved around the Marcus Mariota era at Oregon …

Oregon recruited two 3-star quarterbacks, and two 4-star quarterbacks. Let’s start with those you really know - Jeff Lockie was a 3-star and I don’t have to elaborate as his shortcomings required the recruiting of graduate transfers, Vernon Adams and Dakota Prukop.

Eight power conference teams thought Damion Hobbs could play.

24/7 Sports

Eight Power-5 conference teams thought Damion Hobbs could play.

The story behind 4-star Morgan Mahalak is shrouded in mystery, as he was never given a chance to play, even though (through my rumor mill and sources) he had players and an assistant coach apologize to him because he should have been playing in 2015. I think it was an issue with OC Scott Frost, but again we cannot confirm.

Another 4-star quarterback was Jake Rodriques who at 6’3″ with mobility (assumed after healing from injury) and a rifle arm seemed to be a great fit at Oregon.

Alas it did not and when he transferred to San Diego State, the head coach announced that Jake would lead SDS into a new era. After sitting out a year he ended up as a third-string QB for the Aztecs. Rodriques was initially offered by Michigan, USC, Washington, Nebraska, Miami, UCLA, ASU, Utah, Arizona … you get the idea. Oregon was not the only Power-5 conference school sold on him.

Don’t forget 3-star quarterback Damion Hobbs at 6’2″ and 190 from Cedar Hill, Texas. He was offered by two ACC programs, two Pac-12 schools, two B1G teams, and two SEC schools – for a total of eight Power-5 conference offers? Fast, athletic and a good passer, he seemed like a nice luxury to add to the QB depth.

My friends that is four quarterbacks who were 3- or 4-stars who did not work out for one reason or another. Think about it … four! I surely would have thought that one would have materialized, or most likely two. But none? Who would think that?

Did any of the armchair Helfrich-haters predict this? Could anyone have seen that in advance? What happened, Duck fans, is that sometimes you have bad luck in recruiting at a particular position. It has happened before at Oregon to other coaches and other positions, but you could have bet and won tons of money off Oregon fans who never would have anticipated what occurred at the quarterback position! Anyone can second-guess after-the-fact, but think about it; all of us have had stuff like this happen in our lives that you just can’t predict because it is too improbable and even a little bizarre.

But Mark Helfrich is supposed to be perfect.

Now the Ducks have a fine new QB mess on the opposite end of the spectrum; Justin Herbert stunned everyone by moving up the depth chart in just a couple of weeks in fall camp past 3-star Terry Wilson, and 4-star Travis Jonsen. Considering the ease with which Herbert seems to have grasped the running of the offense as a newbie, it is almost assured that Oregon will lose one of the aforementioned QBs to transfer before spring ball. With no QB verbal lined for the February 2017 signing day, Herbert’s talent has messed up the expected Oregon quarterback rotation.

Again … nobody could have predicted this.

Herbert's first TD at Oregon is running?

From Video

Herbert’s first TD at Oregon is running?

Would some of those harsh critics get reasonable for a second? Analyzing and projecting the upside of high school talent is more of an art than science, and it seems that none of the howlers are able to put themselves in the coaches place. Think about it – you can’t go by the star-system, because Mariota and Herbert were three-stars, for crying out loud!

Recruiting is harder than it looks.

There have been rumors about Herbert starting against the Huskies, and already many are blustering about it being a “desperation” move. Maybe there was an injury to Prukop; perhaps there is something going on at practice that only the coaches know?

Maybe some of the players being vocal about the talents of Herbert have made an impression on the coaching staff after the Mahalak fiasco? Giving the freshman a chance and answering the requests of the players might help keep the team unified? This is a fragile time for the confidence of this team …

Or maybe it is all rumor and crap.

The point is, we don’t know what is going on, and the Oregon coaches know more than we do in terms of football and what they see at practice. To speculate in silly ways (as I’ve done), and pretend you know something, is just like the improbabilities of recruiting. You are going to be surprised. There are many things you can disagree with coach Helfrich on, but let’s cut some slack on the quarterback recruiting condemnation of the past.

There is only one thing certain with the quarterback situation at Oregon – none of us can predict what will happen next!

Charles Fischer
College Football Analyst for
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo from Video

Readers: Every writer on is allowed to express their opinion in their articles. However, articles do not represent the views of the other writers, editors, coaching consultants, management, or the principals of    Charles Fischer

Print Friendly
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...

  • Stagamancer

    “while fans think they are at 7.0 … but they are at 1.5 in reality.”

    This is known at the Dunning-Kruger effect: “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is”.

    The most infuriating aspect of it is that people will recognize this when it comes to their own area of expertise. A lawyer, for example, may recognize how others think they know much more about a given area of law than they really do. But that same lawyer might then turn around and think they know much more about college football than they really do.

    Thanks for the post, Charles, I love coming here to find out what I didn’t know I didn’t know.

    • Fascinating. Now I learned something cool and new for today. I appreciate your thoughts and the explanation for that phenomenon.

      It happens a lot with Tech people; they assume that since you don’t know what they know–you are stupid. Yet they know nothing about my field, your field, etc and still assume we are not very bright.

      I don’t expect people to know what I know, just as I’m trying to catch up with what many coaches know. The experience of a “Skull-Session” with the GOC was so mind-blowing and humiliating. We truly “don’t know what we don’t know.”


    • Jason McCawley

      I freaking love this!

    • Matt B.

      That reminds me of one of my favorite lawyer jokes: What’s the difference between an accountant and a lawyer? Answer: Accountants know they are boring.

      Lawyers are special. Especially litigators. We become experts in any industry and field that comes across our desk in a fraction of the time it takes our clients to master their craft and build their business. We make grand arguments, quite certain we are not only correct but brilliant, then we ask other lawyers, the ones in black robes, to decide which of the 3 (or more) lawyers in the room is correct. The fact that none of the 3 hypothetical lawyers have ever spent a day working in the industry at hand is entirely irrelevant to the process. (The funny part is that when the cases are big and important, we call this checks and balances.)

      In any event, I nonetheless urge you to check for the baby before tossing the water. Even lawyers can make valid observations.

      • Stagamancer

        “Even lawyers can make valid observations”

        I wasn’t arguing against this. Anybody could make an astute observation or a well reasoned argument. The biggest problem with the situation at Oregon (and any similar situation where there are multiple variables and people at play) is that we can’t be very scientific about determining causation in particular. We can all look at the stats and see things are going very well right now, but that tells us almost nothing about why. Even putting them in context of Oregon’s timeline (Chip Kelly, Marcus leaving) means almost nothing, as a lawyer will tell you that’s the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy.

        So, we’re left trusting experts. People who have coached and played football, and in particular college football have a much better understanding (in general) of how and why things go bad, than people who haven’t. They’ve seen myriad reasons why things go bad (or good), and thus have a better **chance** at being right about the reasons for any given situation than a lay person.

        “We become experts in any industry and field that comes across our desk in a fraction of the time it takes our clients to master their craft and build their business.”

        Well, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would disagree that lawyers become actual experts in an entire field just by litigating on behalf of a client. As a scientist who has given advice to a lawyer on a few occasions, I’d count myself one of them.

        • Matt B.

          That part about becoming experts – was sarcasm. A lot of lawyers believe it, but I’m not one of them.

  • Eric H

    Have to wonder how much of the QB situation is them not recruiting well-enough versus Frost not developing/coaching the QBs as well as Helfrich did in the same position. While Chip continued working with the QBs a bit once he became HC, you hear almost nothing of Helf helping that position out. If so, what is he doing with his time that precludes him from doing what Chip did and using his considerable QB coaching ability?

  • Mike Green

    yes, good points, but…

    we lost to LSU and backup QB,
    we lost to OSU in the natty – they had a third string who could not only pass, but run for 1st downs,
    TCU beat us with a backup QB,

    hard to see where Oregon went wrong, but easy to see how ducks don’t/can’t measure up to other programs

    and QB is NOT a hard to fill position like defensive tackle — west coast grows plenty of QBs and only 12 power 5 teams to play for in the western third of the entire country.

    From watching Prukop play, he is well coached – he knows the plays – he knows the progressions, etc.

    What he can’t do is be accurate on deep throws – no coaching can fix that – either you are born with it or you are not – its called hand-eye coordination

    I think coaches see that and that is why Herbert is next man up

    • Mike West

      Prukop aims the ball when he throws deep. He doesn’t trust his hand eye coordination. Easy ups till he finds his rhythm (and muscle memory) will cure that. It’s just playing catch.

      On the other hand, the guy’s worst performance yielded 31 points. If you lose after scoring 31 points, your QB is NOT the problem.

      Outscoring teams by having to average 40 PPG is a horrible strategy.

  • Mike Green

    also, I remember the first Boise St game — where Darron Thomas was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman scout team QB…

    he nearly won the game – and he was obviously NOT coached up for the task

    I can’t see the entire field when I watch duck games and I dont do replays in slow motion, but I can see things like poor throws, missed tackles, defenders not getting off blocks, dropped passes, etc.

    and so do other fans — we can’t figure out scheme failures, but we can easily see when individual players are not getting the job done at a 10.0 level

  • beautifulportland

    Thanks Charles.
    Is it true that Yost, wanted to start Herbert back in Sept. but was voted down by staff. The reason I ask, is because it seems that some important decisions have only been made by the HC only after failures have taken place, even though another option was advised.

    Another question: Is not the defense the major problem at this point. Oregon offense it still in the high efficiently range, under DP?

    • The defense IS the major problem, but GOC addressed that pretty well on Monday (which I agreed with) and I have noted a TON of posts on message boards about Helfrich “not QB planning for after Mariota” and wanted to address them.

      Again…these are my thoughts and the agreement of GOC, but do not represent the other writers, editors, and Coaching Consultants on this site.

      • OregonAndy

        I disagree that the defense is the major problem. It is definitely *a* major problem, but it has been a problem for years. Our offense has largely hidden the defenses problems, because it has forced opponents to be one dimensional in an effort to keep pace with us. I believe that the defense only seems worse.

  • Matt B.

    Good points. No one can control the variables. Now, if QB recruiting were the only problem…. Oregon’s has the 6th highest penalty-yards per game (123:128) at 86.2, for example….

  • Notalot

    Is your point that “stuff” happens? Sometimes bizarre stuff? I’m most often from the camp of “cause and effect”. Most times things happen as a result of other things. This QB Mess results from weak personalities, leadership, communication, coaching, play-calling, negative momentum, and other things that thereby have resulted in turmoil, uncertainty and missed queues. It doesn’t look like the seasoned staff is on the same page either.

    • We have had a ton of misinformed opinions spouted–and some right here on this site and the comments. I wished to address the accusation that Helfrich was napping when it came to QBs since it comes up often.

      I agree about the penalties….but it looks like I need to do an article about the “PERSONALTY” it takes to win. So many believe Mark doesn’t have it and they’ve never talked to him in-depth or even met the guy.

      Does Chris Petersen look like he is “larger than life” like Chip Kelly? Or a charismatic personality?

      Coaches win in different ways.

      • Jon Sousa

        Good point about Petersen. Seems quiet and not “in your face”. Cerebral, like MH.


    Well I can surely attest to this I also played Football and was pretty good and I’ve watched a whole lot of Football and know this I’m about as good at it as you Fish. I will say this as I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see our Freshman QB make some plays down field that Prukop for whatever reason hasn’t been able to get this done as accurately as we’d like. I’m gonna go out on a lim here and say 13-0 and running. It only takes 1 guy to right the ship to get everyone else to follow suit. This kid is under rated and he is good and more than likely our future here aye QB. I still feel Helfrich is always late to making a move that turns the teams fortunes as he’s shown to be late in making moves. There I said that twice in the same sentence. I still believe there is talent on both sides and sooner or later they all need to just get out there and get it done. I have no doubt this team even being as young as they are still are talented to hand it to the MUTTS Saturday and I’m counting on them doing just that. I hope these guys rite the ship but either way our QB future starts Saturday against those UGLY PURPLE UNI’s and Chris Petersen who I’d like to send back up North with his tail between his legs because I clearly don’t like him as a Coach because he coaches the enemy. Go Ducks!

    • Mike Green

      I can see that IF young master Herbert can make a few better throws, that the ducks score anther touchdown in each half — that is an extra 14 points, OK…

      now about giving up 36 first downs to Wa St — no QB can fix that

      ducks are getting NOTHING from their defensive ends and tackles — Jelks looked good, but he is out

      maybe it is best to give up 70 and get on the with the search for a new head coach?

  • Mike West

    Great points Charles. I still remember when your website emerged. The video lessons were awesome. I also remember a few sessions spelled out by “The Griz”. I was also dumbfounded at what I didn’t know technically.

    I do have a Oregon Hall of Fame dad, and we exchange philosophies on what can and can not be done. He does not like Helf. I do, but I see flaws. Some things are easy to coach (like technique), some aren’t (like scheme).

    One thing I notice about coaches from all levels now is they wait way too long to ditch half baked game plans. I really like Lubick because he adjusts within a quarter. I believe Hoke is an excellent coach (with abysmal talent). My take on Helf is he gives the position coaches too much autonomy.

    I’d have to write a full article to explain, so let’s just say the Linebackers lack instinct, the DBs think the QBs are running the pass routes (why DBs think they are faster than a thrown football baffles me- you can’t cover a receiver if you’re not looking at him), and until Hoke arrived, Defensive Tackle sized players were playing Defensive End ( it kept Armstead here an extra year though, as well as Buckner, but Chip and Helf missed out on a Natty putting both of them outside in a 3-4, while I would have stacked them inside in a 4-3 and found me a couple of agile OLBs).

    I think HCs own that because they see the whole picture and as the boss, dictate what they want philosophically, practically, and strategically. In addition, they evaluate what players are able (and not able) to do. Just think what Buckner and Armstead could have done had they both been inside for three years. Goodbye Stanford victories. Hello Crystal Ball.

    Just my amateur take.

  • Chris Laski

    You nailed it! I have been a devoted fan since 1987. You would think that some of these ppl would be in heaven being that we could have a winning season on a rebuilding year! Smart ppl are laughing at duck fans. they are like some guy that works at the gas station who wins the lottery.