It was not that much different than 10 months ago when I heard Coach Mario Cristobal speak at Oregon’s recruiting luncheon in February. I came away impressed. I was motivated from his energy, his aura that shouts, “winner.” I remember writing back then that I was so enthused, that this old former offensive lineman was ready to leap out of his seat and jump into a three-point stance.
“Put me in coach!”
This article will be different from the other media…
My friends — there were a ton of human interest tidbits that emerged from Coach Cristobal’s press conference, and I plan to let the other media cover most of that. FishDuck.com is credentialed media and I decided to attend this press conference to hopefully get some answers.
I wish to hone in on what I learned afterward, speaking individually to Mario and away from the media glare. I did not expect such tasty information to come flowing out from him. So I did not have my recorder on, and our conversation wasn’t taped by other media.
What I have below is him talking directly to me for a few minutes. I am paraphrasing his answers to the best of my memory.
Understand that I am more of a fan, like you, than the professional journalists in attendance. So my questions are much more focused on what I personally wanted to learn, and not what was needed for a “feel-good” article.
Cristobal answers Mr. FishDuck’s questions in private …
Is your offense going to be more like earlier in the season — running primarily between the tackles — or will it be more like what we saw in the ground game of your final two games?
I believe in a balanced attack, as our offense was quite different from the beginning of the season to what you saw at the end. The plays to the perimeter, and the power plays inside the box, will continue as I prefer a balance between the two, but with very hard physical domination at the line of scrimmage.
Under Chip Kelly, Oregon had a “run first” focus, while under Mark Helfrich, we saw that Oregon tilted toward more passing due to the presence of Marcus Mariota. Considering the talents of Justin Herbert — do you see a higher percentage of passing?
Balance, again, is the key. I want to keep defenses guessing and we will have a balance between the running and passing game at Oregon. The other reason is to give our players a look at all the parts of an offense that they might be expected to know going into the NFL. I want them to know all the pass protections and blocking for formations where the quarterback is behind the center, as well as in a shotgun. They need to know power principals and the pin-and-pull techniques to help them make an NFL roster.
I am familiar with the Outside Zone Read and Sweep Read plays you use to attack the edges, but the Oregon offense had a new wrinkle in there near the end of the season — almost like an NFL-like “Stretch” play. Did I see that correctly?
He looked around to see if anyone else was listening and then he leaned forward and spoke softly in almost a whisper and said, “we’re running parts of the Alabama offense now. That play is run in the NFL, but I brought it in from my experience in Tuscaloosa.”
Coach … when the Inside Zone Read creates a “pull” decision by the quarterback — he is running on the backside of the play in open field where he can slide before a tackle. Are we going to see our quarterback run between the tackles again with your “Toss-Read” or “Quarterback Power” plays?
He gave me a look that nobody saw when he was at the podium. It was a furrowed forehead, possibly a look of surprise and a total expression of, “you must be completely out of your mind!” That look appeared completely natural and quick to come to his face; it seemed genuine. He again leaned forward and shared quietly that…
“No. We want Justin upright and healthy. No.” (Shaking head)
I wanted to hug the guy. How important is that to Oregon fans? At minimum, we won’t have to go through the worry of whether he will change his mind or mix it up. That look told me to take those two plays out of the FishDuck.com Oregon playbook, because MC is committed to keeping Justin Herbert and Oregon’s quarterbacks injury-free. Having the verbal commitment of Tyler Shough, a pro-style quarterback, now makes a ton of sense as he is fast enough for the occasional scramble or zone read, but is a highly skilled passer.
My impression is that you’ll see QBs run at Oregon a little less than even Mariota, and I believe that will be an addition to the offense by subtraction.
Important Answers Given to all the Media
Coach Mario Cristobal acknowledged that he would remain as offensive line coach, and that current co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo would be calling the plays during the game. He did not overtly state it, but the impression was that Arroyo would be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Keep in mind that Marcus has been a co-offensive coordinator at two teams, Oregon being one. He was an offensive coordinator at two other programs, and called the plays for an NFL team one season.
It appears that Cristobal knows the talents of Coach Arroyo and plans to unleash his own offensive ideas in tandem with what Marcus has learned at the many stops in his career.
Coach Cristobal confirmed the improvement in recruiting, but felt it could still take another step up from here. (Holy Crap!)
The final press conference question of the day was asked by yours truly about Cristobal’s preference between the 3-4 and the 4-3 defense.
His initial answer was, “it’s situational.” To me, that’s like saying “it depends” when I don’t want to give a defined answer to someone. It really illuminated to me how much fun it was to get him away from the microphone, and learn more to pass along to my many Ducks friends at FishDuck.com, who want these answers as I do.
But then he dug into my question (above) about the defense at the press conference and surprised the media by getting technical with player formations and alignments; I enjoyed his response, as this is not something he would typically cover with the average sportswriter. Fun!
I really should go to more of these events. I don’t because of the time required, and I do have to make a living. But damn! Imagine what I could scoop up if I went to more.
My friends, this is why I will never quit writing here — because “Oh, how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Top Photo: From Video