Admit it — after the bowl game, weren’t you were worried about the future of the Oregon offense? I was and I wrote about it, as did retired college coach and former Oregon player, Ken Woody. It was an ugly showing that got us all wondering, but as you know about me — I truly spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about this stuff. (Beyond all normal or rational boundaries of following a team).
My concern about the offense is not only that Coach Mario Cristobal has indicated an emphasis on running between the tackles, but his recruiting of pro-style quarterbacks and offensive linemen (that order the entire left page of the menu for dinner) has also given me pause about the direction of the Oregon offense. We must not lose our identity, our brand of a high-scoring and entertaining offense, as it is our trademark. I know this from the coaches I talk to and receive emails from.
I have been watching and listening carefully to what the media outlets are reporting and now have pulled together enough information from various sources to give us a better idea of where the Oregon offense is headed, and to give us Oregon worry-warts some relief.
We have had a number of surprises in two other areas as well this off-season, and the impact of these three areas will be profound upon the Oregon offense, and, consequently, changes my August prediction about the success of the 2018 campaign.
The New Redshirt Rule
This is a change that will help all schools, but could help Oregon in particular right now. The rule states that a player can play up to four full games … and still retain his redshirt year! No more play one play and burn your redshirt. Tyler Shough could play the fourth quarter of the first three games and against Oregon State and still retain four years of eligibility. It has nothing to do with being injured anymore …
This means that every freshman coming in this fall can mentally prepare to play, and to get real reps in actual games. This changes the landscape for every position, especially at quarterback for Oregon. Get the freshman in the game for meaningful reps early on, and if Justin Herbert gets hurt, Tyler is much more ready to help the Ducks this year than in the past years. The impact of these game reps for Shough on next year — when the Ducks are without Herbert is immeasurable. It can be a major component in the success of the 2019 season!
Think about all the true freshmen receivers, defensive backs, linebackers and offensive linemen coming in this fall who can benefit from this new rule. Consider how a starting running back could sit out a game or two with dings while a freshman fills in as the third back using his redshirt four-game slot. Special teams could have better talent or at least rest the starters a bit more, and some players, like freshman tight end, Spencer Webb, could get valuable experience without being thrown to the lions.
The “No-Count” Fabulous Five
I wrote an article last week about the four graduate transfers (and the new punter classified to 2018) and how they will have an enormous impact on the upcoming 2018 season despite their addition not being counted in any of the 2019 recruiting rankings. No matter, as we will see how they’ll help the Ducks win more games in 2018. These players are in addition to the incredible results of a No. 3 National Recruiting Ranking with Rivals.com for the 2019 signing LOI day. As legendary FishDuck.com, writer and editor Mike Merrell recently stated to me,
“Mario Cristobal is to Oregon recruiting what Chip Kelly was to offense.”
Damn, that’s good. I wish I had thought of that.
But my feelings are easily assuaged knowing that the bastard Huskies sit at No. 34, and Coach Cristobal now can point to the Oregon recruiting ranking and tell the remainder of the targets that his staff is pursuing to look at the quality of players these targets would be joining. The snowball effect is building …
Oregon is coming back – you can feel it!
My friends, the addition of a receiver who has over a hundred catches and was on a torrid pace his final four games at Wake Forest (31 receptions!) cannot be understated. His presence changes everything in the passing attack (our next best receiver in 2017 had 42 receptions over the entire season). Tabari Hines will open up all the other receivers and tight ends, and, as a result, the passing attack will be much more intimidating, especially with a future NFL 1st Round Draft pick throwing darts (Justin Herbert). It will also open up the running game, to the chagrin of conference opponents.
As we have seen so many times in the History of Oregon Football … one superb receiver can change the fortunes of an entire team. If there was ever a team that needed Tabari, Oregon was it. Hines will operate in the slot where Charles Nelson was, and match up against inadequate strong safeties in the Pac-12. He is going to eat them alive …
Let’s be honest; nobody saw these fabulous five coming. They are stunning off-season gifts to the Oregon faithful, laid at the altar of our Duck Football worship from hours of effort by an unrelenting recruiting staff. It will be biggest impact on an Oregon season by “No-Count” players ever. The stamp on the Oregon offense by Tabari will be almost as profound as our first graduate transfer, Vernon Adams. Were it not for a linebacker with a grudge in the first game (the thumb injury), Adams may have taken Oregon back to the National Football Playoff.
An Offensive Philosophy Crystallized …
As I wrote before, I’ve been concerned about Cristobal’s over-emphasis on running between the tackles and by him not utilizing other elements of the running game that I’ve covered, such as the Outside Zone Read, the Sweep Read and the Straddled Triple Option. Keep in mind that Chip Kelly made the Inside Zone Read the fundamental play of his offense, so running between the tackles is essential to all teams. But again … will it be over-emphasized under Cristobal and, therefore, predictable to opposing defenses in the conference?
I have spent a ton of time researching this and looking for answers in interviews regarding the direction of the offense. The first major component was Cristobal’s acknowledgment that Oregon still has to score a boat load of points to win games. In an interview with Ryan Thorburn of the Eugene Register-Guard, Coach Cristobal explained that …
“We do want to stay as unpredictable as we possibly can. Because this is such a high-scoring league …”
I was relieved to see that he wasn’t going to try to win games in the SEC or NFL style with 24-17 type of scores. It is not enough in this conference, and Oregon is not there yet on defense.
Now — what about too much reliance on running between the tackles? In another R-G interview, Coach Cristobal revealed more about his philosophy when he stated,
“We do not want to be a sideways operation. We want to be versatile — inside zone, outside zone, powers and counters, pin and pulls, sweeps. We want to do it all.”
That huge gust of wind a few weeks ago was yours truly exhaling a long breath of relief upon reading the quote above. That is precisely what I hoped to see, as that variety is what is most challenging to defenses.
The subscription site ScoopDuck.com had a superb interview with Offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo about what to look for this fall, and the Zone Read and Pistol Offense were brought up. First, he clarified that at Oregon it will be a Pistol formation, but not an offense. The Oregon offense is going to be much more diversified than just the Pistol (Whew!). Below are his comments about the formation …
“I had a lot of talks with Mario over the winter about how I wanted to add the Pistol to our offense. We did some of that at Tampa Bay and it went with me to Oklahoma State. The Pistol is great because it gives a Zone-Read look but changes the balance of the defense. I really believe in multiple formations. It forces the defense to think which slows them down, giving us an edge.”
The questions moved to his use of the infamous “No-Huddle,” which began at Oregon with Chip Kelly and then swept the nation. Are we going back to that? Is it going to be faster than other teams? Below he states …
“I really like changing the tempo. I think that’s a big element of keeping the defense honest and not giving away your snap counts and your cadence. It can be very disruptive to a defense when you are varying the tempo. We want to be rigid in our fundamentals but flexible in our scheme.”
As I recall, Chip had three colors to identify when the offense would operate in a normal tempo, and then a slowed tempo to run the clock, and a green light or fast tempo. It appears Coach Arroyo favors a similar system when it comes to the “No-Huddle” component of the Oregon offense.
Coach Arroyo summed it up well, and it fits with what Coach Cristobal stated earlier:
“Again, it’s about keeping the defense off-balance with multiple formations, changing the tempo and being really good at what we do. We aren’t looking for quantity in our offense, we are looking for quality. Keep it simple and get really good at it through repetitions.”
My friends … rarely have I heaped such a large article on you, and I thank those who took the time to read it all. I considered breaking it into separate articles (and usually–I would), but I really wanted to cover all three areas that were surprises this off-season and that will benefit the Oregon offense. We have great times ahead of watching and learning about the new Oregon offense in just a few months.
“Oh how we love to learn about our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Top Photo by Kevin Cline