After the Oregon spring game, Duck fans bemoaned the end of the blur offense for good. Angst returned to Oregon fandom like a lightning bolt despite positive signs of improvement on defense. In Eugene, it’s all about the offense. And on that front, nothing has changed, they say. What is Mario Cristobal thinking?
Let’s take a closer look at the Oregon offense and evaluate popular scapegoat offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo. Are fans’ concerns about the maligned play-caller valid, or has he been prematurely thrown under the bus?
Poor Play Calling or Bad Execution?
I consider the Utah game one of the most pivotal contests last year. The Ducks’ offense was stuck in neutral for much of the game, struggling to produce on the ground and suffering maddening stretches of inconsistency through the air. Sound familiar?
But I’m not convinced that these offensive shortcomings are strictly Arroyo’s fault. Dropped passes, poor execution, inaccurate throws and even penalties hamstrung the offense far too often.
In the play above, Tony Brooks-James drops an easy completion for a first down on the very first play of the game. This is the “blast” play that the Ducks debuted in 2018, one that had worked a handful of times during the season. Brooks-James not only failed to capitalize on the element of surprise, he immediately disrupted rhythm … before the offense even got started. This was a good play call that, had the execution been adequate, would have resulted in a decent gain.
The first five plays of this game dispel the notion that Arroyo is completely predictable and unimaginative. Utah blitzed on the third play, which destroyed the only “predictable” play in this set.
Arroyo countered with a gift to Justin Herbert: a one-on-one downfield shot to Jaylon Redd, but Herbert overthrew the receiver, and Redd failed to separate. The series ended with Brooks-James missing a block, which resulted in a fumble that Utah converted into a touchdown. Note, however, the lone successful play in the series: that wonderful zone read we all love so much (and it gained a healthy 11 yards).
So does this mean lemon lime KoolAid is my favorite drink? Not quite, my friends. I too am bewildered by Arroyo’s ability to shut down his offense unassisted at times.
In the second and third plays above, Arroyo makes two very questionable calls, following a big play from Dillon Mitchell. I believe he wanted to throw Utah off, but he got too cute for his own good. Each time, Utah quickly read the play and shut it down. Worse, both plays were similar, using only minor variations. This drive ended in a disappointing field goal, thwarting a possible go-ahead touchdown.
Considering these cases of evidence and the rest of my observations from 2018, here’s my take on what was, and what shall be for the Oregon offense.
As long as the original starting group of offensive linemen stays healthy, we will witness power pistol demolition. I hope for more drives like this one. It combines the pistol and shotgun, mixed with a little jet scheme, which is more explosive and aggressive. What’s more, the drive is longer than the clips I compiled here, and is actually imaginative. (Oh, my!)
It’s clear that Arroyo can be creative at times. What’s unclear is whether the Ducks will be able to execute consistently, or whether Arroyo can show more than just flashes of offensive ingenuity.
Will Arroyo step up his game in 2019? And perhaps more importantly, when he does make good play calls, will the Ducks be able to take advantage of them? The answers to these questions will determine whether the Oregon offense is headed in the right direction or on a fast track to the gutter.
Las Vegas, Nevada Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Chris Metteer, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is a retired sports journalist for The Denver Post, Eugene Register-Guard and other top media outlets in the West.
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