Coach Cristobal is a quiet giant, but his challenge echoed throughout the Willamette Valley:
“We’re firin’ this thing way up, take the heat or melt away!”
This was revolution, not evolution — but was it just hot air?
Let’s look at this season’s most successful NFL and FBS teams for traits and possible clues. First off, they’re all defensive juggernauts. Moreover, all four (Clemson, Alabama, New England and Los Angeles) have excellent — not just very good — quarterbacking and aggressive run games. Their attacks are multi-dimensional: If an opposing team stops the run, they’ll get exposed by precision mid-range passes.
Nick Saban and Bill Belichick are the all-time greatest in their respective fields. Dabo Swinney, by repeatedly and decisively surprising and flummoxing Saban on both sides of the ball, proved that the Tigers’ success isn’t close to cresting.
Sean McVay’s relative inexperience showed up in the Super Bowl in his absolute inability to adapt to fluid and clever defensive strategies; it took him over 45 minutes (not including that interminable halftime “zzzzhow”… ) to change his game plan. But c’mon, his Rams have been glowing white-hot for two years!
So, we should know how to grill … But can we do it?
QB: Justin Herbert has been inconsistent. If it were just about talent, he’d be a Heisman contender.
Coaching: It isn’t about the assistants, per se, or necessarily recruiting, as the great and not so great are often equals in these. It’s about field generalship, leadership, coolness under fire and adaptability. Cristobal is an unknown, and his sample size is too small to tell if he has these traits for sure.
Defense: It’s not yet elite, though Andy Avalos and the current players/recruits definitely point toward high achievement. The inability to stifle high-flying PAC-12 offenses could bring the Ducks rapidly to earth, especially if its offense cannot absolutely control the ball on the ground.
Running game: (Cliche Alert!) This is what sets up everything else offensively. Will anyone who watched the Super Bowl ever forget how the Pats methodically beat down the vaunted Rams D with their muscle-bound offensive players, i.e. Pat Develin, Julian Edelman and Gronk? Their RBs weren’t huge, but they were tough, and those three players helped holes open up and stay open. As for the Ducks? The offensive line has the horses, with reloads arriving soon, but TE and WR blocking have been suspect.
Varied attack: All four elite teams have many weapons. Unfortunately, this has been the Ducks’ biggest deficiency — they’ve had a quarter-winged passing attack thus far. TEs, RBs and WRs, with the sole exception of Dillon Mitchell, have been undependable targets.
The steak is going onto a hot fire, but it’s presently really, really under-cooked. Unfortunately, we also don’t know if the beef is grass-fed, pasture-grazed prime rib or corn-fed, feed-lot USDA choice. We also don’t know if the guy in charge is a grill-master.
What makes this so frustrating and confounding is the unknowns. We know what ultimate success in the modern football world demands, but we don’t know whether our team has what it takes to meet those demands — and we won’t know until the chef puts the second, third or fourth steaks on the table.
One thing is apparent: If you want or expect quick results, best try drive-thru food. It doesn’t taste very good, but it is fast.
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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