Shades of Doubt … Does Oregon Football Have a Confidence Problem?

Mike West Editorials

The picture above speaks for itself: Win the Pac-12, go to the Rose Bowl. Dominate enough games and you have a shot at the Natty.

In Chip Kelly’s years, this was a foregone conclusion. In Mark Helfrich’s, not as much. Now Mario Cristobal is launching his effort to propel Oregon like a Phoenix from the ashes of the Empire formally known as “Fast Hard Finish.” Last season, his players showed flashes of brilliance. But they rose to those heights with wax-laden wings that melted in the heat of the sun.

Will Oregon match the highs of Chip’s ascent and erase the stench of Helfrich’s demise?  Doses of dominance against Stanford and Washington showed promise, but shaky performances at Wazzu, Arizona, and Utah leave us wondering who Oregon Football really is.


An Effort to Dominate

Witness CJ Verdell’s dominance, so startling amidst the joy of excellence below.

Verdell and Oregon’s offensive line dominated at times, as shown against both Stanford and Washington. But, do you realize those two games had fewer explosive running plays than each of the games after the UW victory? The eye test didn’t match the box score. Interesting…

Well, I have a theory about last year’s Ducks.

Do You Feel Me?

There is no doubt Cristobal expects to win.

Notice Cristobal’s determination while he talks to the offense before the end of the Stanford game. The players don’t seem to match his intensity, nor his grit. They look unsure whether they can finish the job they started. I believe this young team blinked at the prospect of restoring Oregon to greatness.

The team’s identity is tied to the offense. Yet, every time the offense looked to restore its dominance, the unit seemed to trip over self-imposed obstacles. No one doubts that Cristobal inspires his players. So… what gives?

From Video

Is he that wide open?

Note how open Brendan Schooler is on this critical play.

Watch above as Justin Herbert goes through his progressions, then eyeballs Schooler for nearly a second. Two things happen on this play. Schooler stops his route, and Herbert fires late.

I’m no coach, but I believe Herbert had already lost confidence in his receivers for the season. On this overtime drive, he almost exclusively targeted Dillon Mitchell. This play is designed to clear the middle of the field – -and it worked. Travis Dye (who was also open) and Jaylon Redd (who is the the key read on this combo route) clear the middle for Schooler.

The outside linebacker is reading Herbert, who freezes him as Herbert waits for Schooler to clear. When Schooler does, he slows down, allowing the defender behind him to make a play on Herbert’s dart.

Pitch and Catch

Some of you might say this play is another example of poor execution. I disagree. Remember the dominance you watched above? The common thread you witness is deliberate determination. No concern about results, just deadly focus on the business at hand. That’s what was missing on the final opportunity against Stanford. I’m not criticizing Herbert.

Herbert is just as deadly as Trevor Lawrence — despite playing with subpar receivers. In my opinion, the difference is the confidence Herbert and company have in themselves. Are they the most talented group out West, maybe not. But Stanford wasn’t as talented as the Ducks, and they made key plays when they had to.

Kelly’s teams rarely wilted when the game was on the line. Do Cristobal’s players believe they can win no matter the circumstances? Can they match Cristobal’s intense will to restore Oregon to greatness? Were many of last year’s failures a matter of confidence? Does last year even matter? Tell me your thoughts.

Mike West
Las Vegas, Nevada                                                                                                                                                                                              Top Photo From Video


Chris Brouilette, the Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.


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