The Ducks are coming off a 2018 campaign, which, with all things considered, was a pretty good year. With their third head coach in as many years, players and fans had a lot of adjusting to do with the new personnel. Coach Mario Cristobal took the reins and made some swift but necessary changes in hope of reclaiming the national clout the program once possessed.
Finishing with nine wins and four losses, and a New Year’s Eve bowl win over a B1G opponent, would be a stellar year for most programs around the country. Ducks fans were a bit disappointed, given how the season started. With that said, it was still a pretty good year that served as a building block for future seasons under Cristobal and showed some flashes of excellence, as well.
In 2019, the Ducks will continue to build off the successful aspects of last season and try to eliminate the things that held them back. Here are three improvements Oregon needs to make in 2019.
1. Limit Penalties
This is actually something the Ducks did very well last year, and continued improvement will lead to a successful 2019 season.
In seasons past, Oregon had been one of the most penalized teams in the Pac-12, if not the nation, dating back to the Chip Kelly era. For a while, it seemed that whenever the Ducks made a big play on defense or converted an important third down, it would be overturned with a flag — often for avoidable calls such as holding and blocking in the back.
Last season, Coach Cristobal transformed the Ducks from being the most penalized team in the Pac-12 in 2017 to the second-least penalized team in the conference in 2018. According to cfbstats.com, the Ducks ranked 31st in the entire country, averaging only 5 penalties a game, which was an improvement from 9.1 the season before. Florida State, led by Willie Taggart, had the most the penalties per game with 9.2. Coincidence?
That is a great feat in its own right, but the Ducks can still take it a step further. Coach Cristobal has said there were still numerous times throughout the season where momentum would come to a screeching halt because of a bad penalty. Taking fewer penalties in 2019 will contribute to team success immensely.
2. Keep It Consistent
Sometimes during the course of last season, it was a mystery which team would come running out of the tunnel. There would be impostors on the field donning the Ducks’ colors for a while, and then after a good chunk of the game was gone, the real team would show up (or vice versa).
This wasn’t just limited to one side of the ball, either. Every unit was inconsistent, and this needs to be addressed in order for the 2019 team to make a deep run.
Some notable examples came in the first half up in Pullman, where the Oregon offense sputtered for nearly 45 minutes until making it close at the end. It was the same story against Utah. The debacle that came against Arizona isn’t even worth discussing, and bringing up the loss to Stanford is like beating a dead horse at this point.
The inconsistencies didn’t always result in a loss. Oregon allowed teams to crawl back into games when they built comfortable leads, such as against Arizona State when the Ducks were outscored 16-3 in the second half. The early non-conference game against San Jose State was closer than it had to be (or should have been), as well.
It was also evident that games away from Autzen were not friendly to the Ducks, as three out of the team’s four losses were suffered on the road. Keeping the consistency from home to the road is going to be pivotal, especially with road games at Stanford, Washington and one against Auburn (which is a virtual home game for the Tigers).
3. Win the Pac-12
It’s no secret the Pac-12 has not been up to par in the past couple seasons, probably falling to No. 5 out of the Power Five in the minds of many fans.
Oregon has definitely been the quickest out of the gates in the early stages of the 2019 campaign. The Ducks have done almost everything better than all their Pac-12 counterparts this offseason. From recruiting to spring game attendance, Oregon is far and above, and has seemed to separate itself from, the rest of the conference. I don’t believe it’s an “objects are closer than they appear” situation.
If there is a year the Ducks could begin to rule the conference of champions again, it’s 2019. Veterans on both sides of the ball are returning, while Washington and Stanford seem to be on a bit of a decline with some of their best players leaving school or graduating. Another notable Oregon opponent, USC, has been losing a lot this offseason with the “departure” of Kliff Kingsbury and missing out on Kayvon Thibedeaux (Ducks 1, Trojans 0 — but who’s counting?).
In a year that has already started out with promise and excitement, the only way this season won’t end in disappointment is with a Pac-12 title.
In summary, since the disastrous 4-8 2016 season, the Ducks have seen steady improvement. Fans have seen a more disciplined and competitive football team, but naturally want to see more.
Again, a 9-4 season isn’t bad, but the rebuild isn’t complete yet. More consistency on the football field against conference opponents will propel the Ducks to more success. Last season was summed up in a few lapses on both sides of the ball that cost them a shot at a Pac-12 title. This needs to be prevented in 2019.
Although there may be some concerns because the team is virtually the same and therefore they could fall into their old habits, I have confidence that this coaching staff and older leaders can set the precedent. If they do, Oregon will continue to separate itself from the rest of the pack, building on the momentum formed this offseason.
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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