The game against Cal was ominous in many respects for both our opponents (The nasty Oregon defense) and for the fans with the obvious reduction in scoring by the Oregon offense. I have not witnessed such a dominant defense at Oregon before, and it will certainly keep the Ducks in every game they play. The natural question that fans are asking is, “can this offense score enough to win against the better teams in the conference?” It is a great question, yet should we be wringing our hands over our shortcomings or celebrating a hard-fought win over a noble foe? (How about both?)
I’ll give my take on things without singing the same refrain about the offensive staff as I have for a year. That’s getting old anyway, especially since now everybody is catching on to what I’ve been saying for so long. Normally we would have an Opponent Reaction article today concerning the opposing head coach, but sometimes an all-volunteer site like ours will have things occur that require the old man to step in and do some writing. (Or more writing like yesterday!)
Thank Goodness for the Defense
At halftime, it was comforting to know that the defense had held the opponent to only one touchdown, and it took a series of extraordinary passes and catches for it to happen. It is a shame that we don’t have a high-scoring offense, because then our defense could do more of what they do best — rushing the passer and playing great pass defense. But that only comes when you have a big lead….
A highly understated component of success for this defense is how they are getting under the shoulder pads of the offensive linemen, exploding their hips upward and driving their opponent backwards into the quarterback. Against Stanford, it created an injury to the Cardinal quarterback that affected the game, and the key interception by Troy Dye against Cal, I believe, was created by the collapse of the pocket, which created a bad pass that went behind the Bear receiver and eventually into Dye’s hands. Could it be that the over-bulking effects of the strength program that may be hurting the offensive linemen are helping the defensive linemen?
I do not have the answer to that, but I’ve never seen Oregon defensive linemen blow opponents into the backfield and into the quarterback as often as we have already this year. It is wonderful evidence of the leverage that Coach Ken Woody has been telling us about for years in his Wednesday game analyses during the season: “the low man wins!”
I would’ve felt a lot better if we’d had 24 points on the scoreboard at the half instead of the “0.” The last time Oregon was held scoreless in the first half was 15 years ago in the losing 2004 season, which is not the reference I want to be making about this year’s Oregon offense.
Speaking of the Offense
An element of the new ball control / eat-the-clock strategy is that it can backfire on you when the opposition is hitting on all cylinders, and/or you are making mistakes with turnovers, both of which occurred in the first half against Cal. Oregon only had two possessions in the first quarter, and only five total for the entire first half. When the Oregon offense does not score quickly, then the Ducks have fewer opportunities to score; just as that limits the opponent, it also limits the Ducks and requires an almost perfect performance from both the offense and defense against good teams.
The lack of explosion plays also extends the time of Oregon drives, and if the Ducks come up short due to either turnovers or missed field goals, they are then actually playing into the hands of the opponent. I fear that it will catch up to Our Beloved Ducks later in the conference schedule.
The Death of the Shotgun Offense at Oregon
When Coach Mario Cristobal admitted after last year’s bowl game that the offense needed to change, I had no idea he meant to make the running offense worse. The No-Huddle Oregon Shotgun was our brand and a national phenomenon, but he has nearly destroyed all evidence of its existence at Oregon. I noted in an earlier article this year how Clemson ran the Pistol formation about 12% of the time, and Alabama ran it 22% of the time, and since Cristobal is emulating these two teams, I assumed our ratio of formations would be similar.
Imagine my surprise when the Shotgun was used only seven out of 40 rushing plays on Saturday. Coach Cristobal has completed inverted the Pistol/Shotgun ratio. Instead of the Pistol formation comprising 15% to 20% of the plays, it was actually 78% of the plays against Cal. He could emulate the reigning national champions and just adopt their offense, but he will never do that because Clemson came to Oregon years back to learn how to create the current Shotgun offense that the Tigers are winning with.
Cristobal truly does not want to do anything that Oregon was successful with before on offense. He wants to do it differently but does not have a system or an underlying strategy to create a high-scoring offense that has a potent rushing attack.
After looking at the stats and pondering it, I could not come to any other conclusion. Can you?
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Eugene, OregonTop Photo by Kevin Cline
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
Visit our Sister Site, the new Our Beloved Ducks Forum!
This new forum that is unlike anything you have ever seen between our civilized discussion, (NO TROLLS ALLOWED) complete directions available for easy usage and the delivery of all Oregon Sports News. (That last part is a gradual transition up to Spring Football)
Go to the forum where we delve into today’s article and so many more topics and the nuances within them over there.
We have a topic post begun over at the forum for today’s article; it is a free site and offers more opportunity for the exchange of opinions on all the Oregon Sports subjects of the day. (And there are some very cool features!)
An introduction article about the new forum is right here.