… of the sand. What’d y’all think I was gonna’ say?
After the Ducks came out throwing to start Friday night’s game against Colorado, ESPN color commentator (and former UW QB) Brock Huard repeatedly kept making the point of how the Ducks needed to establish the run. He emphasized that running is this team’s identity, as they have been formed into the shape of head coach Mario Cristobal’s personality — a guy who wants to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
To which I yelled at the TV, “Shut up! You stupid (expletive) Fusky!”
When you’re having trouble running the ball, as the Ducks have this season, you need to do things to loosen up the defense. If you can’t establish the run on its own merit, then pass the ball, stretch the field, and get creative in doing things to keep the defense guessing. Then, come back to the run. As the old saying used to go that you gotta’ “run the ball to establish the pass,” well, sometimes, you gotta’ pass the ball to establish the run.
And that’s exactly what the Ducks did.
On Friday night the Ducks finally added the brains to the brawn as I desperately pleaded for them to do a couple weeks ago. Apparently, the Oregon offensive coaching staff listened to me. So, it is at this time that I humbly accept credit (joking) for the Ducks lighting it up on Friday night. Okay, okay — I won’t be greedy. The thousands of other Duck fans and various analysts who have spent that last year and a half criticizing the Oregon offense as being boring, predictable, and easy to defend, they all deserve credit as well.
Though the offense stumbled a little out of the gate Friday, the early passing opened up other things as the game progressed. There was a rhythm, an ebb and flow, a fluidity that kept the Colorado defense on its heels and unsure of itself. There was an offensive vibe that Duck fans hadn’t felt since early in the Auburn game.
In other words, the offense that had been absent against Stanford and Cal (and for most of the last one and a half seasons) finally showed up against Colorado. The only thing slowing this offense down was dropped passes and penalties. But that’s football; mistakes and penalties are going to happen, and are easier to overcome when we have a winning scheme coming down from the coaches at the top of the offensive food chain.
A quick recap of the season shows the Ducks brought aggressiveness and creativity in the first half against Auburn, then inexplicably went into hibernation mode way too early in the second half. Nevada and Montana are cream-puffs, so nothing to take away there. Then, against Stanford and Cal, it was the same type of dismal underachievement we’ve seen far too much of during the Cristobal administration.
But things were refreshingly different against the Buffs. There were five Oregon pass attempts on the first drive, matching the entire total Justin Herbert had in the first quarter against Cal. Heck, if southpaw heavy-weight Rocky Balboa can come out fighting right-handed (Rocky II), then the Ducks can come out throwing. Doing what the opponent isn’t expecting, that’s called gamesmanship. The Ducks opened the offense by playing loose and aggressive, and it paid off.
There are those who have been critical of me and others who have voiced their displeasure with the Oregon offense, or lack thereof. The Colorado game shows the world why we have been so frustrated, and why 21 points against Stanford and 17 points against Cal was so frustrating. It’s because the Ducks left so many points out on the field against those teams. But the 45 against Colorado — this is what this team is capable of when being coached up to its abilities.
This is what we’ve been waiting for. Over the past 40 years of Oregon football, since the whole upward trajectory of the program began early in the Rich Brooks years, the Ducks had to learn how to play smart. It was an absolute necessity in order to survive because Oregon simply didn’t have the depth of talent and physicality of the blue-blood programs.
During the past several decades, the best teams — think Alabamas, Ohio States and USCs of the world — would win by being uber-talented and physically dominant. But about a decade ago the Ducks changed the landscape of college football by becoming a national contender by playing a smarter brand of football that was schematically ahead of the curve. From this, the traditional blue-bloods quickly learned that simply being physically dominating and talented wasn’t enough, so they also began to add advanced schemes to their repertoire.
Under Cristobal, the Ducks have become a physical and talented team, that, ironically, suddenly wasn’t playing smart. So, have Cristobal and the Oregon offense now matched smarts and physicality for the long haul? It would be a shame if this was the exception and not the rule.
Of course, it is only one game, but it looks like they have discovered a winning formula on offense. This game should serve as a template for the high-level rhythm and fluidity that a winning program needs to complement its physical culture. You really can have the best of both worlds.
The Colorado game exemplified precisely why so many have been frustrated and critical of this team. We knew this was what Oregon was capable of. For at least one nice fall night in October, the Ducks played to their full potential and were everything we knew they could be.
Please, Ducks, let’s not turn this into a one-off “why can’t we play like we did against Colorado” memory. Let’s make this the new normal and do it again this Saturday against those damn Huskies.
Spokane, WashingtonTop 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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