Moorhead Won’t Reinvent Oregon’s Offense, and He Shouldn’t

Joshua Whitted Editorials

For most fanbases, hiring Joe Moorhead as offensive coordinator would be a game-changer. One of the most creative offensive minds in the game, Moorhead’s track record speaks for itself. He led Fordham to unprecedented heights in his time as head coach there, he transformed a dormant Penn State offense into one of the country’s best, and he even managed to engineer a prolific rushing offense at Mississippi State despite playing in the toughest division in college football.

But fans of Oregon football are taking a cautious approach to the reported hire. This skepticism doesn’t have anything to do with Moorhead or his ability to install an exciting and explosive offense, though. It has everything to do with Mario Cristobal.

Few expect Cristobal to allow to drastic changes to be made to his offense, despite Moorhead’s addition. This may seem like cause for concern; Moorhead is clearly the more qualified offensive mind of the two, and many believe that the Oregon offense needs an overhaul.

But Cristobal is actually making the right move here. It would be an overreaction to completely reconstruct an offense that has fared well enough to propel the Ducks to the top of the Pac-12. Moorhead simply needs to make enough tweaks to take an already solid unit to the next level.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Oregon’s offense was good in 2019, but it wasn’t great. Considering the amount of experienced talent Oregon fielded (the top offensive line in the country, one of the best quarterbacks in America and a deep, veteran backfield), it’s fair to say that the unit underperformed. It barely ranked in the top 40 nationally in yards per game, trailing Pac-12 “powerhouses” Washington State and Arizona.

But having a relatively underwhelming offensive season — a season in which Oregon still ranked at or near the top of the Pac-12 in most offensive categories — is by no means a reason to panic and to blow things up. While Cristobal and Oregon fans alike would love to be the top scoring offense in the country, put up over 600 yards a game and set offensive records week-in and week-out, there’s something that’s more important than all of that: winning.

Oregon’s offense stumbled at times in 2019.

What’s lost in all of the talk about Oregon’s underperforming offense is the fact that the Ducks still managed to go 12-2, win the Pac-12, win the Rose Bowl and nearly make the College Football Playoff. They didn’t achieve these feats solely because of a much-improved defense, either. The offense stepped up to the plate a number of times to help the Ducks reclaim their title as Pac-12 Champions.

Smart coaches never rest on their laurels; they always look for ways to improve their teams. But they’re also careful not to mess with a system that’s getting positive results. The Ducks’ offense isn’t what it once was under Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, but the team is winning just the same. Why risk reinventing an offensive system — a move that could set the team back by disrupting continuity and familiarity — when the current one is likely just a few tweaks away from getting the Ducks back to the playoff?

Cristobal knows that offensive improvements need to be made, but he also knows that the team is well within reach of a championship as things stand right now. His philosophy has served the Ducks well so far. It would be unwise to make drastic changes, potentially stunting his team’s momentum in the process.

Moorhead Will Pick up Where Arroyo Left Off

For those that expect Moorhead to transform the Ducks’ offense into a five-wide, air-it-out or even a quarterback-run-heavy spread offense, prepare to be disappointed. The Ducks have reentered the national spotlight behind a run-first, downhill rushing offense that protects the quarterback and a fast, physical defense. Those principles are going to be staples of Cristobal-led teams until the day he leaves Oregon.

The Ducks will still have a physical rushing offense in 2020.

Rather, Moorhead will use his sophisticated knowledge of the run-pass option (RPO) game to make subtle changes to Oregon’s base plays that will enhance Cristobal’s patented ground attack and simplify the passing game for a green group of quarterbacks. Former offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo began to do this himself by unveiling a series of RPO reads for veteran quarterback Justin Herbert, which gave him clear, defined passing reads and freed up the box in the running game.

Moorhead will pick up where Arroyo left off. In an interview with SB Nation, Moorhead said the following about his offense:

“I would say 85 to 90 percent of the runs we called had a second phase or a tag … rarely do we just call a run and just hand it off without having the quarterback read somebody at the first, second, or third level.”

Cristobal didn’t bring Moorhead in to install a new offense; he brought him in to perfect the offense that Arroyo never did. With RPO reads on a vast majority of Oregon’s running plays, defenders won’t be able to load the box and play with a single-high safety all game long without paying for it. Defenses will always have to be prepared for a quick pass on every play, whether it’s on the boundary in the screen game or over the middle behind a crashing linebacker, regardless if it’s a called pass or an apparent run.

Moorhead is a master of the RPO game.

These RPOs cause defenders to hesitate, which often leaves them in “no man’s land.” If defenses have their linebackers and safeties crash on running plays, the quick pass will be open. Similarly, if defenses drop into coverage and play the pass, the box will be vacated and the downhill rushing attack will be more potent than ever before.

This is the evolution of the Ducks’ offense under Cristobal. An offense that was good but stagnant at times simply needed a bit of creativity to open up the running game and attack defenses at every level. Moorhead’s RPO proficiency does just that, and it doesn’t require the installation of a brand new system or scheme since Arroyo had been introducing these concepts already.

Moorhead will tweak a system that needs a tune-up, not a facelift. His creative RPO concepts are just what the Oregon offense needs to improve without starting from square one.

Joshua Whitted 
Morgantown, West VirginiaTop Photo From Video


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


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