When Mario Cristobal took over as head coach two years ago, fans were excited about his insistence on getting bigger and tougher on the offensive line. Oregon was going to play a more physical, SEC brand of football. Many had visions of a high-flying Chip Kelly-type offense, complemented with pounding it in the trenches and controlling the clock.
Maybe it all sounded a little too good to be true.
As the 2018 season proved, Oregon had some serious issues on offense. Instead of being the traditionally high-powered machine we’d all come to love, pundits and analysts alike considered the Ducks’ offense to be “boring, predictable, easy to defend, AWOL, coached down, not taking what the defense is giving, not maximizing talent” and “not maximizing players’ strengths.”
In other words, Oregon was not being Oregon.
We moved forward to the summer of 2019, and for the first time in forever, the biggest question going into a new season was the offense. Not exactly something Duck fans were accustomed to. For the first time during Oregon’s 40-year rise in college football, it was offense — the hallmark of the Ducks’ football future identity — that was the weak link.
Oregon had made a living the past four decades with ingenuity, creativity, and maximizing talent on offense. Just had to pair that with a decent enough “bend but don’t break” defense, and the Ducks could produce a competitive — if not a top-10 — team.
In 2017, with the addition of Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator and the recruiting chops of the new Willie Taggart coaching staff, Oregon was raising expectations to new heights. The Ducks now had a well-coached and talented defense to complement the always potent offense. They just needed a couple of more recruiting cycles to get to competing for the playoffs on a yearly basis.
Of course, Slick Willie snuck out of town and Cristobal took over. Then, after the 2018 season, Leavitt left as well. But, with the incoming talent and faith in up-and-coming defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, there was still confidence that the defense was among the Pac-12’s best. And likely the strength of the team, considering the offensive regression.
In 2019, Oregon’s offense, while improved from 2018, still reeked of being boring, predictable, and easy to defend. There was a general sense that it was leaving too many big plays, yards and points on the field. Now, this wasn’t a call for the return to the Kelly years — been there, done that — this was simply a call for competence. And the Ducks, to put it mildly, were not playing up to their offensive potential.
Am I Being Negative?
Over the past few months, some have agreed with my assessment of the Oregon offense, while others have said I’ve been much too negative. That’s fine, but I don’t look at it within the scope of being positive or negative. I look at it as being brutally honest, which isn’t always pretty.
Some who have criticized my taking the Oregon offensive coaching to task are the same folks who believe that the biggest problem with the Oregon offense has been the lack of elite skill position players. And while I agree that the Ducks could have used an upgrade in the skill positions in the past two seasons, they have certainly not been talentless. There has been enough talent, it just hasn’t been maximized.
It could be argued that the “lack of offensive player talent” opinion is as negative as my “lack of offensive coaching talent” opinion. But I don’t think either of them are; they’re both just honest opinions.
Of this I am positive.
So here we are in 2020, and with the absence of Marcus Arroyo and the addition of Joe Moorhead, I once again feel like I did two years ago.
I was being blindly optimistic in 2018. After all, Cristobal and Arroyo came in under Slick Willie in 2017 as co-offensive coordinators. And you know what they say: “If you have two, then you don’t have ‘the one.’”
Slick was the true OC, and he brought in two position coaches and gave them their token OC titles. Then Slick left and Cristobal promoted Arroyo, unimpressive resume and all, as the true offensive coordinator. So, Slick Willie’s afterthought hire (remember Arroyo was a last-second replacement after David Reaves was fired for DUII in early 2017) was running the mighty Oregon Offensive machine.
But wait a second. Oregon didn’t need a top-notch OC to be successful; Oregon was going to succeed offensively by employing Cristobal’s tough-guy style of smash-mouth football!!!
Well, that didn’t exactly work out.
With Joe Moorhead, Oregon has an established and proven Power-5 offensive schemer and play-caller. Sure, he got canned at Mississippi State after just two years, but that had nothing to do with his coaching ability. It was due to an off the field academic scandal that resulted in several key players being suspended during the 2019 season. His pre-scandal 2018 team went 8-5 and played quite well, and his run as the Penn State OC from 2016 to 2017 was quite impressive.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but based on the hiring of such a high-profile offensive mind, I am optimistic that Cristobal is going to pull a 2019 Ed Orgeron move by getting out of the way and letting the specialist do what he does best, with no restrictions on playing smart or quotas on playing “tough.”
After all, Oregon now has size and toughness in the trenches, and that will now be complemented by a top-notch offensive mind who will maximize talent, fool defenses, expose weaknesses, and get the Oregon offense back to the place where it belongs … in the Land of Optimism.
Spokane, WA Top photo Eugene Johnson
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee
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