Oregon’s Upcoming Offensive Improvement: Experience or Maturity?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials 62 Comments

The Fascination Factor with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is through the roof for Oregon fans with tidbits gleaned from interviews and articles on this site about the new assistant coach, plus some analysis of his offense previously run at Penn State. Oregon’s new OC has operated out of the Shotgun Spread Offense in the past, and he puts the quarterback in a position to make decisions that can send him running up-field. All of that is exciting, but the real question in back of everyone’s mind is, “will Coach Mario Cristobal let Coach Moorhead truly run a more wide-open offense?”

Or are we relegated to more Pistol plunges?

Full Disclosure: If you are an Oregon fan who takes any criticism of the football team as a personal affront (see No. 35 and in particular No. 52 at the link), you may want to skip this article. If you love so much of what head coach Mario Cristobal is doing (as I do with recruiting, hiring coaches, culture building, and honesty), but would like to still consider ways for the team we love to improve, then read on and see if you agree with my thoughts. I’d love your civilized feedback, (as this site is known for) regardless.

I am not sure how to understand the intransigence concerning the Oregon offense since Cristobal arrived. I keep stating that he is learning on the job some of the obvious stuff that we older fans have witnessed many times with different coaching staffs, and this “learning” has come at the expense of the fan experience. You cannot imagine my frustration of seeing other teams run the former Oregon Shotgun Spread Offense in its entirety and score boatloads of points as Oregon once did. The plays are still there … heck they reside in the Oregon Football Analysis Library at FishDuck!

Amazing Moments Photography

Anything but this?

The original Oregon Shotgun Spread Offense can be operated while being tougher in the trenches and without pulling the center to the perimeter; we know this because Clemson won National Championships twice with the Ducks’ prior offense, and by utilizing the aforementioned additions to this offense. It can be done, but Cristobal did not want to. It is as if he wanted to do anything on offense other than what Oregon established its reputation on, and built the brand with. So, he has been wandering through a mish-mash of the Pistol and the Shotgun trying to find a substitute that can work to score as many as the 43 point-per-game average of that glorious eight year period from 2008-2015? (Versus 35 points per game last year.)

If the new Joe Moorhead offense works this fall, then finally Mario Cristobal can say he did it “his way.” But if Moorhead decides to revert back to his own playbook, (in the Shotgun offense) and what has worked in Eugene for the glorious eight year stretch (the full original Oregon Spread Shotgun) within his new RPO offense, how will Cristobal view that?  Will Mario be satisfied that he purged enough of what worked so well at Oregon? (The Shotgun Spread offense continues to succeed nationally, and Joe Moorhead did not run the Pistol before.)

The good news to me is how the offense ultimately did not matter as much in 2019, as it was the team’s experience factor, (or lack thereof) that I’ve written about and was the primary driver for the final tally of this last season. It was acquiring the hardening, the new mental resolve that only comes from living through the two painful losses. So perhaps it turned out for the best? Cristobal could see scads of points scored by the Shotgun Spread offenses at Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Alabama and can now pivot back to what is obvious?

Would that development be due to experience or maturity?

Eugene Johnson

Popo Aumavae returns with a Top-Five defense for the Ducks.

A Unique Opportunity…

For so many years we scored so many points in the Mike Bellotti West Coast passing offense, and progressed to even more scoring with the Chip Kelly Shotgun Spread offense, while the fans always complained about the defense being the weak link. For the first time in Oregon football history the Ducks return a top-five rated defense of which is a miracle in Eugene, thanks to Coach Cristobal. But what if the Oregon offense were to average 43 points this season?

Coupled with that acclaimed defense, how high would the upside be for Oregon football?

“Oh how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Tom Corno


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

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OT from 24/7’s evaluation of the Elite 11 qb camp:

Alpha Dog: Ty Thompson, Oregon commit
If there’s one quarterback that’s a lock to move up in the rankings based on his performance, it’s Ty Thompson. The big arm out of Gilbert (Az.) Mesquite had one of the more impressive pro days on Tuesday night as he was able to drive the ball into a headwind and make a number of throws most college quarterbacks can’t make. That’s after a solid opening session on Monday. The nation’s No. 7 ranked pro-style quarterback is the type of prospect that seems to be getting better and better each time we see him. He is committed to Mario Cristobal and the Ducks.


Respected sentry all the way. This is a nicely walled green and yellow garden.

I see you as a Duck keeping those in the blind, blind?

Saving us from the shot gun blasts of misguided hunters, and Trolls under bridges, and from our lower than angelic, selves.

As a devote believer and follower of X, a loyal member of the X party and a devoted celebate, thank you for keeping everything ‘kosher.’

And have a really nice day.

Seriously, this site is a great refuge for those of us interested in Sport.


Cool new look, Charles. Not yet sure where to upload my avi.


No worries.


Did you find what I was talking about in the TOS?


Ha! A stout lager will do that. Hey, at least you know I read it.

David Marsh

I keep going back to how the pistol would be better if it wasn’t so predictable. When Oregon is lined up in n the pistol there is a 50-50 (guessing!) Chance of a run or a pass… However, the defense knows where that run is going.

Right down the middle. There is no chance of it bouncing outside or the QB keeping it… If the ball is going to be run it is getting handed off the runningback and going probably for the a gap and maybe the b gap if the coaches are feeling spicey.

Either way the defensive strategy is the same… Attack downhill at the middle of the offensive line. Throw a few extra guys in the box if needed because if it’s a run its for little gain… Or if it’s a pass you have a built in pass rush.

I’m hoping that Cristobal learned from the pac-12 championship game and the rosebowl where running the QB out of the shotgun is probably the biggest change in both those games that lead to wins.

The rosebowl especially… And I think all the touchdown runs from Herbert (so all the offensive points) came out of the shotgun.

David Marsh

I think that bit of info actually helps my point… Wisconsin didn’t expect Herbert to actually keep the ball out of the pistol formation and were taken by surprise… Granted… Herbert is also an incredible athlete and made that touchdown happen.

But typically the pistol is strictly between the tackles… Going to the edges will make those between the tackles runs better.

That you had no idea speaks for itself, no? And validates your entire take.

Jon Sousa

To answer the last question of the article: But what if the Oregon offense were to average 43 points this season?…

IF Ducks score an average of 43 ppg, and IF Avalos directs a top 5 defense (top 3?), THEN the Ducks will be in the playoff as a #2 or 3 seed and could well make it to the final game.

OK now I’m going to read what everyone else wrote below.

Jon Joseph

Seeing as I am in Texas where it will be a 100+ degrees today with 95% humidity I’m not sure I am not certain this is a ‘civilized’ enough place from which to comment?

Regardless, thanks for the excellent take. Will Mario be the matador and step out of Joe’s way? Or, will he continue to be the bull-headed bull?


100+ degrees today with 95% humidity” why oh why are you in Texas ?? Sounds like it would be a good place to be from, far from.


I think I’ve commented before and while we can’t be 100% till we get to see the offense play but I don’t think Moorehead would accept a position as OC anywhere if the head coach said you are going to be using my playbook and I will have full control of this offense. Moorehead was the top off season Coach available for hire and he could have been OC at practically any team so why would he(In my mind) take a position where he can’t call his own offense and implement what he wants.

I do want to say something about our last offense. I think Arroyo was a terrible QB coach. I don’t think Herbert developed in the 3 years he spent under Arroyo and he still made tons of errors that any fourth year QB should not make. BOTH Int’s against ASU were because he refused to read the underneath CB who then picked him off. Due to this I think Arroyo Play called to prevent herbert from making large mistakes. If you watch the auburn game herbert throw like 15 passes in the middle of the game none of them were over 7 yards. something like 25 % of his throws were either screens or a play action pass but it’s meant to look like a screen rather than a run.

I think we see under Moorehead rather than Arroyo to main diversions in QB play. Under Moorehead the QB will be required to make running plays. Not necessarily QB designed runs but but option plays where the qb has to either give it up or run and I expect more Deep shots thrown during the season. I do think the season starts out more conservative as shough or brown gets used to the play calling, scheme and pressure of being a starting QB but in the end i think we throw downfield more.

I know we compare Clemson’s offense to the 2008-2015 scheme at oregon but Clemson is also spreading the ball downfield a lot more than oregon ever did.


Hey thanks!

No doubt the coaches make the decision but they are always limited by their players. Such as Moorehead had a horrible oline at Penn State and still implemented a successful offense and was still able to throw downfield and scheme how he wanted. I think Arroyo Et al. really didn’t have a strong plan to work around their players skill sets so they did what they knew(Screens and downhill power running).


IMO Arroyo wasn’t hampered by Herbert. It was the other way around. The conservative nature of the offense was a product of MC.

David Marsh

I think the arroyo play calling was generally too inconsistent to let Herbert thrive. You can pick pretty much any game in the past two years and find a quarter or a half where the offense sputtered to a halt.

Couple that with under achieving recievers and Herbert was pretty predictive where he was going to try and throw the ball. In 2018 everyone knew double team or triple team Mitchell and the passing game will start to fold for Oregon.

I think we also get a sense this year of how hands off or hands on Cristobal is with the offense. If we see the same things this year as the past two we know MC has his hands all over the offense… Of we see the Moorhead offense complete … Then we know MC doesn’t have his hands in the offense this year and we can all discuss how much he may have had in previous years.

A big part of the Cristobal culture is the “buck stops here” mentality… He will take responsibility for everything and everyone on his team. Regardless of how much is actually his “fault” or not as he sees it all his responsibility.

Jon Joseph

David, what was baffling to me was spot-lighted in the Rose Bowl. The 1st series, magnificent. And then?

David Marsh

The play calling in the rosebowl was just terrible after the first series. All the offensive touchdowns came off a read from Herbert and then followed by Herbert’s athleticism.

I’m really hoping that Moorhead has schemes to get recievers open. I know Oregon doesn’t have a true speedster right now but they really have under preformed. Get those recievers in space!


This is exactly how I feel, Charles. What will be interesting to watch is the kind of offense Arroyo’s runs at UNLV. Will he go in a different direction or stick with the scheme at Oregon? My hunch is that he leans less on the pistol unless he has a true dual threat at QB. Which begs the next question, how much does the QB run under Moorhead? He was handicapped at Miss St without a great passer so he pounded the ball and ran the QB. Shough is a passer with some athletic ability but he’s not a dual threat. Millen looks more athletic to me than Shough and might be a better fit if Moorhead wants to run the QB. Butterfield is similar to Shough. The X factor is Anthony Brown. Is he 100% healthy coming off two ACL surgeries and can he run the ball effectively? I get the feeling MC prefers running over passing. Moorhead has shown he’s quite capable of orchestrating an effective passing offense during his tenure at Fordham. The WRs look much improved on paper and Shough is a capable passer from what I’ve seen. It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds.


I don’t disagree with you about Shough keeping defenses honest. My point is that he’s not a true dual threat.
I also don’t think he’s as fast as Herbert. What are the coaches looking for? Is it just a coincidence that Anthony Brown was brought in after Moorhead was hired? He’s closer to a dual threat than Shough.

Jon Joseph

But neither Lawrence nor Burrow are true dual threats.

He is equally as fast if not faster, than Clemson’s Lawrence.

Jon Sousa

Regarding Brown’s health. I had an ACL repair and the knee was better after surgery than before the injury. The problem is sufficient recovery time after surgery. I didn’t have the pros taking care of my recovery as Brown SHOULD HAVE, but it is concerning that the injury and surgery were less than a year before the season starts. I have doubts that Brown will be full go at the beginning of fall camp.

I agree with Charles below that running will not be a problem for Shough.


I’ve had two ACLs surgeries. I was not the same basketball player as I was before the injuries. Not as quick, explosive, or flexible. My guess is that Brown is not the same runner that he was as a sophomore before he got hurt.


“Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement”.

  • Mark Twain

I think that Mario has learned from his experience, and that the Moorhead hiring is most certainly a sign of that; I just don’t see the two of them agreeing to work together if Mario planned to throttle his new OC. I agree with Charles that Mario has had to learn on the job, but by all signs, he’s a smart guy and will have absorbed his lessons.


I’m with you, jrw. Becoming HC at Oregon was a HUGE step for Coach. He focused on what he knew best in coaching (OL) and began building his staff. Coach Arroyo’s impact will always be question mark, but he’s gone on now. All of the coaches on Offense are improved in 2020 from the past. UO now has a very qualified OC who seems to be compatible with MC. Talent, strength and speed are all at higher levels than when MC took over as HC. Depth is far deeper. Staff is far stronger. Mario Cristobal is a far better HC than he was two years ago. The Defense speaks for itself and Coach Avalos and his group of coaches has built a monster that can defend against any team. If the D is not there yet, it is close and will be. I’m on the Cristobal and Ducks bandwagon soon on its way to the Natty.

David Marsh

When trying to compare coaches today and the previously long tenured and dare I say…. Legendary coaching staff is also how close they were to retirement.

Upon being let go by Taggart Campbell retired and I think he said somewhere before that that he was only looking at another year or two… Which means if he was retained it would have been incredibly unlikely that he would have been on the staff last year. However, I think Campbell will always have a special place in the hearts of Oregon fans.

Also Greatwood retired at the end of last season with Cal. Though if Greatwood was retained then Taggart wouldn’t have brought in Cristobal and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I think there is a very good argument to be made that the long tenured Oregon staff did a better job of developing players than the current staff (at least on offense) but recruiting is such a big part of what coaches need to do and Mastro and Maribal have both been rated top recruiters in the Pac-12 by duckterritory…. I’ll see if I can find the link … And I think it was duckterritory.

Michael Fischer

A lurker here forever…..I agree about Greatwood and Campbell: they produced over many years and through a varied evolution of schemes.

Jon Joseph

Love to see a Sam Clemons’ quote.

My favorite: Heaven for the climate. Hell for the company.


I think there have been a few variables we didn’t really know the answer to over the past couple seasons. One was just how stubborn was Cristobal and the ‘pistol plunge?’ The second question is was Justin given the go ahead to run, but didn’t until the big games? The third question was just how limited was our receiving corp? The last question is are our running backs a full step back from what we are use to?

Cristobal came in saying he wanted to beaf up our already effective offensive game. He beafed it up, but many of us want to barf with the changes he made. The question is can Moorhead bring back the execution and variety we were use too? I think Moorhead can bring back the excitement because of the other variables are changing in the right direction. Also Moorhead didn’t come to follow what Arroyo did and get a UNLV type job out of it. He wants to show he deserves a big time job.

Justin wasn’t going to run until the game was really important. There is no other answer out there that makes sense. He got injured and decided not to run again until the end. I know he ran occasionally, but I really think he had an agreement with Cristobal that he didn’t have to run, especially when he came back. With the new OC that won’t be an option. Moorhead is going to play with a dual threat qb. I will admit we won’t know until they both tell all.

I think it was evident our receiving corp was limited. From the drops of the past to the just can’t get open more recently, our receivers weren’t up to the task. I think this is changing this year. The competition is going to be fierce for playing time. You either get open, catch the ball or get replaced this season. There will also be a RB catching passes too. The receiving will be a game changer this season.

I think our running game has taken a step back over the past. All I can say is Moorhead will make the running backs, along with the qb’s become more diverse assets. The RB’s have to catch the ball out of the backfield. This alone will change our running game. I also think we will see another major running back threat develop, this year or next. It is time for Oregon to, again, become a place where great running backs come and develop. My two cents.


I thought I read or heard somewhere that it was the coaches’ decision. That strategy worked well enough–except for the loss to Auburn, and then to asu, where the Ducks were scoreless in the second and third quarters, but then scored 21 in the fourth. Of course, asu scored 18 of its 31 points in the fourth.


I tend to think it was an agreement between the two or three involved. There were times where the run was wide open and Herbert chose to hand off or throw. In the Rose Bowl the run was there, but it wasn’t wide open and he took it. I suppose we will never know for sure, but the quotes from those involved too often didn’t add up for me. I have no inside info, just a fish duck hunch, where hunch’s are free to roam.


Being in the grey beard fraternity, I’ve seen my share of coaches who simply didn’t have a clue as what to do, Such is not the case with Mario Cristobal I saw in him a coach with a plan. To win the championship.

The culture & recruiting are both crucial parts of a program and are both at the top, not only in the conference, where there are examples of both in bad shape, but the country, The offense is not operating at the same level, But I believe strongly that MC wants to get it there.

The hiring of coach Morehead tells me this is the case. It was not a rush job to bring him in. This tells me that both know how it’s going to work. The buck, in this case, duck, stops with the head coach, so Cristobal will be right there. But I believe that Morehead has been given the same autonomy as Coach Avalos enjoys.

In no other sport is the relationship between offense and defense more symbiotic than it is in football. With the expectations for the defense being at a historic level I feel that the offense will have to be purposeful in its attempts to falter. Morehead, with the new QB, and OL, a talented corps of receivers, has an open field on which to unleash his new offensive scheme on opposing coaches. Since the Chip years coaches across the country hated what the Oregon offense did to them. I think they will come to loathe this version as well.


I think if the O Line gels and Shough is what we hear he is, this is going to be a season to remember, playoff bound whether the Ducks win or lose. Next year is going to be even “awesomer”.

Happy Canada Day folks. Cheers.

Santa Rosa Duck

Happy Canada Day is dangerously close to being political commentary and this may need to be examined closer.


I didn’t mention one political party or motion in that statement, and if did, nobody from south of the 49th would recognize the names unless you googled them!

Only fitting; your birthday is celebrated every year with fireworks.

Jon Joseph

Hats off to you in The Great White North, eh?


Thanks eh! lol


Charles, your article paints Coach Cristobal as hard-headed when we don’t fully know his blueprint to build national champion. The talent cupboard was bare of skill position talent with a couple of exceptions. Coach was building men and a foundation for football. 2020 and 2021 will usher in new offensive strategies and play calling. I expect offensive output to JUMP remarkably. The day is coming when the offense will shine again, but then we will have a defense to match it. Go Ducks.

Santa Rosa Duck

Brent, I think you are right on and we will see more from the offense this year. My question is assuming Moorhead performs like we know he is capable of doing, will we have him for more than one or two years?


May Moor?


Much to ponder there, Mr. FishDuck. Just exactly what will Mario Cristobal and Joe Moorhead provide us with this first year in their new offense ?? With Joe’s experience I think it is obvious that Mario did not bring him in just to give us Mario Cristobal’s version of offense. Joe in his own right has developed an offense that has been successful and I’m sure both coaches know this with their only thoughts being how best to utilize it here at Oregon and make any incremental improvements as time goes on. The two coaches have both been in difficult situations as head coach and both seem to be at the same maturity levels, game experience and both seem to very much want the same thing – – a national title.

With that said, how well they do with the offense, will be up to how well they can jell together in their approach. How well they can give and take as the situations demand it. Maturity counts in these situations and both coaches seem to be at the same level with that.

Experience is another area where the two coaches seem to be at similar levels in their careers. But here is where we may see some separation between the two. With experience comes the learning from ones experience. In the past two years we fans have seen where Mario might take a little longer to learn things than we would like. The constant “Run left” last year is an example of this. But what about Joes learning curve ?? This we just don’t know yet, but I feel that with the maturity level these coaches have they will find a way to make things work out for the best.

For Oregon football we are still in the tunnel and don’t see the light at the end yet (a national title), but we do seem to be on our way and looking better every year.