Oregon Football: Is Coach Cristobal SNOOKERING America?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

I wonder if the Oregon head coach is snookering everyone, as he has the Ducks winning by a good margin against Stanford, but they didn’t look overly impressive. The offense is showing some surprises, yet mostly keeping it vanilla. The team’s superior depth from recruiting is beginning to show, but they’re not Alabama-good yet. Is this Oregon ball-coach trying to lay in the weeds for now and peak in mid-December when so many more eyes are on the Ducks?

Regardless … Coach Mario Cristobal has to be very happy with what he saw from his defense and an offense that improved throughout the game. Yes, there is a ton of upside, but there are a number of areas where we should be grateful that the COVID layoffs did not hold this team back even further than it did. Considering there was no spring football and a strained, late fall camp — Oregon fans must be excited about the future.

As always, I invite all Oregon fans to offer their thoughts and perspectives below, as this is a time of year where we can really learn from one another.

ESPN Video

CJ Verdell and Tyler Shough both had great games.

What I was NOT Wild About …

On the Oregon campus is the Pioneer Cemetery, and I feel like dedicating a plot to the Oregon Shotgun Offense, with a headstone extolling the 43-point-per-game average over nine years. Whether I like it or not, it is clear that Cristobal is phasing out this formation, as it was utilized sparingly for passing plays a few times, and an actual Shotgun with a Zone Read did not occur until 12 minutes were left in the game. What was surprising to me was that the Shotgun Spread is what Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead primarily operated out of in the past … but now he seems to have junked it.

I heard about the Moorhead RPO offense, and yet I did not see an RPO play until late in the third quarter.

I think the questions about whether Cristobal will let Moorhead completely do his thing have been answered. (I’ll be a good sport and throw some dirt on my fond Shotgun Offense memories)

I do think the transition on defense has turned out to be more difficult than we thought. Linebackers were not beating their blocks, especially in the first half, and I am beginning to wonder about taking Isaac Slade-Matautia away from inside linebacker and moving him to weakside linebacker? Not having Troy Dye and Slade-Matautia in the middle was glaring in the run defense, but then again, it was the first game for complete newbies.

ESPN Video

CJ Verdell leaves a lot of bodies behind him.

After watching one Pistol-Plunge after another, I concluded that Cristobal declined the GoGo Offense in favor of the No-Doze Offense. It is just too predictable and too easy for the “read” defender to cover both the running back and quarterback at times. More on that in future weeks. For now, we can debate the direction of the offense and whether this Cristobal Concoction can take Oregon to the promised land.

What I was REALLY Delighted With …

The big gust of wind after the game in Eugene was not a natural phenomenon; it was Mr. FishDuck exhaling a huge sigh of relief about the performance of a completely new offensive line. My friends, Oregon rushing for 269 yards with 496 of total offense against Stanford with not just new starters, but starters with very little or no actual game experience? It could have/should have been a cluster, but instead became a powerful display of extraordinary blocking at times.

No. 71 Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu (red arrow) and No. 89 DJ Johnson (green arrow) create a running lane.

We all saw new tight end starter, No. 89, DJ Johnson, catch the ball, but his blocks on the defensive ends began to hurt them and had them flinching by early third quarter. Watching that massive 340 lb. right tackle,Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu (No. 71) just cave in the defensive tackles while DJ came across the formation in a slice block to obliterate the defensive end and create a running lane was just heaven for an old offensive lineman like yours truly. It was apparent they were having fun doing it and it was obvious how it was wearing down the defense.

Over at left offensive tackle another monster-man, 340 lb. Steven Jones (No. 74), was just pancaking defenders at times. These are big people who like to hit and have a mean streak — just what you want from your offensive linemen!

For future opponents? A fearful film study of what awaits their defense when facing Oregon, and I have to tip my hat to Cristobal as it was impressive to me. And for a first game with five new offensive line starters? Incredible.

ESPN Video

CJ Verdell and Tyler Shough standing next to No. 71 Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu show how large the new starter at tackle is!

What was MOST Surprising?

Only six penalties after that long layoff, a new offensive direction and all the new starters? Many of the six were on defense with pass interference, so the few penalties on offense did not kill drives.

On third down conversions, the Ducks were an astounding 9 of 11? Holy Crap! Those conversions came from Moorhead pulling out plays Oregon had never run before and completely surprising the Cardinal defense on these key third downs. Imagine my delight to see a Speed Double-Option out of the Pistol. It is similar to a variation on what we used to do so many years ago and it told me a ton about Moorhead. I am sure he has a number of plays in his back pocket for future scenarios.

That is key element of game-planning, as it was handy so many times in the glory years to pull an unknown play out at a key moment. Even if it does not always work, I love the thinking behind it!

ESPN Video

Travis Dye scores!

Be proud of those wide receivers! Did you see their blocking and how they sustained their blocks for so long to allow the tailbacks to run by them? Did you see those incredible catches? I salute Cristobal for such a great hire in WR Coach Bryan McClendon, as his influence was shouting on the football field to me. This is the best the WR group has looked in years.

A great first game, yet very little was actually revealed. Is this laying in the weeds, or the result of an extended COVID layoff?

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

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo from ESPN Video

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

 

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