Has Cristobal’s “Physical” Offense Worked? Will It?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials 72 Comments

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I’ve never heard as much about “a tough culture” or “being physical” from any coach at Oregon as I have from Coach Mario Cristobal. There was a feeling of toughness from Coach Rich Brooks and his Gang Green defense, but he did not preach it like we’ve heard over the last three years.

Nationally known writer Steward Mandel provided some quotes last week in his article on “The Athletic” that reveal what we suspected, but could not easily confirm about Oregon’s offense under Cristobal. Mandel referred to an interview in July in which Cristobal acknowledged the Oregon offenses of the past that created so many explosion plays, and yet the coach maintained he was more comfortable with the physical, run-first pro-style offenses. Mandel quoted him as saying,

“We want to combine the two  (philosophies).”

So, there you have what we have been witnessing over the last three years, and it explains why the “Plodding-Pistol” has been used extensively during the Cristobal era. Mario was not moving to something that worked but to an offense that he wanted. Yet only one year into this experiment, he admitted after the Redbox Bowl that, “changes had to be made on offense.”

So you inherit an offense that was the first in NCAA history to average 45 points a game for five years and decide to move away from it? Would a business manager or great coach of any sport do that?

Gary Breedlove

Oregon was not physical? Bryon Marshall, No. 9, would disagree as No. 55 Hroniss Grasu, and No. 73 Tyrell Crosby are still in the NFL today. (Cam Hunt was No. 78!)

The Prior Offenses Were NOT PHYSICAL?

To state or imply that prior offenses were not physical is pure drivel, as you can read from the White Paper about the basics of the Inside Zone as taught by Chip Kelly/Steve Greatwood, or right here out of the FishDuck Analysis Library, but giving you the salient points…

“We want to get off the ball and be a physical, downhill-running football team. This is not a finesse play. We teach our offensive linemen a block we call the bust-block. The idea is to bust their sternums against their spines on every play. We want to come off the ball, create a double-team, knock the crap out of the defender and deposit him in the linebacker’s lap.

This is physical football. We want them handling the defender as if they were a bouncer in a bar throwing him out of the bar. They understand what type of forces has to be implemented to throw a guy out of a bar.”

Look at the Inside Zone in action during that era and tell me it was not physical? How about pulling players in the classic Power Play that created so much yardage over the years? Or pulling two players to defeat nine defenders stacked at the LOS at the goal line? All this done with “sub-par” players?

What happened to the physical plays before Cristobal was head coach, such as Counter Treys and using Tight Ends like a fullback? Brute force creating running lanes in close quarters weren’t good enough for the current coach?

Pool Photo by Sean Meagher

In this new environment of 2021–we have to look at the total picture of Mario Cristobal.

I believe in Critical Analysis, where I give credit where due and grief when deserved. I’ve written a number of articles affirming how I want the current head coach to remain at Oregon over the long-term, in addition to giving praise to Mario Cristobal in the areas where he has excelled right here, in addition to here and especially this example. The future of Oregon football depends upon him solving the massive underperformance of the Oregon offense compared to what has been done in the previous ten years and looking at what is needed to win in the College Football Playoffs.

When Coach Cristobal refers to physical, we all know he means the running game. How many times have we heard about the “new culture” and the importance of being tough and more physical? To most coaches, the mark of a good physical offensive line shows up in average rushing yards per game. Rushing well below 200 yards as an average is inadequate, rushing for 200 yards is considered quite good and reaching an average of 250 yards per game is deemed exceptional.

Let’s Look at the Rushing Stats in the Ten Years Prior to Cristobal:

The final year of Mike Bellotti as head coach at Oregon saw the Ducks average 280 yards per game.
The four years of Chip Kelly at Oregon gave the Ducks an average of 278 yards per game.
The four seasons of Mark Helfrich as head coach brought Oregon an average of 253 yards per game.
The one season of Willie Taggart at Oregon saw the Ducks average 251 yards per game. (With Justin Herbert injured!)

What I see above is a pattern of exceptional rushing averages, highly outperforming the norm and leading Oregon to berths in the playoffs and two ‘Natty appearances.

Kevin Cline

Coach Alex Mirabal replaced the proven performance of Coach Steve Greatwood?

Let’s Look at the Rushing Stats Pertinent to Mario Cristobal:

The five seasons of Alex Mirabal at Marshall as Offensive Line Coach averaged 179 yards per game.
The three seasons of Mario Cristobal at Oregon saw a rushing average of 175 yards per game.

What I see above is a pattern of significant underperformance relative to the standard set at Oregon for the prior decade, and especially considering all the current hype about being more physical.

Mr. FishDuck … Cristobal Didn’t Have HIS Personnel in Place!

Yes, I’ve been told that often, but again–let’s look at the facts. Cristobal inherited the recruiting of Offensive Line Coach Steve Greatwood, and was given the gift of three offensive linemen who are currently in the NFL in Jake Hanson, Shane Lemieux, and Calvin Throckmorton. Add in the 6′ 7″ monster of Brady Aiello, who played a ton and started often at Oregon and it seems that the players were in place?

But wait! The Outland Trophy Winner played for Cristobal in two of his three years at Oregon, and now Penei Sewell is also playing on Sundays. Hold on, there were four NFL players and a 6′ 7″ hulk on Oregon’s offensive line for Cristobal? Has that ever happened at Oregon before? (No, never!) Four offensive linemen who go on the NFL? They were not good enough?

John Sperry

Charles Nelson scored boatloads of touchdowns at Oregon. Not an NFL talent, but…

If those offensive linemen could not get Cristobal to good rushing numbers with his current scheme, can it ever be done at Oregon under Mario?

I’ve heard plenty about how “the receivers were not adequate for Cristobal, and needed to be upgraded.” My friends, you did not see Jeff Maehl, Lavasier Tuinei, Keanon Lowe or Charles Nelson on NFL rosters for long, and I doubt they would have been even recruited by the current coaching staff. Yet they all played in “the Natty” and scored loads of touchdowns due to how the scheme was attacking the defenses, using tactics that offenses currently are still implementing nationally.

Mandel quoted Cristobal stating in the aforementioned interview that,

“I don’t think you need to compromise one (philosophy) over the other.”

The facts show that you have Coach, and badly.

Duck Territory YouTube Video

You, I and Coach Cristobal are counting on Joe Moorhead to rescue the Oregon Offense.

Joe Moorhead Will Prove you WRONG, Mr. FishDuck!

If our new OC creates the scoring that all of us desire and our Ducks need to make the Playoffs, it will be due to the Oregon Shotgun Spread Offense that Joe Moorhead used at Penn State. There were no A-Gap “Pistol-Plunges,” as he did not use the Pistol formation prior to Oregon. Scoring more points this year will not be a vindication of Cristobal, but a condemnation of the three years Mario wasted on offense attempting an unproven philosophy while dumping two high-scoring offenses with which Oregon dazzled the nation and built its brand.

I will be quite happy with any offense that scores the amount  of points needed, but returning to the offense that made Oregon great really rubs salt on the wound that Cristobal created. Despite the coaching blunder on offense, I do want Cristobal here for the long term, and for this year to be the smashing success that I believe it can be with Moorhead unleashed. So much fun and entertaining drama to watch because…

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

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
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Duckpop22

Mario Cristobal is a saint of a man, who teaches the players under his watch to be solid, contributing citizens. I believe everything I just said. Otherwise, his seat would be on fire for being the best thing since Gene Chizik in stopping our offense. Where is the explosion play? Where is the play-by-play guy going “Heeerree we go,” as LaMichael James turns the corner for another 30+ yard gain? James was great (and he makes a mean burger at “Killer Burger) but he wasn’t the be-all-end-all in terms of running back talent. He, and Kenyon Barner with him, rushed for 1,000 yards because it schemed that way. Sure, it’s nice to be “tough,” for a while. But, then I want the scoreboard to light up, baby! And I know where to lay the blame if we don’t.

sherrybb

Stats alone prove Mr Fishduck is right on. Had our offense been even 75 percent of what it was the prior 10 yrs we would have been in much better shape. the question is: will MC allow Moorhead to run the offense? Will the play calling be mediocre and in some cases at crunch time downright pathetic? there is no excuse this yr….none. I too, love the culture MC is building, but you do not have to give up on the offense to have a great defense.

CJ

Anybody note whether we were running the pistol at all in the two scrimmages or the spring game?

I haven’t been able to tune in but I am guessing some of you have.

CJ

That’s bad news in my mind. I was really hoping they would scrap it altogether and just say Joe, run whatever scheme you think is the best to score the most amount of points.

If we come out in the Fresno St. game running pistol still I will not be a happy camper and I think it will tell a lot of us the situation as it pertains to how much control Cristobal is exerting. It will be a real bad sign in my opinion.

Pocketchange

I believe that Mr.Cristobal has a great marketing scheme. He has branded the ducks as physical and has a strength coach that “fills the sleeves”. Is it though? When was the last time we dominated a team that we pulled the first stringers out at the half or scored at will in the fourth quarter? Would a physical team be stuffed on 3&1 over and over again?

Our guys are big but I don’t believe they are as physical as the media portrays them to be.

Haywarduck

Great stuff, I think strength and size only work when the mind is also working and the team is working, thinking together. There are a tremendous amount of big guys, quick guys, but they have to work within the framework of a team and be guided by smart scheme.

The question is, are the sleeves filled with hot air, or a functional tool for a symphonic plan of action. When you see an O-line that is a group working together, it is unstoppable. A great O-line can fool and play with a D-line. This can be reversed and often is with a young or misguided group.

I think our guys are bigger, stronger based on those metrics, but are they better, we will see.

Pocketchange

Thank you! Last time I saw real dominance was a 59-20 game against Florida State. Highly recommend looking up Oregon vs FSU memes.

oregon111

in 2018 and 2019, the Ducks did not have great receivers. This year, they will have that. Also, Herbert was up and down as a college QB.

Put in these new receivers and a steady QB, and watch what happens. Franklin/Thornton/Hutsun/Pittman will make a difference.

David Marsh

I would say Herbert’s up and down college performance was largely due to the instability at the coaching positions. He had Helfrich, Taggart and Cristobal in three years. That is three different offenses he had to learn… And he really only had a couple good receivers in that entire time span.

I do agree we are super loaded at reciever this year. I also believe we will have a good quarterback this year… I think next year we will potentially have a great quarterback with more development time.

oregon111

I have a reply to this…

The dominant offense has been the spread for some time now.
The ‘counter’ to the spread is the 4-2-5, or the 3-3-5. We saw a lot of 4-2-5 in the spring game, at least I did, with the ends standing up.

The 425 gets you pressure from your edge players while you have 7 defenders covering the field on pass plays.
It is the only way (mostly) to stop great WRs and accurate QBs.

The ‘counter’ to the 4-2-5 is the RUNNING GAME.
So instead of running against a front 7, you are running against a front 6 – one less big guy to take on your blockers.

Cristobal needs to combine the two in order to be effective.
Just throwing the ball will give you the offenses of USC or Wa St (under Leach).
When the D knows you can only throw the ball, you can be stopped.

——————–

Can Cristobal do both? Run and Pass? Include misdirection plays?

I know Moorhead can!!!

Cristobal just needs to get out of the way. Develop the running game for when those plays are needed, but don’t call those plays when the D is selling out to stop the pistol handoff between the tackles.

DaDuck

Interesting! One other aspect that should be considered, however, is that, even if we ran more effectively with Kelly, did we LOSE more because our offense finished drives to quickly. Even though we scored more, Kelly’s exciting offense forced our defense to be on the field more. Certainly, Kelly’s offense was great to watch, but I’m unsure whether we’re better off now than before.

smith72

Good thought DaDuck. However, Aliotti’s defense created many interceptions and sacks when opponents were forced.to.abandon their running game.

30Duck

Basketball Recruiting News: Could Altman pull in the #1 Recruit?

It looks like it’s down to Memphis or Oregon for Emoni Bates, who’s expected to make his decision this week.

College basketball recruiting: Predicting, ranking best options for Emoni Bates – CBSSports.com

DuckUp

Dana Altman is no doubt a hall of fame coach! The guy smiling to the right with his tongue out gave me a chuckle. 🤣

PittDuck

Great ponder-point Charles, you are getting me hyped for the season, thanks!

Has the physical offense worked? Yes, but it’s been a little more disappointing than we would have liked.

Will it work? I don’t see how it can’t. Big people tend to push little people around way more than the opposite. And the Ducks have some big lads this year!

When is the last time we had an O-line like this?
6’7”/303, 6’7”/265, 6’6”/360, 6’6”/324, 6’6”/318, 6’6”/315, 6’5”/332, 6’5”/318, 6’5”/308, 6’5”/303, 6’5”/302, 6’5”/291, 6’4”/313, 6’4”/308, 6’4”/305, 6’4”/295, 6’3”/296, 6’3”/293, 6’3”/291, 6’3”/284, 6’2”/344, and 5’11”/336!

Not only large people, on the O-line, but a lot of them! More depth than I can recall.

I think the Oregon Road Grading Crew will do just fine this year!

David Marsh

Also… I really can’t wait to see Cardwell play. He is a much bigger back more in the mold of Freeman than anyone we have had since… Well Freeman.

Cardwell apparently had a very good scrimmage last Saturday.

I think a bigger back will certainly help Oregon’s offense in general. Verdell falls forward which is nice but he doesn’t have the size to really break tackles and fall forward for bonus yards.

NJDuck

Watch out for Trey Benson as well. I think both of them will be great!

oregon111

Looking back at the last bowl game, Iowa St’s RB really churned the legs for broken tackles and extra yards.

Verdell is the kind of RB that you want to sub in as a fresh bolt of speed when he hits a crease and takes off for the end zone.

DJ Johnson would make for a good ‘big back’ – like the way Lyerla took a few handoffs before he lost his mind and quit the team.

Once in a while, Verdell can break an arm tackle, but he doesn’t try to cut away from defenders – he just runs straight into their numbers.

David Marsh

Last year Cristobal and Moorhead have both come out saying that the offense wasn’t installed by the time they needed to play games… At least not all of it.

So I’m giving them a bye for the early part of last year where we didn’t see much difference in terms of scheme.

This year though… Moorhead has had the chance to install his offense at least twice by now and we need to see a much improved offense schematicly.

I am a little hopeful in that the amount of pistol runs were being reduced towards the end of last year and certainly in the spring game.

I think all duck fans were hoping for the old offense but with bigger and better linemen than we ever had before. That hasn’t happened. This is the year that Cristobal really needs to prove to the fans that he is learning and developing as a coach.

I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again … But the offense Cristobal has been using doesn’t make his beloved offensive line look too imposing. The pistol being used the way it has been means they need to hold their blocks longer and fight off more defenders.

Everyone knows where a pistol run is going and that makes the offensive line’s job all the more difficult.

GODUCKS15

I’m not getting into the X’s and O’s but I will say this is the year where we find out if MC is the Helton of the North and also a micro manager.
He’s assembled some of the best players on any team and has some great coaching assistant hires. There’s no excuses anymore.
It’s time to walk the talk and “Git-R-Done”.

NJDuck

Saban saw the handwriting on the wall and changed his way of running the offense. Look at the OCs that were hired at Alabama. Why they are now averaging so many more points per game. He knew the offense had to evolve, no longer scoring low points per game and depended on excellent defense to win games.

Hoping MC will do the same. Very hopeful since his hires for OC and DC and other coaches along with the excellent recruiting. Liking a lot of what MC has accomplished, but needing new schematics on the offensive side. With Moorhead’s hire, thinking he is heading that direction?

NJDuck

I was thinking about Mike B. when he made philosophy changes to how he always ran the offense. He knew he had to make changes. I know Gary C. was the first, but he did not stay and left for, I believe to LSU. But Kelly was the better hire.

DuckUp

This got my juices flowing and I can’t wait for the season to get here! I agree with everything you stated Mr. FishDuck.

I was watching a replay of the 2011 Oregon vs Colorado game last night and guess what? We scored 29 points in the FIRST quarter with our RS freshman backup QB Bryan Bennett.
29! Almost what we average now for a whole game.

I really hope Cristobal let’s Joe do his thing this year and gets out of the way on O. I also love what he has done so far in recruiting but where are the next Jonathan Stewart type RBs at? Let’s hope Cardwell is the real deal.

David Marsh

Bennett was an exceptional backup quarterback. He was hands down the BEST backup quarterback we have had in the last 10 years.

Maybe this year we finally have a backup to rival him.

J Duck

If 175 rushing ypg is a complement to Leach/Wazzu style passing numbers, we’ll be fine. With the QB/RB/WR/TE/OL talent we have, even 200 ypg rushing may be enough if the potential for 300+ passing ypg is realized in the JM offense, or some good balance therein. 40+ ppg must be realized. The pistol, IMHO, will NOT get us anywhere close. What playoff caliber team is running it? How many D1 teams are running it at all? Enough said.

Drake

Oregon running the fast paced spread offense was a thing of beauty to watch. There were games that were literally over before halftime.

We watched Mark Helfrich take that offense forward and ultimately lose his job because he couldn’t sustain the success of the past.

The past is behind us, and the future is looking good, primarily because of recruiting.

That future will be determined by some pretty highly ranked young players. Moorehead’s offense may not duplicate the rushing statistics of the past…, but I think when he finds his QB and RB to play behind the linemen that Cristobal is helping to bring to Oregon…we will outscore most teams.

Drake

Cristobal and Arroyo were “co-offensive coordinators” under Taggart. Cristobal kept Arroyo as OC for reasons other than his prolific offense. My guess is that continuity, and perhaps loyalty to a peer played a role in that decision.

I was happy to see Arroyo move on…

Cristobal needs to improve, if he does, then I believe that Oregon will get another shot at the title.

FGLumber

Really enjoy your “writing” again. Also, after spending a modest fortune to attend the “Natty” vs OSU a few years ago my lasting impression from that game was ..I wish we had either a bruising O line like they showed when they obliterated our defense……or I wish we had a bruising defensive front that could nullify a very good offensive line. Jury is still out as to just how strong our O line will turn out to be…..but I’m encouraged. Now to keep the opponents off balance offensively. Can’t wait for the season to start…….been a very long wait.

VandownbytheriverDuck

When the Ducks came out wearing silver and white OSU practice uniforms I knew they were done and ordered another 17.00 beer and 20.00 shot. . Ducks could not stop short yardage or short yardage. I’m hoping this line knows how to get mean and force the issue.

Let’s be honest. Even during the Golden years of offense Oregon had issue running against stacked fronts and teams with better defensive lines so I understand and appreciate the want to be able to exert ones will on any and all defenses and sizeable strong o lines seem to help do that.

However if Oregon is to consistently best top tier teams like Alabama Clemson OSU they will have to be able score lots and lots and more lots of points or have an otherworldly defensive ability to stop the best offenses in the country who generally are

To date Mario’s offenses have been less than previous iterations.

His clock management suspect at times and at some point failures in offense will match and possibly overcome all the other great things he’s doing and he’s doing a lot.

I’m still behind him 100% but these next two years better produce some serious offensive output. Given the increased talent and physicality the Ducks should be steamrolling opponents.

An achy, soaked with IPA, water bird once pointed out to me privately that Moorhead never really ran pistol at all.

We may well be able to tell how much control MC is giving to JM by how little we see what has to date been a single shot 22 and not a desert eagle .50

Notalot

The Ducks offense has been underwhelming in Cristobal’s tenure. Much has changed over the last 18-24 months with new offensive coaching and personnel that should result in an uptick in 2021 results – yards. chunk gains and more scoring.

We have not yet seen even one game by the 2021 team. Whatever we prognosticate or surmise is simply speculation, Entering game 5 there should be enough of a body of work and adequate statistics to begin forming a view of the 2021 offense, though even then the personnel and plays may be different in the late season.

Your article is full of meat to chew on. Go Ducks in ’21!

One can live in the past or look to the future. This is Coach Cristobsl ‘s “New Deal”.

Most if the players are his own. An OC with his own system installed and drilled in. New QB’s. Highly talented larger and faster receivers. Team lesders prepared in this system and igs culture by these cozches.

12-0, 11-1 or 10-2 with a post sesaon victory will prove Cristobal’s duck will hunt. The 2021 team is not the 2020 or 2019 team.

Annie

I was watching a rerun of the 2019 Duck-uw game and the pistol yielded some touchdowns, but whatever the Ducks do I want to see scoring and lots of of it!

OT–Does anyone know of any locations near the UO for parking for games, and, if so, the cost and what time they open the lots or whatever? 

Also, where exactly does one access the path from UO to Autzen these days? It’s been years since I used it and there are so many buildings there now that didn’t used to be there.

Thanks.

Tandaian

Parking: Masonic Center, Lane County Youth Service, Boy Scouts are all along MLK BLVD across the street from Autzen. However, I think all of them are by reservation. There are quite a few park and rides available or there is some first come first serve parking at Chase Gardens at S. Garden Way and MLK.

Foot Path: Is off of Millrace Dr. and Riverfront Pkwy. There is not a lot of parking on the other side of the river. If you take the foot path, be ready to take at least 20-30 minutes to reach Autzen, if you don’t get lucky.

Annie

Thanks!

I am trying to avoid having to drive close to the stadium. I usually take the LTD shuttle buses, but they aren’t doing them this year, First Student is (which means all school buses, boo!) and tickets are via smartphone through Duck ticketmaster and I don’t have a smartphone. I am trying to find out if there’s another way to get those tickets, but trying to get in contact with anyone is nigh impossible.

Haywarduck

Parking by Market of Choice, getting a nice snack, and then having a walk, in the fall, to Autzen is one of more enjoyable walks one can take. From joining the crowd as we all gather on Millrace Dr., often some younger duck energy, then crossing the Willamette, and then finally turning the corner, seeing Autzen makes one realize all is good and right.

By the time I get there, I’m often so fired up, I almost feel like running on the field, and putting on the uniform, but then I realize watching is so enjoyable. The walk back is also a nice way to expend some of the pent up energy from sitting for hours. Those hours mostly spent trying to influence the outcome of the game by yelling and never really getting anything done, the walk is perfect.

It also nice to realize you haven’t, like many others, just sat, again, or stood in line, for an extended period. Walking to your car and then just being able to drive away, without crowds is very appealing after a day at Autzen.

Annie

Thanks! Sounds good. :)

Haywarduck

The dots I connect are the pistol offense should be taken out back and……….

It is interesting the receiver position has been ridiculed, coaching changed, but the running game just keeps underperforming. We have a massive influx of WR talent coming in, but little is said about the running game and the coach.

I don’t think it is about the O-line, they are doing great things. The seat of the running game coordinator should be white hot if the running game doesn’t turn around this season.

30Duck

Well, there’s certainly a lot to ponder over in this article, Mr. FishDuck!

My first response is that Mario is not deliberately cutting back on yards and scoring to prove a point. But, that, the worst thing a coach can do is go against his natural inclination and just fall in step with his predecessor. I believe that Mario has a plan; that his way will end up with the Ducks in the Natty again.

He’s been successful at Oregon. However you want to measure last season, Oregon is going for the 3-peat this season. I definitely agree that to say Mario’s teams were “tough” and Chip’s teams were “soft” in comparison is ridiculous, LaMichael popped his elbow back in, no player was tougher than Jeff Maehl.

Recruiting is how a team builds its foundation; when that’s squared away, it’s time to go. Mario has that set, and I do believe that the recruiting of Thompson, and 7, and the receivers, are signs that Mario is not digging in his heels to get a 4 point lead run the clock out for the win.

smith72

Amen! Preach it brother Duck!

Oh how I’ve missed those years of offensive rushing stats! My fellow coaches didn’t call me ground Chuck for nothing. I would love to see counter treys, power sweeps, reverses, misdirection, and speed baby speed!

How fun was it to watch defenses with their hands on their hips sucking air!

I also agree that Oregon must keep Coach Cristobal. His leadership and culture is admired! Good things are happening in Eugene!

smith72

I would like to see multiple formations from the same personnel group. Slowing the game down by substituting allows the defense to slow it down to substitute their personnel. Boring and no advantage is gained by the offense.

smith72

Great pictures you use! I think I could still get 10 yrs with that hole!