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

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

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?

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?

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.

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?

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.

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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