There are a lot of unknowns going into the 2021 football season for the Oregon Ducks and coach Mario Cristobal. It’s hard to tell from the spring football game so let’s look at the last serious competition, the Fiesta Bowl where tough Iowa State dominated the Pac-12 champions 34-17.
Oregon’s offense, traditionally a national force, went meekly into the night, dominated on the line of scrimmage, a huge disappointment given that Cristobal had welcomed the physical challenge presented by the Cyclones. His proud Ducks were dominated in all ways, converting 0-6 third down chances and 0-1 on fourth down which explains the meager 88 yards gained rushing over only 17 agonizing minutes of possession time. Three lost fumbles and an interception made things worse.
Conversely, the Cyclones performed more like the old-time Ducks: converting 11-of-19 third downs and 2-of-3 fourth down tries, giving up no turnovers and hogging the football for 43 minutes. Duck fans were left with a bad taste in the mouth—this game was reminiscent of previous uninspired losses to conference low-lives California and Oregon State.
So, have things turned around? Check Oregon’s massive offensive line, average sized at 6-foot-5, 318 pounds. Can they open holes for CJ Verdell and Travis Dye (neither one able to start for Alabama or Ohio State?). Is there a new comer with size and speed who will pose an inside-outside threat like Royce Freeman? If the Ducks are to hang with the country’s big boys, they need to average around 200 yards per game rushing and never fail to gain 100, which is a sure recipe for defeat.
Anthony Brown has won the starting quarterback job. He has a world-class quarterback coach and offensive coordinator in Joe Morehead. Will Cristobal let Morehead loose with play calling or hang over his shoulder, stifling the flow a good offense needs today? A persistent serious flaw has been third-down and short yardage play calling. Morehead said they would never run a play into more defenders than he had blockers, yet that was violated on more than one occasion, especially out of the Pistol formation where the running back is aligned 8-10 yards behind the line of scrimmage as the ball is snapped.
Out of the Pistol, the Ducks have made short yardage situations long yard situations for the linemen who must sustain their blocks long enough for the running back to show up from his deep position. Two years ago, losses to Auburn and Arizona State (which kept the Ducks out of the national playoff) were directly related to fourth-down short yardage tries that were stopped for loss out of the Pistol. Somewhere, I’m sure the Pistol is an effective formation, but it is not at Oregon.
A consistent offensive weakness the past three years has been field goal kicking. The Ducks were 5-of-8 last season and the stadium crowd holds its collective breath at every attempt. It would also be nice to see a kickoff guy consistently put the ball in the end zone, just like the walk on kickers from Washington State do.
The defensive front seven looks solid, lead by All American Kayvon Thibodeaux. It is the secondary that needs to come together, but there is a lot of athletic talent to choose from, especially at corner. Last year’s defense lost safeties Brady Breeze and Javon Holland to the pros before the season. Those two consistently made big plays in crucial situations and were never adequately replaced.
Oregon fans are foaming at the mouth, just like every other college fan that is weary and cranky over the covid cloud that took the fun out of the game last year. This year looks better, brighter, at least at the beginning. There are a lot of unknowns for the Ducks, but the prevailing chatter has Oregon ranked from 9th to 25th nationally. This is based more on highly heralded recruiting Cristobal has chalked up the past four years than performance on the playing field.
There are whispers around the Pac-12 that the Ducks have not played “up” to the level of talent at their disposal. It’s time to “coach them up.” This is Cristobal’s challenge and one that Oregon fans can evaluate, beginning with kickoff against Fresno State, who was picked to finish fourth in the Western Division of the Mountain West Conference this Saturday.
Coach Ken Woody
Top Screenshot from Pac-12 Video
“I learned football working under many great coaches, among them Len Casanova, Jerry Frei, John Robinson, Bruce Snyder, George Seifert,and Ron Stratten at the University of Oregon, Jim Owens at the University of Washington and Jim Walden at Washington State University. Most of my coaching experience was on the offensive side of the ball with quarterbacks, receivers and kickers although as a head coach I coached defensive backs, linebackers and offensive line.
I achieved my first goal of being the youngest head coach in college football at the age of 26 and throughout my career in coaching and outside of it, as a journalist and broadcaster, have experienced how exciting and gratifying it is teaching the game to others.”
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