Cristobal’s Offensive Line Performance Stinks: Time to Return to Basics

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Mario Cristobal has built his coaching career on the offensive line. It has been both a point of pride and emphasis when it comes to putting his mark on the Oregon program. It is also the root of his desire for Oregon to be physical and to physically overpower and dominate the opposition into submission.

The sad fact of the matter is that Oregon’s offensive line stinks.

Much has been said about QB Anthony Brown and the skill players failing to execute during last Saturday’s game against Fresno State, though there has been an aversion to state the obvious: the offensive line is failing to produce for the Ducks. More troubling still — this isn’t a young offensive line, as the entire line is composed of second-year starters, and many are in their fourth year with the program. Yet the offensive line play was sloppy and looked just as bad as it did last year. Several runs that went for good yardage were called back for holding on Saturday, and this is often a sign of an offensive lineman getting beat and resorting to desperate and sloppy technique.

This is simply unacceptable for the a team whose head coach prides himself as an offensive line coach and wants a physical team that is able to dominate the trenches.

Scott Kelley

Does this look like an offensive line dominating lesser competition?

Over the past couple years, Offensive Line Coach Alex Mirabal and Cristobal have both emphasized cross-training the offensive line and creating flexibility so they can always put the best five players on the field. On paper, this idea is brilliant because the ability to substitute a fresh offensive linemen or even just move players around to change the look for the opposing defense could both be game-changers. It sounds great, but it hasn’t worked.

Instead, the result is that Oregon has a line composed of inconsistent o-linemen instead of an elite bulldozer. For all the talent and size recruited on the offensive line, Oregon isn’t any better off. Despite this, Cristobal still insists that moving offensive linemen around isn’t a problem.

It is time to focus on the five best linemen at their position and build a cohesive unit. Spring is the time to cross-train linemen in case of injury because Spring camp is a great time to experiment and make adjustments. By the time the season kicks off, we need a dependable offensive line that works with one mind.

We’ve been given glimpses of what this line can accomplish. There were times where it opened giant holes for the runners, but for a majority of the first game, Oregon’s offensive line was ineffective. To make matters worse, Cristobal seems to be insistent on running the ball up the gut and between the tackles. If this is what Cristobal wants to do, he needs to put an offensive line on the field that can make the holes for the running backs.

Cristobal’s Greatest Success At Oregon

Craig Strobeck

Penei Sewell played left tackle with incredible integrity and fundamentals.

Penei Sewell was Oregon’s first Outland Trophy winner and was taken seventh in the NLF Draft. Sewell is possibly the best offensive lineman in Oregon’s history, and a product of Cristobal and Mirabal. If Sewell had opted to play another year at Oregon, fans were ready to back him as a Heisman candidate because he was that good.

Sewell is, hands down, Cristobal’s greatest success at offensive line in his time at Oregon. This is because Sewell played left tackle exclusively. He came in as a freshman and quickly settled in at left tackle, and became an outstanding player at that position. The coaches didn’t move him around; they kept him in one position and allowed him grow to dominate.

Cristobal’s offensive line experiment has failed, but its not too late. Cristobal can create a first team offensive line built around a solid five players that can grow into a dominant force. Joe Moorhead will build an offense to make this offensive line look good, but the line needs an established rotation of players.

It’s time to go back to basics and build the offensive line coaches and fans alike want to see at Oregon.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Scott Kelley

Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.

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Game Score Prediction Time!

Give us your predicted score, who wins, and as tie-breakers, give us how many turnovers and sacks Oregon will create. I’ll start…

38-20 Ohio State, two turnovers and four sacks. (This is what my head says)

Get up early tomorrow, because we will publish how Oregon can win the game, coming from the heart of Mr. FishDuck, and the game-plan needed to pull it off. It will be up before 3:00 AM Pacific, and it will be the GameDay thread to discuss before, during and after the game.

I would love your feedback to what I’ve pondered to be what I think is the only game-plan that could win in Columbus, versus what we will actually see.

Fans4_Pac12 Video.jpg
jrw

OSU 42, Oregon 17, 1 turnover, 1 sack. I wish I could say otherwise. I’m afraid it’s going to be one of those embarrassing games.

ducker1

I have OSU 48,Ducks 17. 3 turnovers and several 3 and outs, plus not much happening on pass defense. 4 sacks

hope I am very wrong

Oregon 52, tosu 45 in overtime. Oregon wins the turnover battle 3-1, and sacks stroud 4x’s.

It’s going to be a game where Cristobal puts Woody’s book down and lets Moorhead run his gameplan. It is going to be a Flowe show, with Thibs a doing what he does and Noah body seeing our LB’s make it lights out for the tosu offense, in the end.

Haywarduck

In defense of my prediction, in 2019 we started the season laying an egg against Auburn, and does anyone remember what we did the next week against Nevada, a team that finished 7-6?

oregon111

Ducks should have won the Auburn game, but the defense failed to close it out. But overall, the team looked good that game.

Chip’s first game vs Boise St and the Blount drama was a real downer.

ducker1

sheesh In forgot about that Nevada game–77 points -and under Cristobal too.

jrw

I have to think that even if KT plays, he will be less than 100% and will not have that lightning-quick first step that serves him so well.

ducker1

Lets hope he doesn’t further injure the ankle, think of that for the remainder of the season.

oregon111

Last year, Oregon went from the worst defensive game and loss to the beavs and the worst offensive game and loss to Cal, to a great win over USC. So ALMOST anything is possible.

I predict that the DBs will let OSU catch balls. I predict that the Oregon running game will not work and the O line will not pass protect.

OSU will score early and then run out the clock. Ducks get some late points against the subs when the game is out of reach.

This miserable prediction is based on the lackluster performance against a Mtn West team, that should have been a warm up for this game.

Ohio St 48, Oregon 17

——————————

Now, IF last week, Oregon had called plays that stretched the field and challenged the D, and if the O line looked like the 2012 O line and the DBs covered receivers, AND Kayvon did not get hurt, and Noah could play pass defense, and Verdell/Dye broke a few tackles, and Funa looked like a borderline 5 star, and the TEs could block, and Hill was not suspended…

then I would say OSU 24 Oregon 24 — and an overtime win for the Ducks!

Hey, maybe this team gets it together? Stranger things have happened.

———————————

I want to avoid going all negative, like I have in the past, so my prediction would have been thus, if the Ducks responded to a Fresno St challenge by executing some offense and playing some inspired pass defense and winning easily by 2 scores, LIKE THEY SHOULD HAVE…

OSU 31 Oregon 27, and Oregon challenged for the win and gained the respect of the nation AND was the best game of the year so far

I WISH that I could have made that prediction, but the performance vs Fresno St was so bad, that I would not be being real with myself.

——————————-

I am hoping for the kind of ‘turn-a-round’ that gets fans excited about new offensive and defensive coordinators. I just need to see something better than what I saw last week.

Last thought: Maybe, just maybe, Fresno St is the real deal and they are that good? And that is why the Ducks struggled so hard to win?

38-31 Ducks. Young QB gonna Chuck a few up. 2 picks 2 fumbles for the nuts. 4 sacks from 3 different Ducks.

toketeeman

I’ll guess Cristobal’s private prediction: Oregon wins 3-0 in a cloud of dust.

NW777

ROTFL!!!

DrHilarius

if dux win it’ll be b/c of great defense and decent offense.

24-17 dux w/a defensive pick six.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

If they win with that score, then Cristobal’s MO will be vindicated. Good stuff, thanks and WELCOME. Do post your thoughts often!

DrHilarius

maybe hill or james breaks out?

NW777

OSU 45 UO 13. 1 TO, 2 sacks. Snee punts a lot and is a bright spot for Duck fans. Helfrich can’t say, “It’s on me”.

CJ

Ohio State – 42 Oregon – 35 1 turnover, 3 sacks

I think the defensive backs are going to get burned for a lot of (3-5) long and explosive touchdown plays from Olave and company. The offense will achieve its usual middling effort of scoring around 30-35 points. For the season I think we will average about 33 points a game again this year.

I do however have a subtle feeling that the Ducks will come out and play better than last week and make it a closer game than many expect. My prediction is it will go down similar to the OSU vs. Minnesota game last week where the Ducks kind of stay close or even lead for a bit at first and then the Ohio State receivers get going later in the game and put them up by a couple scores. Ducks score late to bring it within a touchdown but it’s too little too late and the buckeyes run out the last 2 minutes on the ground. The Ducks are not able to get the 3 and out and give up a first down putting OSU in victory formation.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

CJ…do see my article in the morning and know that I wrote it two days ago…

ducker1

KT not playing–man

Duck1984

My heart feels differently, but my head says tOSU is likely to score more than the Ducks today, but not by much. Maybe 35 – 33?

Steven A

30 – 28 DUCKS WIN, DUCKS WIN, DUCKS WIN
3 sacks, 2 TOs
AND Kenny Wheaton will score!!!!!

Duckdude

A-men, David Marsh! If the whole basis of Cristobal’s scheme of offense starts with a dominating offensive line, and……he is unable to accomplish such an offensive line……what does that say about Coach Cristobal? “Wait until next year”? “Just be patient”? Or…….something worse? None of those options accomplish playoff football in the present…….which is when the games are played. Just sayin’

I Ducked

Hey FishDuck community. First time posting. I agree with many of the recent articles and opinions explaining the lack of productivity under Cristobal. Many of you indicate that he’s too stubborn to change. Others decry the scheme as too predictable (the dreaded pistol plunge!)

While I feel that those observations – often supported with statistics – are completely valid, I’m left wondering if there’s more to the story. During most games during the last few years, I squirm in my seat due to pure ineptness. I too lament the lack of offensive innovation, then remember how the state limited the team’s ability to practice, as compared to other schools during COVID.

Or, I think Herbert can really sling it, but … to whom? We didn’t really have elite receivers. I wonder how much of our struggles under Cristobal are just…bad luck/bad timing? A freak injury here, an unexpected absence there, a big play that changes momentum against us, multiple opt-outs that revealed the lack of depth.

Even Thibodeaux’s ankle injury…on the eve of the biggest game in recent memory…just cruddy timing. And it keeps happening. I realize all teams face these issues, but it seems ours are unusually big. Think, Dixon’s knee. Dyer’s knee, too. Ugh. Cristobal recently said that if you don’t keep innovating, you won’t succeed in college football.

I haven’t read anyone’s take on that yet, but my thoughts are: I have to believe that he is trying, but keeps coming up against unforeseen setbacks that alter the course. I mean, what coach would want to continually be in tight games? A blowout every now and again sure would be nice. Such motivation should compel a coach to keep seeking advantages, and evolution. I’m sure they’re striving for dominance, but keep running up against fate.

W/O Thibodeaux: Ohio State: 48. Ducks: 17
With Thibodeaux: Ohio State: 35. Ducks: 28 This pains me.

CJ

The youth/lack of depth issue is why I never expected this years team to compete at the highest level.

That’s one of the reasons I have been so upset about not playing Thompson (or Butter’s) this year so that they come in next year fully prepared to make a run.

A very odd decision no doubt. Is Cristobal playing checker’s while the others are playing chess?

DrHilarius

exactly this!! the biggest (most obvious) indicator of coaching success is if their players are better the longer they’re in the system. charles nelson is the biggest underachiever in dux history thanks to helfrich. no matter where you look the dux are executing better by the end of the season under cristobal. he preaches fundamentals.

CJ

I agree….a bit snake bitten. The men’s basketball team as well.

Good luck has A LOT to do with winning a national championship in any sport.

The Ducks have not had the best of luck and you pointed out some of those examples.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I Ducked…I love your posting handle and want to encourage you to post often, so WELCOME!

As for the “fate” discussion? I am going to politely disagree, as it was not fate that Cristobal rejected two offenses that scored tons of points–it was his decision. It was not fate to disdain recruiting athletic fast offensive linemen for huge slow ones, thus so many plays of the past could now not be done if we wanted to. That was his decision.

When the “Playoff-3” were increasing their scoring, Cristobal was killing our scoring average and again…not fate, but his decisions.

I could name a ton of receivers that scored scads of touchdowns for us in the glory era that did not have the talent for the NFL. But they were successful at Oregon because of the scheme and offense we were running. (Jeff Maehl, Lavasier Tuinei, Charles Nelson, Dwayne Stanford, etc.)

If we had continued the offense he discarded…the receivers we had would have sufficed. Please see the rushing numbers below in a post where I list what the four coaches prior to Cristobal had achieved. And yet he has had three years…more than enough time for a reasonable sample size over fate.

Again…this is just my opinion, and I welcome your thoughts anytime.

(Keanon Lowe below is another good example)

Keanon Lowe_Craig Strobeck.jpg
NJDuck

My heart says Oregon will pull off an upset, Oregon 35 OSU 31. 3 crucial turnovers and 4 sacks. MC relinquishes all offensive play calling to JM. TD pulls off creative defensive play calling confusing the OSU QB.

LB48

Ducks 35-31. 3 turnovers and 3 sacks.

DanLduck

I am shocked to see so many predictions for a Duck win after all the agreement about how bad our O-line is.

tOSU defense is more stout and most likely better coached than FS, aren’t they? Our pass defense was worse than the rushing plays! Unless the O-line steps it up, Snee is going to be very busy.

I don’t think the O-line is as bad as we might think. They definitely need to improve, but they don’t “stink”.
1. 1st game against a real opponent at game speed reveals much that at practice may not show up.
2. FS had already played their 1st game.
3. Our offensive game plan was simple and vanilla, almost too.
4. Scheme. The simple plan makes it too easy for a defense to stop. This will be different on Sat.
5. TE. We need better blocking. Errors from this spot were costly.

Ultimately I believe we see much improvement by the offense, but not enough to win.
Unless, we manage to get some key explosion plays. tOSU can score quick and from anywhere, unless we can do the same this game will be over quick.

tOSU 52 OR 17

DanLduck

For the record, I base my score on coaching. We have the skill players, and talent to hold our own one on one. But I think MC will get schooled in this game by Day.
Hopefully, this will lead to his “epiphany” to let Morehead do his thing and open up the offense.

Drake

It was interesting to listen to Lincoln Kennedy speak about our offensive linemen during the Fresno State broadcast. He made it a point to say that some of them were standing up too tall and thus having trouble sustaining blocks. Technique problems like that can and should be fixed.

Not picking the Ducks to lose…not good karma

Ducks 38 Buckeyes 35…2 turnovers 3 sacks

oregon111

For the O line, I am going into another direction.

I think Feld is not good for the linemen. They are too heavy and can’t move. They need to lose some weight and get leaner and quicker.
The linemen under Greatwood looked a lot better.

No more signing 375+ lb linemen. They are too big. We need a return to athletes on the O line.

Santa Rosa Duck

Oregon 42 tOSU 35. Oregon O-Line looks strong and Oregon Defense picks off Stroud two times.

DCDuckfan

34-28 Oregon with Oregon getting 3 sacks and 1 turnover that’s returned for a score. I want to believe that the playcalling was intentionally predictable against Fresno and tomorrow we see the real offense…fingers crossed.

GODUCKS15

45-24 Ohio St
I was 1st going with 45-10 but I think MC was holding back big time in the FS game.
UO turns it over 3 rimes and is sacked 4 times. I pic for UO. Hill or James.

EzDucksit

When I made my score prediction, I was thinking about the statement Mycah Pittman had made. He was surprised by our, my, assessment of AB and the team. I like the fact that he stood up for his Leader and teammates. Oregon has many talented players with pride, recruited by CMC and others.

AB I hope you feel the 2007 spirit of one Dennis Dixon, who went into Michigan and in front of 109,733 fans beat them 39 to 7. My prediction is NO WHERE near this score but just to eek out a two point win on our tenth meeting, would make me smile. Duck David take out the OS Goliath, please.

oregon111

I back up A. Brown as well. He can hit guys who are open and find them. That is his job. He can’t make pistol dives go for TDs.

Darren Perkins

Good Stuff. And, a good offensive-minded head coach — when the O-line is not playing well — would adjust the offense to run plays that would attempt to minimize the O-line as a liability. But instead, MC just wants to plunge it up the gut for 1-yard and a ton of disappointment.

oregon111

Or attack the edges until the D gets out of the box.

Haywarduck

In the fall of 1957 Woody Hayes wrote a book called ‘Football At Ohio State’ where Cristobal’s gameplay is explained in depth. It is time for Cristobal to move on from what Ohio State use to do, and back to what we use to do so well.

Against tosu I want to see the Oregon offense give it a good shot at innovating and keeping the defense off balance. If so we have a.chance and I can again enjoy Oregon football.

As stated, the O-line is given no favors when the defense knows exactly what you are going to do. I actually think it is pretty amazing we average as many yards as we do when the defense, on many of the attempts, knows exactly what running play we are going to run. Woody’s ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ doesn’t work, and it’s a terrible book to build a program around.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

That’s a hoot. Ohio State is doing a lot of what they learned from Oregon right now, and Oregon is implementing what Ohio State did years ago.

Very old Ducks_Video.jpg

Day was hired because of his ties to CK and the Oregon offense. Offensive coordinators across the country are being hired because of their understanding of what CK did, and their ability to improve upon it.

Fortunately we also hired a guy who understands how to innovate on offense as an OC. Moorhead has had a career much like Day. Both were qb’s in college, coached back east in small schools. It will be interesting if this becomes a battle between the two of them on offense.

I like our chances with DeRuyter calling the defense, but we need Moorhead to be in charge on offense. I also like Moorhead as or OC, we just need to see what he can do with the weapons turned loose.

What is amazing is Cristobal seems to have more ties to Woody Hayes than the offense he stated he wanted to improve with power football. I hope we don’t lose playing the way tosu use to play, that would be pathetic.

The other comment Woody was famous for what only 3 things can happen when you throw the ball and two of them are bad. In every sport you throw, kick the ball you don’t just run it. In basketball the pass is what makes the game dynamic, in baseball you have to throw it, or it would be really bad. In soccer the great pass is about the only way to score.

The same thing in football, in the modern game, you pass the ball. If you want to move the ball pass it. I want to see AB sling it, and our WR’s go up and take the ball! Watching the NFL game last night, it was amazing to watch the passing, that is how it is done.

30Duck

Buckeyes 41 Ducks 13 1 sack 0 TO’s

That sentence by CJ was a good one. The OL is the most important position group on the field; the QB, RB’s WR’s all depend on how well the OL plays. As great as Sewell was, the offense sputtered. As noted, Sewell was kept at LT. The Ducks don’t have a Sewell on this year’s team, but rotating players in and out won’t allow one player to develop

It’s really strange that Cristobal is abandoning the NO.! principle of OL play, Continuity & Repetition. His system is the antithesis of that and the rushing stats show it. Cristobal wants the OL to set the game in Oregon’s favor, but he’s working against that happening.

Let’s hope that the conclusion of David’s article comes to fruition.

GODUCKS15

Jack of all trades master of none is great if your a home DIY’er.

Santa Rosa Duck

Thanks David, there are lots of complaints about the O-Line but this is the first thread that explains it to me.

David, this is a pet peeve of mine and let’s look what was in a prior article

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 from four different coaches is a pattern of exceptional rushing averages, highly outperforming the norm and leading Oregon to berths in the playoffs and two ‘Natty appearances.

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.

J Duck

Not to mention the higher level of recruits we now have on the OL. Steve Greatwood was…great!

CJ

I wonder how much of the drop off is the running backs. Let’s face it Verdell and Dye are not comparable to Freeman, James, Barner, Marshall, Deanthony, Smith or even Thomas Tyner.

I don’t think that’s all of it though. I do think the O line is not functioning as a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

None of our running backs have the breakaway speed of James, Barner, Tyner, Thomas or Marshall–I grant you.

But I do not think they are coached as well as under Gary Campbell.

The RB and OL coaches are the weak links on this team, IMHO.

banrnerflashingO.jpg
oregon111

Dollars, when he was playing, could fight for extra yards. Verdell and Dye don’t have the ability to do that.

EzDucksit

Please Charles,
We do NOT need reality at this point, the eve of the BIG GAME. Sigh, I am going out on a limb, a long one.
I believe we have a lot of tremendous student athletes, no thanks to coaching. Who will rise up, take it on the chin for our coaches and squeak out a win!

GOD you listening up there??? Oregon 37 and Ohio 35. I see Oregon being forced to kick 3 field goals by Ohio’s defense. I think DeRutyer does not let Ohio State have the same explosion plays like in Minnesota. I could see two sacks and a pick by our defense. But their OL is much more reliable than ours.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Check tomorrow’s article as it has a very plausible way for Oregon to win using our strengths and attacking Buckeye weaknesses.

Since the game starts at 9:00 AM…you will need to read it early!

Charles, I am really looking forward to reading this, and I’ll definitely be up early to read it!

Duck Phan Phil

And it’s not just the bulldozing that needs work. Pass pro is more about footwork and balance but also communication and coordination between linemen. It was pretty bad vs Fresno, which is more understandable when the linemen are not drilled down on a specific role.

J Duck

It’s on the coaches!

smith72

To me the problem is the SCHEME. Starting with the pistol plunge and predominantly running between the tackles.

This unimaginative scheme puts the linemen in a hard to win battle. Defenses can defeat this in numerous ways.

The offense edge of knowing count and knowing where they are going to target is negated when everyone in the world knows where the ball is going. Even in that Auburn game with Penei Sewell we were stuffed. That has happened too many times!

Thanks for the spotlight on linemen David!

CJ

The irony is so thick you can taste it.

Cristobal has gone all in on the O line and by my account (based on last weeks game and several last year) it may be the least functioning unit on the field.

Granted, as was pointed out by the poster UtahDuck a few days back, the O line playing is not necessarily in line with who we thought was being recruited. Lot’s of medical retirements, transfers etc. Depth is less than what was expected and apparently the young guys aren’t up to the task yet.

But at the end of the day is this just another canary in the coal mine (like Herbert, Shough etc.) warning of the rising of the new Helton of the North?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Your second sentence…wow. A dandy.

But we will never see a change of coaching the offensive line, (IMHO) and that is a story for another time.

EzDucksit

Please NO, my heart cant handle a Helton up North, ESPECIALLY in Oregon. Charles, make the bad man go away. Thank you in advance.

toketeeman

What really bugs me is that USC game last year where the Duck o-line suddenly looked like they were a BULLDOZER going down the field. Why did THAT happen when practically every other time out, that line has been so mediocre? Are there some internal dynamics going on here that no one wants to talk about?

Musical chairs does not lead to continuity or intuitive level line play.