Cristobal Coaching: Should Oregon Continue to be “Tougher” or Play Smarter?

Chuck Smith Analysis

The Mario Cristobal blocking priority is PHYSICALITY, drive blocking, or the “Mano-a-mano,” the I’m tougher than you emphasis as an offensive priority. “We’re blocking straight ahead we’re going to drive you backward!” Nothing says this more than the Plodding Pistol Plunge, as we fans have seen too much “tougher” and not enough “smarter.”

Coach Cristobal wants to be physical, thus Oregon relies too much on “Drive” or “ISO” blocking where you root out defensive linemen in the Inside Zone or ISO (Isolation) plays that we have witnessed so often over the last three years. Let’s examine this philosophy and learn how Oregon can play smarter!

This year Fresno State, Stony Brook, Arizona, and Stanford have dominated our offensive linemen during various quarters when the Ducks have had a clear advantage in size and skill in the trenches. But looking back, the Pistol Plunge philosophy has resulted in numerous 3rd or 4th down and short yardage failures over the Cristobal campaigns.

How about Oregon’s 4th and 1 versus Auburn?

Who can forget the first time this reared its ugly head in the Auburn game in 2018 when Oregon was ahead late in the game. Make a few first downs and the game belongs to the Ducks, but when Oregon is faced with a 4th & 1 at the Auburn 41–the Tigers stuff the play everyone knew was coming.

The game went to Auburn as it did this year to Stanford because drives were not sustained, I believe, because Oregon did not play smart. Against Arizona we saw how Verone McKinley made a touchdown-saving interception that put the ball on Oregon’s own one yard line and two plays then yielded only two yards from Pistol-Plunges. On third down the Ducks gave up a safety because of this inability to physically push the defenders when the defense knows where Verdell is going?
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It Should be Time to Play “Smarter” than “Tougher”

Here is my suggestion; use more Counter plays, Quick Pitches to the edges, and Power Sweeps. How long has it been since we’ve seen Oregon run a reverse? I really love how Oregon utilized the Tight Ends in the Ohio State game. There are so many weapons that Oregon could use!

Amazing touch passes for first downs versus the Raiders.

Give Oregon offensive-linemen a break! The offense has the advantage of knowing where a play is going, thus you make the defense have to read and then react. Don’t give the defense an easy read, and Justin Herbert‘s Los Angeles Chargers were an example of that on 4th down and short the last Sunday.

Against Las Vegas the week before, Herbert threw touch passes to the tight ends to keep the drives alive on 4th down from these gutsy play calls. Yet versus Cleveland on Sunday and faced with a 4th down on the LA side of the 50 yard line–they fooled the Brown defense expecting a pass with a Counter play! Now that is playing smarter!

The Counter: My Favorite “Smart” Running Play

I know linemen get a huge grin (on the inside) when they are called on to trap block a defensive tackle, or pull and smash a defensive end! Let’s be unpredictable, and use my favorite play, the Counter. This is how the basic Counter G & T (Guard and Tackle pulling) is blocked:

This is the classic Counter GT or Counter Trey, run by so many famous coaches.

The play side tackle and guard (The G & T on the left above) double team the 3 technique defensive tackle and the left offensive tackle, if able, slides off to pick up the middle linebacker. The center blocks the nose tackle, and the fun happens when the pulling guard with a full head of stem blocks the 5-technique defensive end above who is taught to squeeze down (inside toward the center) when the offensive tackle on his side blocks inside, or down blocks. The pulling tackle turns up into the hole looking for the weak side linebacker.

Linemen need to be agile, quick, and nasty! There are many ways to block this, and linemen are taught to adjust when defenders crash. The running back needs to sell going one direction, and then be patient to allow the hole to open when he cuts back.

Playoff team coaches using the Counter include Dabo Sweeny, as Clemson uses counters in many formations and different blocking besides the usual guard tackle counter trey. Ohio State used a nasty Counter play to defeat Oregon in the National Championship game, as explained here by Mr. FishDuck. Oregon has used the Counter play under many different coaches successfully such as here, and here, and most recently in this example.

Smart Coaches using the Counter play to win their games!

Lincoln Riley has perfected the Counter play to complement his prolific passing attack at Oklahoma, and this article has a great video to illustrate the effectiveness of the Counter play. (Example No. 5 shows how Oklahoma blocks this using the Guard and Tackle)

A variation of his Counter play is what beat Texas this last Saturday in the Red River Showdown at the most crucial moment at the end of the game. The twists in the use of personnel and formations is more than we wish to delve into here, but suffice it to say that Kirk Herbstreit was blown away by this winning play.

It was awesome deception and execution with my favorite “smart” play, the Counter, this last weekend by the Sooners and the Chargers. It is one example of how Oregon can win games with more than “being tough,” and the question is….are the right people listening?

Coach Chuck Smith
Wilsonville, Oregon
Top Photo by Melissa Macatee

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