Mario Cristobal and the Oregon staff have been preaching a 1-0 mentality all season long, and so far it has worked. Oregon is 4-0 and one of the few undefeated teams nationally. However, Oregon has time and time again played to the level of their competition. In some cases, Oregon rises and plays up to the level of their competition, as seen against Ohio State in Week 2. Other times, Oregon plays down to the level of lesser opponents, as seen against Fresno State, Stony Brook and Arizona. These games should be dominant victories but feel more akin to defeats in the minds of Oregon fans.
Oregon may be looking at a Playoff berth this year for the first time since 2014. However, there is still a whole lot of football to be played, and making it through the Pac-12 unscathed is no guarantee. It’s true that the Pac-12 doesn’t look strong this year, but that makes it all the more important that Oregon make it through their full slate of conference games undefeated. Just one loss could leave them on the outside of the Playoff. Going undefeated requires putting opponents away, ideally in the third quarter. Outside of the Stony Brook game, this has not been the case.
Against Arizona, Oregon’s offense was largely kept off the field, and the defense was pushed around for the third quarter. This allowed Arizona to sneak back into the game. Oregon did strike back and scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, which finally shut the door on Arizona. A fourth quarter rally shouldn’t have been necessary, though. Great teams leave no doubt as to who the better team is in these kinds of match-ups.
Cristobal is constantly preaching that Oregon has a standard, yet week after week, the Ducks have failed to play to that standard. Is this a coaching problem? Are the coaches not keeping players focused before and during the game?
Where Are the Veterans?
Oregon is still a young team, with approximately 50% registering as freshman, and after a shortened 2020 season, there is a sense that this group is a case of arrested development. Just think: The 2019 class are juniors — at least, according to their age and number of years in college — but as a class they have only played in 25 games to date. Usually, a team that plays in a conference championship game and a bowl game plays 14 games a year, which would mean an average sophomore would play in 28 games after their two years with the program.
Instead, the 2019 class has only played in 25 games in their third year with the program. By all accounts they haven’t finished their second year of college football yet. These juniors are really only sophomores, and they are categorized as sophomores according to their eligibility. They still have a whole lot to learn, both about the game and about winning.
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There aren’t many veterans on this Oregon team, which is a problem, especially in a sport that feeds off the experience of veterans to help teach the younger players the nuances of college football. With so much youth, and so much highly talented youth, this team has a greater tendency to rely on that physical talent rather than knowledge of a system or of the game. Veterans will often set the tempo for the game and step up to make plays when their team needs them the most.
This has happened. We saw Anthony Brown run for the winning score against Fresno State when Oregon needed it to put the game to rest. But with so few veterans, it really does fall to the youth to step up and make plays, and the biggest problem with youth isn’t talent — it’s consistency.
Oregon has committed more penalties this year than they did in 2019, which is the season we should compare this Oregon team to, as it was the last complete season. On Saturday, Oregon had two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties within only a handful of plays in the final minute of the first half. One from Mycah Pittman, on a punt return when he got a entangled in an altercation on Arizona’s sideline, and one from Kris Hutson, who felt he needed to showboat his catch in front of an Arizona defender. Both Pittman and Hudson, mostly Hudson, felt Cristobal’s wrath on the sideline. Those are penalties that experienced players don’t commit. Experienced players have learned to keep their emotions in check and focus on their jobs.
A lot has been said about Cristobal’s outburst toward Hutson. There have been statements about whether this was a great coaching moment or whether it crossed the line into being unreasonable. When questioned about the exchange, Cristobal said there wasn’t a problem because he and Hutson have a “real relationship.” As fans, we don’t see that relationship outside of a few moments caught on camera, and that never tells the whole story.
After the game, you can guarantee that Cristobal and Hutson talked privately and both apologized for their actions on the field, because that is a real relationship. Neither will ever say anything about that private exchange publicly, nor do they need to, but if this culture at Oregon is “real,” then that private conversation did happen.
This team has an ego, though that is not inherently a bad thing. This is the most talented roster in the Pac-12, and this team went into “The Shoe” and took out Ohio State. This Oregon team has won two consecutive Pac-12 Championships. This team has earned its swagger, but that doesn’t mean it belongs on the field.
Oregon’s opponents don’t care about what they have done. They are only interested in taking them down. The Ducks are the top dog in the conference, and that means that every team in the Pac is going to give Oregon their best shot. We got Arizona’s best game to date. It is up to the Ducks to prove, to the rest of the conference and to the country, that they are the better team.
Winning in college football is hard. Every coach will say that, and as fans we just see the Saturday results. Cristobal and company will continue to push these players and get the most out of them. So no, there isn’t a culture problem at Oregon. There is a youth problem, and experience will solve that with time.
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck
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Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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