Is There a Culture Problem Within Oregon Football?

David Marsh Editorials 21 Comments

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?

Craig Strobeck

Oregon’s young defense is so full of potential but completely lacks a strong veteran presence.

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.

Craig Strobeck

Anthony Brown has provided a veteran presence at quarterback.

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.

Undisciplined Youth 

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.

Tom Corno

The Oregon defense was dominant at Ohio State in stuffing the run game.

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.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck

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Mike West

YES

Duckdude

“Is this a coaching problem? Are the coaches not keeping players focused before and during the game?”
IMHO: I haven’t seen anything under the Cristobal era to make me answer that question with a “No”. One constant recurrence appears to be: a team not prepared to play up to their capabilities. Something that’s been missing ever since Chip was here.

oregon111

What are the capabilities when there are injuries on defense and play calls that do not work on offense?

I think this team is still finding its way with depth and scheme.

But I am starting to get impatient with not seeing progress since the Ohio St game.

Chip did have them going full speed for the entire first half – and building big leads. But he was running schemes that the players have been a part of for years.

Log Haulin

These are all MC guys. It’s his team, every player on this team are his recruits. It’s his culture . Getting them to play 4 full q’s should be the main focus of MC and his staff until they do. Other than that I don’t have a problem with the culture except stupid penalties.

oregon111

I think the Ducks have an injury problem on defense.

On offense, they are still figuring out what plays to call and when to call them. They go up, and then go back to runs up the middle and punts, until the game is close again, and then they turn it on when they feel they have to.

Prediction: Oregon 30 Stanford 24

DanLduck

Oregon is a work in progress, and they have a ways to go.
This is MC’s 4th season, and with all honesty, 2020 shouldn’t count against the coaches either. So, it’s really his 3rd full season, and we are only 25% through the season.
Let’s rehash: week 1 against a very good FS, currently ranked 18, a team that beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl. A team that had already played a game in week 0. We didn’t run them out of the building, but we played well enough for a solid win.

Week 2. tOSU. Again, we played well enough to win a big game.
Week 3. After a big win there is always a let down. With all those defensive injuries still held a weak team to one score and won by 34.
Week 3. Still lots of injuries, and won the 4th quarter LIKE GOOD TEAMS DO and put the game away.

I don’t see culture or coaching issues.
I see young men learning in battle what it takes to win every week. I see a coaching staff adjusting game plans to the players available. And finally, I see an experienced qb getting his groove back. He hasn’t been the starting qb for over 2 years?!
Game speed is different from practice. He is only completing 50% of his passes, but all the other grading systems are better than average. He is improving.

We’ve had 3 top recruiting classes in a row. That’s really something to be excited about. This next class seems like it could be even better. We keep building better.

What we want is for this team to be competitive, and they are. There is a lot of football left to be played, and I expect we will see the improvement each week. But youth is youth, so expect a bumpy ride.

Jon Joseph

David, my response to the question posed at the head of your fine article: “YES!”

Jon Joseph

BTW, Cardinal QB McKee has completed 68% of his passes without throwing a pick.

McKee is doing this throwing to WRs, TEs and RBs who likely would not start for the Ducks?

Stanford’s short pass, control the clock O will test Oregon’s bend-don’t break D.

Come on Mr T. Get in the backfield and in this guy’s head!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Ditto for me David, and damn Jon….you wrote a dandy over there!

Washington Waddler

Quite a bit has been made in recent postings about this team’s lack of consistency created by the time it takes for young players to develop the mental focus to bring their A game to each and every outing. And, correctly so. We don’t harp on things that we take for granted; only those things that are difficult to accomplish.

Effort wins games. Consistency wins championships. I also agree that what’s going on with the Ducks is not a culture issue, just time in the saddle. One overlooked positive in all this is how Oregon’s cultural sea- change in recruiting quality may be directly affecting what we are seeing on the field for the better.

That is best seen in the opportunistic nature of this team, and the way it finishes. What’s helping create those features are higher numbers of quality athletes from quality programs. Anybody whose played the game knows every season has ebbs and flows which is why coaches emphasize consistency.

But good kids from good programs bring with them the experience of having been the ‘marked’ team which brings out the best from every opponent. They’ve heard for years the sideline warnings and halftime pep talks about how they’re getting out played by a lesser team. It’s a fact of life your not at your best each and every game.

But, quality kids from quality programs learn how to overcome those situations by responding at key moments when the game is on the line. That’s the difference I see in this team from past ones. Simply put, we have more kids now than we use to who know how to win. Sometimes your going to dominate, but most of the time your not: it’s a long season. It’s may be no guarantee of victory, but it’s certainly an advantage.

Hello Washington Waddler, (great name!)

You are new and I would invite you to post often…over at the new forum on all topics, as you clearly have great points to make. WELCOME!

EzDucksit

As I get older, it’s stress on the Heart that might get me. I would love to see a National Championship before that. As I would guess others do too. But I think that we have a Good start to our Duck season.

I remember the growth we saw in the 2019 season with Justin, Troy, Penei, Breeze, Holland and Graham Jr. Justin putting the team on his shoulders as he ran with the ball against Utah and Wisconsin. Breeze, knocking receivers off their routes, timing and making key plays. Players stepping up to help their team succeed and grow themselves.

I am hopeful that Mario, settles in and lets his coordinators plan and execute. That the players become a solid team with enough developed depth for the following year. That Coach Cristobal, the CEO, brings in coaches as needed to keep the product fresh and exciting with new talent. Just so I do NOT have a heart attack before the Ducks secure a National Championship.

Drake

Most of our team has never traveled to Stanford Stadium in an Oregon uniform. We definitely have a young roster.

The youth on the team is our future, and the future starts tomorrow.

Coaches need to have time to develop young players, but more importantly, game experience playing together is necessary to develop as a team. These guys are going to get much better.

Jay MacPherson

I have a different read. There isn’t a youth problem because youths can be leaders. I see a culture deficiency in failing to instill sufficient leadership across all those involved. This is too common when creating a sense of family because families have hierarchy. The danger is that hierarchies too easily dampen leadership behavior. Newcomers look to the established to lead, and if that is over-cultivated, they may act out from feeling unempowered (like spinning a ball in-game, playing to the opponents’ level, or shooting people with BBs…I could go on). Yes, I’ve just made a gross simplification.

I see multiple signs of a culture falling short of engendering sufficient leadership, which for me is that everyone is expected to lead as they see the needs arise. That can be chaotic if insufficient respect is instilled across-the-board, and more importantly, not practiced regularly with utmost sincerity. Leadership is not instilled by motivational speakers. Or by letting poor behavior go unaddressed (you draw a deserved major penalty, you are out for the game), insufficiently addressed (1 game suspension for airsofting people driving vehicles?), or by overreacting in the moment (ranting over a dumb-assed taunt). Leading must be practiced.

I greatly admire much of what Mario Cristobal does, and I am concerned that a cultish culture is developing. Cults don’t engender top to bottom leadership behavior. I know, I have been in one. Mario has a difficult challenge. A sense of family, of belonging, is powerful. And a sense of everyone knowing when to lead is just as powerful. I hope that realization is acted upon by the Ducks, from end to end.

UtahDuck

2 things. 1: sorry for not getting the last week review of stanford. My kids and I have had a gnarly cold and between that and work I had limited energy to get it done. 2: I’ll also post this in the forum.

Oregon @ Stanford 12:30 PM PT ABC
Oregon is an 8 point favorite

Record: 2020 4-2
2021 2-2

Notable losses:

Walker Little OT Pick 45
Davis Mills QB 67
Paulson Adebo CB 76
Drew Dalman C 114
Simi fehoko WR 179
Foster Sarell UDFA

Injuries:
Branson Bragg RG out
Ethan Bonner CB Out
EJ Smith RB out
Austin Jones RB Questionable
Casey Filkins RB questionable
Zahran Manley CB Doubtful

Recruiting and Transfers(247):

Stanford has been falling behind in recruiting over the last ~5 years. They were once a guaranteed look for a top 25 class with the occasional year putting them in the top 20/15. In the last 4 years they have recruited 2 top 25 classes and the other 2 were outside of the top 40. A significant drop off considering what they averaged for over a decade.

The other issue I am seeing with Stanford is that their bread and butter used to be recruiting 5 star Oline and then rushing behind a very smart and physical oline(that was well coached). Well Stanford hasn’t recruiting a 5 star lineman since 2017 and It is becoming more apparent in the level of talent they have.

Offense:

Right now this Stanford has the 101st overall offense. At 347 YPG and 14 offensive touchdowns. This is supported by the 112th Rushing offense(112YPG) and 63rd Passing offense(234YPG).

They started the first game of the season using a 2 QB system with West and McKee but after west through 2 INT’s they have opted to use McKee the rest of the way out. McKee clearly has all the physical tools to move the ball down field and with a smart head he currently has an ESPN passer rating of 164.

With that said the offensive line gives little to like in both the run and pass game and Mckee usually has to throw to his first or second read and is relying on power forward sized WR’s to box out defenders and make catches.

Defense:

Stanford’s defense is bad at 85th in the nation. They have allowed 14 TD’s this year and over 401YPG. This is mostly due to their rushing defense allowing 209YPG and over 5YPRush. This is mostly due to an in ability to contain the perimeter and bad defensive play calling.

On top of this the opposing QB’s have plenty of time to pass the ball. Allowing even young QB’s enough time to sit in the pocket and pick the Stanford defense apart.

Game Expectations:

Oregon will probably do what Stanford did in the Harbaugh and early Shaw period of Stanford. Clock management and run the ball. That’s it offensively for Oregon. Obviously we will sprinkle in some passes into the game but I expect most of that to come off play action to keep the Stanford defense more honest in the run game and some RPO as well.

Defense is honestly going to be more or less of the same. Zone coverage forcing Stanford to drive the length of the field. The issue I see in this is that we will absolutely need to get pressure on McKee, the easiest way to stop him from completing to his Power Forwards is to hit him as he throws or force him to throw away. I hope Thibs is back and is able to actually play as Ithink he will be crucial in helping our defense.

Haywarduck

The culture problem many still question is the coaching culture. It, at times, seems like the assistant coaches are coaching, and our head coach is the CEO. Other times it seems our CEO is putting things in the stew and screwing it up!

I agree the players are young, not culturally weak or off. The question is when do you turn that youth loose. I still remember DAT playing as a freshman, and providing excitement which grew with his time at Oregon along with his freshman mistakes which lessened with time. The main item was he played and was a threat, as a freshman.

When you have a freshman who is averaging 50 yds. a catch, and a touchdown every other play, it is time to get him the ball. This player has touched the ball twice!

I also think it is becoming painfully obvious AB isn’t able to distribute the ball effectively. This is my opinion, but I agree with David Marsh we may see a change, and one of the young guns taking over and leading the real future of the Oregon Football Program.

I agree the veterans of the Oregon program aren’t providing enough strong, wise, and skilled leadership. That lack of leadership starts too often at the head coach. It also is lacking, so far, in skill, at the most important position our qb. It is time for these situations to continue their evolution and the Oregon Football Program to become stronger, wiser and more exciting, Go Ducks!

Quackanadian

This is a young and talented team. The only real veteran is the QB which is why I agree he should lead the team – this team needs that calm presence in the pocket.

We will learn much vs Stanford regarding how well this team took a real look at themselves from last weekend:

  1. do they play more disciplined? Less penalties, less missed assignments, gap coverage, wide open opposition, etc
  2. do they play with all out effort? no slacking quarters, pressure from the D line, O line playing like they did vs Bucks
  3. do they control the trenches? They have been recruiting and training for this for a few years now, time to push the Tree around
  4. do they control the game from start to finish?

So, we shall know Saturday afternoon if they can look at themselves in the mirror and make a change. That would make all things out in Duckworld a better place. 😀

Cheers.