Oregon’s Offense is Becoming Watchable

David Marsh Editorials

Mario Cristobal’s offense has been efficient enough to win, but for many fans it has not been watchable. There have been some really fun games during the Cristobal years, the 2019 Pac-12 Championship comes to mind where the Ducks ran over Utah, and we hope they do so again tomorrow. However, that game was just as much about an incredible defense as it was about the offensive performance. For the most part. Oregon’s offense has not been much fun to watch since Mark Helfrich was fired — when Oregon ran the spread offense with a high tempo.

We all look back on the Chip Kelly and Helfrich years and remember all the offensive highlights. We remember De’Anthony Thomas running for long touchdowns and Oregon scoring 40 to 50 points with ease. Those were different times and football has changed a lot since then. Defenses are able to stop spread offenses more regularly and on the whole, tempo doesn’t throw off a defense as much as it used to — though it still does happen and, infuriatingly enough, it happens to the Oregon defense.

We forget that for every highlight of a long touchdown run there were five runs for decent chunk yardage. We forget the great downfall of the blur offense, getting stuffed by a strong defense that could force a three-and-out so quickly that the offense was only on the field for literally a minute before punting and putting an exhausted defense back on the field.

Kenjon Barner runs against USC in 2012 where he set the single-game rushing yard record of 321 yards for the Oregon Ducks.

The old Oregon blur offense was far more fun to watch than the more recent iterations of Oregon’s offense, though.

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Cristobal’s Offense Is Changing

Like many Oregon fans, I have become accustomed to nail-biter finishes with a lackluster offense. The last four games have been different. Oregon’s offense has actually been fun to watch and points are coming more easily. Cristobal’s offense has evolved over the past two years under Joe Moorhead, and we are finally seeing Moorhead’s offense.

The Pistol is no longer being used as the standard running formation. By the end of the 2020 season it was being phased out and at the start of the 2021 season we saw a few Pistol runs, but now we haven’t seen the Pistol at all since the opening games of the season. The offense is operating more out of the shotgun and the results speak for them-self. Oregon is averaging 227 yards per game at 5.6 yards per attempt. Compare this to the 2019 season where Oregon only averaged 174.9 at 4.8 yards per attempt.

Oregon’s offense is far more dynamic now, though it is still heavily dependent on the run. The passing game has not been terribly proficient to date because Anthony Brown is not a terribly effective passer, and as a result, the team lacks a vertical passing ability that would take Oregon’s offense to the next level.

Oregon’s offensive line is providing excellent run blocking, making this run game possible.

Over the past month there has been vast improvement offensively in terms of innovation and execution. In the last four games Oregon is averaging 37.5 points per game. This includes games against UCLA, Colorado, Washington and Washington State. Compare this to the first half of the season, where Oregon averaged only 33.8 points per game and at that point in the season Oregon arguably played their easier opponents, minus Ohio State.

Despite the improving offense, there is still one glaring problem — the average points per game between 2019 and 2021 has not changed as both teams average only 35 points per game, which is not enough for a playoff caliber team.

Oregon Is Taking What They Are Given

For the last two weeks Oregon has passed for less than 150 yards per game. Against Washington, Brown didn’t even have 100 passing yards, and against Washington State Brown had just over 100 yards. However, in both games Oregon ran for over 300 yards. Both Washington teams’ defensive secondaries managed to shut down Oregon’s passing game. They were in turn forced to stop Oregon’s rushing attack in which Mario’s Maulers on the offensive line created gigantic holes for the running backs and ran the opposing defenses off the field.

Seven McGee runs against Colorado.

Oregon’s run game has been able to shine the past few weeks, but Brown has also put up two of his best passing games of the year against UCLA and Colorado. UCLA has one of the Pac-12’s best rush defenses, which meant it was critical that Oregon beat them in the air. Brown did just that and through three quarters he burned UCLA through the air for 296 yards. It was the fourth quarter where he threw the two interceptions that led to the game tightening up in the final minutes. The following week, Brown threw for 307 yards against Colorado. Brown can get it done in the air when he needs to despite his struggles in the passing game.

Oregon’s offense is fun to watch again. Whether it is by air or ground, Oregon is getting it done and showing off their ability to overpower opponents. Cristobal is even showing a greater willingness to tack on style points, much to joy of fans. He pulled the back-ups against Colorado to ensure Oregon won by three scores. Against Washington they could have taken a knee and ran out the clock, but instead they ran the ball.

Byron Cardwell was called down inside the one yard line and Oregon didn’t snap the ball in time to run another play, but they were planning on tacking on another score. In truth, winning by one point is the same as winning by a hundred, but as fans we like to see our Ducks win by scoring buckets of points. (Especially on the Huskies)

This team still has a long way to go before we can call this offense elite, but for now we can all say that at least it is not boring to watch!

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck

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