Mario Cristobal: Quarterback Killer

DazeNconfused Editorials

We’ve all heard the consensus point of view from Duck fans: Mario Cristobal regressed the development of Justin Herbert and Anthony Brown. Both QBs spent two years in Cristobal’s offense, but is that statement hyperbole — and is there information that could provide a definite answer?

Taggart’s Offensive System Let Herbert Shine

Herbert’s true sophomore year in 2017 under new HC Willie Taggart saw him limited to eight games due to a broken collarbone. The games Herbert played around that injury saw him post what ended up to be career highs in pass efficiency rating, yards per pass and completion percentage.

Herbert had shown he projected out to be a Heisman contender in 2018 in Taggart’s offense.

Justin Herbert is ready to throw to his target against USC in 2019.

Consider this…

• Herbert’s 2017 completion percentage was 67.5%, and he averaged 9.6 yards per pass completion to rank inside the Top 5 in FBS. Herbert’s passer rating of 167.5 ranked inside the Top 10 of FBS.

• By comparison, Baker Mayfield won the Heisman in 2017 with a 70.5% completion percentage, 11.5 yards per pass and a passer rating of 198.9.

Cristobal was hired as the Ducks’ head coach for the 2018 season with Marcus Arroyo promoted to offensive coordinator. Arroyo, under Cristobal’s direction, moved to the Pistol offense, and Herbert saw his numbers plummet.

Herbert’s 2018 completion percentage dropped only 4%, but he suffered an almost 2 yards per pass completion drop, and his passer rating fell more than 22 points.

Herbert, who was elite just a year before under Taggart, was now just good.

Justin Herbert scores a touchdown in the Oregon Ducks’ 2019 Rose Bowl victory. 

In 2019, Herbert’s final year at Oregon, we saw him lead the Ducks to the Pac 12 Championship and a Rose Bowl victory, even though his production was still down from his sophomore season with Taggart.

Herbert’s 2019 completion percentage was on par with his best, but he was still 1.5 yards per pass off his career high. His passer rating of 156.8 was 10.7 points off his benchmark.

What did Cristobal Promise Anthony Brown When He Committed to Oregon?

Anthony Brown started the 2017 season opener for Boston College, becoming only the second freshman to do so. Brown went on to play in 22 games over the next two seasons, but statistically, Brown never set the world on fire.

The 2019 season saw Boston College hire new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, who had been in the NFL from 2015 – 2018 with Tampa Bay as their quarterback coach. Brown suffered a season-ending injury in the second quarter of the sixth game of the season at Louisville, but his stats showed dramatic improvement.

Anthony Brown at Boston College set career highs his breakout junior season.

Brown’s 2019 completion percentage was 59.1%. He averaged 9.1 yards per completion, with a passer rating of 154.5.

Brown had arrived with his per yard pass completion sitting in almost the Top 10 of FBS and a passing rating inside the Top 20. With a 2020 QB transfer class that included Jamie Newman, D’Eriq King, J.T. Daniels, and K.J. Costello, The Sporting News rated Brown the No. 9 transfer quarterback for the upcoming season.

What Was Brown’s Production Under Mario in 2021?

The 2021 season was Joe Moorhead’s second as offensive coordinator under Cristobal, and Brown’s second season in the system. Brown was named the Game 1 starter and proceeded to start every one of the 14 games the Ducks played in the 2021 season.

Not surprisingly, given Cristobal’s track record of his risk adverse offensive philosophy, Brown’s numbers regressed from his final year at Boston College.

Anthony Brown’s 9,1 yards per completion average ranked inside the Top 10 of all FBS in 2019.

Brown increased his completion percentage by 5%, but his yards per completions dropped by 1.4 yards per pass. The QB’s passer rating of 141.0 was a 13.5 point drop, and Brown’s yards per completion and passer rating dropped out of the Top 10 and 20 in FBS.
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Both QBs Broke Out After Shedding Cristobal

Brown’s last start came in the Alamo Bowl, where Oregon finally discovered the deep ball during the second half. The anemic Ducks offense suddenly put up 29 second half points. Brown threw for over 300 yards, dropping dimes downfield for three touchdowns as he closed out his career at Oregon. For Ducks fans, after suffering through four years of Cristobal’s offense, they finally saw an offense designed to complement Brown’s strengths in the second half of the Alamo Bowl.

It was plain for all to see that Herbert’s sophomore season was a prelude to his ability to be an elite QB in the right system. Regrettably, Cristobal’s system shackled, and hid away Herbert’s true talent for his final two seasons at Oregon.

Record-setting NFL QB and Duck alum Justin Herbert in action for the Chargers.

Herbert’s record-setting rookie season showed that freed of Cristobal’s offense, he was able to soar to the NFL- AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. Herbert backed that rookie season up with a 2021 season that saw Herbert named to the Pro Bowl for the AFC.

Duck fans are left to ponder what Brown could have done if he had been unleashed, and further what Herbert would have done if he wasn’t restrained by Cristobal at Oregon. Duck fans, share your impressions in the OBD FORUM!

Portland, Oregon
Top Photo by Oregon Football Twitter

Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.

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