New Offensive Coordinator Will Stein said something at this first post-practice press conference that made a lot of fans scratch their heads or in extreme cases mourn the death of Oregon’s offense without ever seeing a single snap. Mr. FishDuck raised an eyebrow at what was said, and took some time out from his fun figuring NFL odds and plotting his NFL betting to also ponder what he really meant.
Stein said that, “Plays are highly overrated. It’s about the players and here at Oregon we have unbelievable players. My big thing is to set them free. Let’s put them in position to make plays and let our quarterback have a lot of fun.”
Let’s be clear, Stein did not say that scheme and play calling is not important but rather he puts the emphasis on the players and player skill rather than on his job of calling the the plays. And the truth is that players often do matter more than the play calls. During the Kelly-Helfrich era, Oregon reached the National Championship Game twice and came up short in both. Now, there are many sticking points that go into the Oregon vs. Auburn match-up, and Oregon was not completely out matched on the field in that one. However, the 2014-15 National Championship Game against Ohio State was a completely different story.
In Oregon’s last National Championship appearance, it was clear that Oregon just didn’t have the players needed to truly compete on the same field as Ohio State. Sure, scheme played a role, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but on offense, even with Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, Oregon just couldn’t put up enough points. It is absolutely true that by this point in the season, Oregon was playing with a depleted roster but the fact remains: scheme and play calls don’t matter as much as the players on the field, and Oregon was simply out muscled.
More recently, we saw just the opposite scenario. Under Mario Cristobal, Oregon’s scheme and play calling was awful, but Oregon also fielded some of their best talent in program history. And with this superior talent and poor scheme and play calling under Cristobal, Oregon still won two conference championships, appeared in a third, and won a Rose Bowl. As Oregon fans, we were frustrated because that 2019 Oregon team had all the potential to make it to the playoff with Justin Herbert at quarterback and a defense that produced some of the best results in Oregon football history, and yet that team fell short.
Play calling is absolutely important but there is so much emphasis put on the play caller in this day and age that we lose track of what makes teams truly great. It is pairing scheme and play calling with amazing players. Clemson effectively used the same offense Oregon ran during the Kelly-Helfrich era and won a couple of National Championships with it. Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich were using the right offense and even had the right play calls and built around a roster that could execute it at a high level, as we saw with two Rose Bowl wins and one Fiesta Bowl win across their combined eras, but they never had a complete and deep enough roster to bring home a National Championship.
Stein is going to have an offensive roster with some of the most talent Oregon has ever had, and as long as it is developed and paired with scheme and play calling, it will create an explosive offense that could put up some of the best numbers in program history and even potentially get Bo Nix to New York as a Heisman finalist.
Even the best play calls can fall part once the ball is snapped. A receiver could drop a wide open pass or an offensive lineman could be outright beat by an opposing defender. Nothing is certain in football, and often play calls are a best fit for the scenario on the field. However, there are no guarantees it is going to work. It all comes down to the players and their execution. Some of the most spectacular plays in football come when those players need to improvise and make a play happen.
So, come the Spring Game and start of the season, we may all be talking about the plays being called but it’s the players who have to get the job done. Go Ducks!
Top Photo From YouTube
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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