THE DAY AFTER – With a Redbox Bowl Victory, What Lies Ahead for Oregon Football and Will There Be Changes in 2019
When Mario Cristobal and his Oregon team left Santa Clara Monday evening, they flew back to Eugene with a heightened feeling of optimism for what’s to come in 2019.
And rightly so. A bowl win over a tough opponent will do that!
But it’s actually more than that. Cristobal and his coaching staff signed a recruiting class that’s the best in school history and of course his most prized recruit, Justin Herbert, decided to return for his senior season.
The future looks bright for sure.
In fact, all of the Ducks most prized offensive weapons will return except for receiver Dillon Mitchell if he opts to make the jump to the NFL.
Regardless, the Ducks are stacked on both sides of the ball which bodes well for their return to national prominence.
The biggest question heading into this new year and spring football is what kind of offensive identity will Oregon open the season with when they face Auburn at AT&T Stadium next fall.
Will the Ducks return with their vanilla pistol offense, or will they make an effort to search out an expanded offensive identity from another bright offensive mind?
Now, that’s not to say current offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo doesn’t have the offensive chops to run this Duck offense, but it can certainly be argued that for the last half of the season Oregon’s offense became stale with little to no imagination.
This is a team with dynamic weapons and should strike fear in any defense.
That simply wasn’t the case this season. Proof of that comes directly from the thoughts of a starting Pac-12 linebacker who attended Monday’s Redbox Bowl and was able to correctly identify and diagnose the Ducks offensive sets and where the football was apt to go against Michigan State – telling ODFN that ‘through film study the Ducks are an easy team to scout’ and in fact his team was one of the four teams that handed Oregon one of its season losses.
While its not important to identify this specific player, it is important to recognize his considerable knowledge of the game and the tendencies of the Ducks offense he so easily deciphered. And if he and his team were able to do it with ease so are the other teams the Ducks face in the conference.
And it’s hard to argue that point especially after watching the Washington State, Utah and Arizona games where it was painfully apparent the Cougars, Utes and Wildcats seemed keenly aware of those same tendencies.
It’s important to note that back in 2012 when D’Anthony Thomas was in his sophomore season under former coach Chip Kelly, Kelly utilized Thomas in several different positions because he recognized Thomas’ explosive talent when he touched the football. From the running back, slot and wide receiver position Thomas racked up a total of 18 touchdowns and 1,757 all-purpose yards. Yes, Thomas was a special talent, but what made him and the Ducks offense so dangerous was the many different sets and motions Kelly used which made them very difficult to defend.
Motion is a quarterbacks best friend because it helps identify what the defensive scheme might be and where the offense can exploit that scheme.
As athletes continue to get bigger and faster coaches throughout the country continue to explore new and innovative schemes to keep their teams ahead of the curve.
And considering the talent Oregon has returning next season that’s an area Cristobal and his staff should explore so as not to waste Herberts talent and the talent of his teams skill positions.
“I think every single year you have to” explained Cristobal when asked Monday if he’s considering making changes to his offense moving into next season.
“I think if you don’t do that, you hurt yourself.”
Cristobal referenced his time at Alabama when the Crimson Tide offense under Nick Saban also became simplistic and stale which led to a 2014 playoff loss to Ohio State.
“I go back to 2014 and a place where we lose to Ohio State in a playoff game and two days later you are on a plane to go visit the University of Houston and sit down with Tom Herman and talk about tempo,… 11 personnel,… and the RPO world” said Cristobal.
“There are certainly some things we need to explore.”
Exploring new and innovative solutions to a sluggish offense is what coaching is all about. It’s what separates the good coaches from the great coaches. They’re always exploring ways to improve their team – and that’s on both sides of the ball.
The Ducks defense under Jim Leavitt is making great strides as he continues to add specific and talented pieces to his 3-4 scheme. Leavitts defense should improve significantly next season with the return of his current starters, in addition to the wrecking ball of five star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.
Imagine if Oregon were able to put a Clemson type defense on the field knowing they also had a dynamic offense with a plethora of dangerous weapons?
That’s exactly the recipe the Tigers have used the last four seasons to reach the national championship. Clemson has weapons on both sides of the ball which also includes an NFL talent at quarterback in Trevor Lawrence and speed in all the skill positions around him.
There’s no reason Oregon can’t or shouldn’t become the Clemson of the west coast. What’s missing is an offensive identity.
What can’t be overlooked is the decision of Herbert to return next season.
There’s no question Herbert will begin the season as an obvious candidate to win the Heisman Trophy, however in order to do that he’ll have to put up the numbers he’s certainly capable of doing. And that will take a successful and dynamic offense.
In 2014 when Marcus Mariota won the schools first Heisman Trophy, he completed 68% of his passes and racked up a total of 4,454 passing yards and was responsible for 42 touchdowns.
This season Justin Herbert threw for 3,151 yards completing 59% of his passes and tossed 29 touchdowns for a QBR of 147.7. Mariota’s QBR at the end of his Heisman winning season was 181.7.
Again, imagine if Herbert were playing in a much more dynamic and diverse offense?
The pieces are there for Oregon to return to the heights they reached in 2014. But, in order to do that, they’ll need to utilize all of their weapons using an offense that focuses and implements all of those weapons in a creative and productive system.
If they’re unable to do that, then they’re in for another 8-4 or 9-3 type season which certainly won’t be good enough.
What’s worse and more concerning, is they will have wasted the premier talent of their senior quarterback who will no doubt be a first round pick in the 2020 NFL draft.