Too long, Duck football fans grimaced when Oregon played teams that were more physical (which means bigger and stronger) in coach parlance — such as Auburn and Ohio State for the national championship, and teams like LSU, Oklahoma, Stanford, USC and Washington.

When Willie Taggart inherited the Ducks last season, the coach announced they were “weak” and brought in a new strength and conditioning coach who instilled a new work ethic to replace the old one. Players had been skipping required workouts and cheating on how they were performing those workouts.

Taggart’s team showed some improvement in this area, but the Boise State disaster revealed there was still work to be done. New coach Mario Cristobal brought in a dynamic strength coach in Aaron Feld, a mercurial spark to Cristobal’s goal of putting together a physical contender for the national stage.

Feld was a hard-nosed defensive player at Mississippi State, coming to Eugene from Georgia, where he spent three years working with the Bulldogs’ football program that played for a national championship in 2018. Cristobal observed Feld as a volunteer while at Alabama and chose him to install the Crimson Tide’s strength program and the “Fourth Quarter” at Oregon.

The “Fourth Quarter” is not a program, but a “philosophy,” Feld explains. It creates an atmosphere of focus and endurance that holds up against physical teams and produces extra effort for tight games that go down to the wire or overtime.

It is interesting to note that each player is evaluated for what they individually need to compete to their highest level. Player’s hips are particularly emphasized, as power and leverage necessary to tackle, block and run over people comes from the hips and legs. The game has become so fast that hip flexibility is important for all positions.

The players don’t necessarily have the same individual weight training goals, even for the same playing position. Every player is evaluated for what they need to be successful with the body structure they inherited.

As the season progresses, watch for the Ducks’ effort, particularly on defense, in the latter stages of the first half and the first possession of the second half. In 2016, Oregon gave up seven scores on the last possessions of the first half and seven more on first possessions of the second. In 2017, the defense performed better at the end of the first half, allowing scores twice in 13 games, but were worse in the second half, allowing eight scores on opponents’ first possession.

This is huge, pointing to a lack of intensity going into the locker room at halftime and coming out afterward. Physical play dominates the need for Oregon to maintain some control against a quality opponent. You decide. Who’s getting pushed around as the game wears on?

Talkin’ ball: There’s a new rule on kickoff returns this year, designed to cut down on concussions and other serious injuries. The returner may make a fair catch anywhere inside his 25-yard line and the ball will be spotted at the 25 to start play. A coach can do this instead of struggling to get to the 25 against a covering team that has a 50-yard sprint to break up blockers and clobber the returner. With all other fair catches on punts, the ball will still be placed at the spot of the catch.