If Oregon football coach Mario Cristobal is to get the Ducks back on the winning track, it will take radical changes to how his team played in losing to Washington State. Here are some changes to look for:
One valuable lesson Cristobal should have learned is that sometimes what you prepare for all week in practice loses its practicality once the game starts.
It's well known that Oregon wants to present a physical offense grinding out yards and controlling the game. What Cristobal found early in Pullman is that if you can’t stop the opposing team’s offense — which the Ducks couldn’t — you can no longer rely on a grind-it-out game plan. You're going to need to score points, which is what happened when Oregon took the wraps off quarterback Justin Herbert.
The Ducks scored 20 second-half points that could have been more with some creativity on the part of the play callers. After Oregon scored its first touchdown — in three minutes — it marched down to the red zone with first and goal at the WSU 6-yard line.
Oregon then ran the same running play three times in a row with a backup running back attempting to make yardage behind an offensive line that could not block the play. You had to ask yourself, "Why didn’t the Ducks involve their only big-play offensive player — Herbert, if anyone has forgotten? — What were the coaches trying to prove?’
Watch to see if the Ducks turn to Herbert when it comes to needing a big play on offense against Arizona.
Watch to see if receivers run a third-down pass route — or coaches call a play deep enough — to make the first down. Not doing so puts pressure on the offense to maintain a drive.
Watch the offensive line to see if it can do a better job of protecting Herbert and making holes for whomever is running the ball.
Defensively, the Ducks have to set the edge better. Justin Hollins and Jaylon Jelks were eliminated by the Cougar offensive line, continually blocking the duo inside into a pile. See if Oregon musters a pass rush; if you give the quarterback all day to throw, he will find a weakness in a Duck secondary that is having a difficult time covering receivers.
Tackling Cougars looked impossible at times. On one scoring run, eight Ducks missed tackles because of poor fundamentals: feet too close together, over extended, reaching out with heads down (maybe closed eyes) and no leverage.
This is basic football. It was enough to beat Washington. Question is, can the Ducks regain their focus and energy to turn this around?
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.