Certain jobs come with non-negotiable expectations.
If you run a Krispy Kreme, you’d better know how to make the doughnuts. If you go on tour with the Eagles, you’d better know how to play “Hotel California.”
And if you call the plays for Oregon, you’d better know how to find the end zone.
That’s the reality for Marcus Arroyo, the Ducks’ 38-year-old offensive coordinator. He’s not only competing against the defenses of the Pac-12, but with the ghosts of Oregon’s past.
Right now the comparison isn’t in his favor. Oregon’s offense has been perfectly respectable this season, ranking 38th nationally in yards and 25th in points. But when you’re coaching at the school of Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota, perfectly respectable doesn’t cut it.
Grumbling about Oregon’s playcalling reached audible volume after Oregon’s latest loss, a 32-25 defeat at Utah. The Ducks have lost three of their last four games, and much of the focus falls on an offense that once again failed to engage until the Ducks were down by double digits.
Maybe that’s unfair. Statistically, the Ducks’ offense has been better than their defense, which ranks 67th nationally in yards allowed. But this is Oregon, and it’s pointless to pretend offense and defense are judged by the same measuring stick.
“Everything we strive for is excellence and productivity,” coach Mario Cristobal said. “There are some flashes of it, and in some other areas we’ve got to get better.”
That was as far as Cristobal would go in assessing the performance of his offensive coordinator. Arroyo met the media Tuesday and echoed the sentiments we’ve heard all season, that the Ducks are building an identity and can’t do it overnight.
“Us battling through the transition up front and the transition in the backfield, and comparing it to what we’ve had in the past and what we’ve done ... We lost a pretty good guy last year who carried the ball a lot and a pretty good left tackle,” Arroyo said, referring to Royce Freeman and Tyrell Crosby. “We’ve got some moving pieces and some young guys.”
True enough. The Ducks also returned a first-round pick at quarterback, a talented wide receiver and four starters on the offensive line.
If there’s one complaint about Oregon’s offense, it’s that the Ducks have failed to make the most of the weapons they have. They have some glaring holes, especially at wide receiver, but a lot of offensive coordinators would crawl over broken glass to coach a quarterback like Justin Herbert.
The Ducks have made it clear they want to be a run-first team. They talk more about establishing the run than any Oregon team I can recall. Which makes it all the more confounding that, statistically, this is Oregon’s worst rushing attack in years.
From 2008 to 2016, Oregon led the nation in yards-per-rush-attempt three times and never ranked lower than 16th, according to the website teamrankings.com. Last season Oregon was 23rd. This year the Ducks are 79th.
For many years Oregon was a terrific running team without being perceived as one. Now that the Ducks are trying to be known for their running game, they’re struggling more than they have in ages.
I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe it means they’re still in the awkward transition from the wide-open, up-tempo rushing attack of previous years to Cristobal’s knock-’em-back, between-the-tackles style.
Maybe it means the Ducks are lacking the explosive, durable running backs they had in the past. Maybe it means they’ve become so stubborn that other teams can read them like a book.
One thing seems clear: The Ducks have no plans to abandon the run-first mentality.
“Establishing the run philosophically is something we believe we need to do,” Arroyo said. “We’ve shown over the course of the season that we’ll stick with it.
“If the game calls for us changing up philosophically, you manage that. But you can’t run away from it. You’ve got to work through it.”
Those comments are eerily similar to ones Arroyo made in 2014 when he was calling plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He stepped into that role when Jeff Tedford, the Bucs’ offensive coordinator, underwent a heart procedure. A piece in Bleacher Report described his play-calling as “ultraconservative ... until late in the game when the Buccaneers were trailing and attempting to make a comeback.”
Arroyo was 34 at the time, thrust into a job he wasn’t hired to do. He deserves the chance to grow and evolve, as does Cristobal.
They’re getting that chance now. It’s on them to make sure Oregon’s offense doesn’t lose its way.