Mario Cristobal spent part of the Ducks’ open date in the weeds.
While answering a question during his weekly news conference about Oregon’s lackluster running game, Cristobal mentioned inside zone concepts, eye discipline, run fits, gap responsibility, shotgun versus the pistol, and a list of other football jargon.
The layman watching from the upper deck at Autzen Stadium has noticed the same glaring issue the coaches and players are studying in the film room at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex:
A surprising lack of offensive production from the ground game.
The Ducks’ struggle to gain any traction rushing the ball is a head-scratcher because this team has one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation and a group of returning running backs that combined for 1,840 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
“We know it’s not good enough and we take a lot of pride in that,” Cristobal said. “That’s what we’re working on in the bye week, and we expect to have better results going forward.”
The Ducks (3-1, 1-0) are 75th in the FBS in rushing yards, averaging 154.8 per game.
Oregon has only 16 rushes of over 10 yards this season and four rushes over 20 yards.
The two most explosive run plays — Darrian Felix’s 62-yard touchdown against Nevada and Sean Dollars’ 63-yard burst against Montana — came in the fourth quarter of blowout wins.
During last week’s 21-6 victory at Stanford, CJ Verdell had 24 carries for 82 yards (3.4 per carry), while Travis Dye only had one carry for one yard.
Factoring in the lost yardage from Justin Herbert getting sacked four times, Oregon finished with only 61 net rushing yards.
“When you have these two backs — one’s a true sophomore, one’s a redshirt sophomore — they don’t know it all,” Cristobal said of co-starters Verdell and Dye, who combined for 1,757 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018. “They’re eager, they’re guys that want to be great.”
No. 13 Oregon’s regular starting offensive line is expected to be ready for the Oct. 5 game against No. 15 California at Autzen Stadium (5 p.m., Fox).
Jake Hanson, who did not play against Stanford after suffering an undisclosed injury against Montana, is back practicing at center this week.
Backup running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio (back spasms) was also missing against the Cardinal. The redshirt sophomore only has 12 carries in three games after scoring seven touchdowns as the goal-line back last year.
“Our guys, they’ve ran hard. They have,” Cristobal said. “I have absolutely no issues at all with their effort, desire and want-to. Sometimes have we pressed a little bit? Maybe.
“I think those are things that are fixable with time, seeing things a little bit more consistently. “
The Bears (4-0, 1-0), who host Arizona State on Friday in Berkeley, Calif., have allowed 141.3 yards rushing per game (61st).
Justin Wilcox’s team is 27th in points allowed (17.3 per game) and 61st in total yards allowed (366.6 per game).
During Oregon’s 42-24 win last September at Cal, Dye rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown, Verdell finished with 106 yards on 11.8 yards per carry and Habibi-Likio chipped in with a touchdown run.
Justin Herbert completed 72.7% of his passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s the kind of balance the Ducks will likely need to win the Pac-12 in a year where it appears Oregon has a championship-caliber defense.
“Technique and fundamentals come into play,” Cristobal said of fixing the rushing attack. “If a box is loaded, we’ve still got find a way to make some yards. It really falls on all of us.
“Schematically, we have some good things. We’re also working on some different things to create some wrinkles, to create some eye wash, to help us achieve what we want to get to.”
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