Mario Cristobal and Mel Tucker have a lot in common, including matching national championship rings from the 2015 season they spent together on Nick Saban’s Alabama staff.
In his second season as Oregon’s coach, Cristobal — who was the Crimson Tide’s offensive line coach while earning his “Ph.D. in football” under Saban — has brought a more bruising offensive style and the Pac-12’s best defense to the Ducks.
Tucker, Alabama’s assistant head coach and defensive backs coach in 2015 before following Kirby Smart to Georgia as defensive coordinator, is trying to bring an SEC flavor to Boulder as Colorado’s first-year coach.
The 13th-ranked Ducks (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) play host to the Buffaloes (3-2, 1-1) on Friday at Autzen Stadium (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
“When you watch his team play you see his personality,” Cristobal said of Tucker. “He’s an extremely smart guy that has always had his units play with a lot of toughness and physicality. They’re certainly multiple on defense, they disguise their coverages really well. And offensively they’ve been good, but they continue to get better and better because they make a ton of explosive plays.
“There’s absolutely no flinching by that team.”
Tucker has already notched three wins that made Colorado’s fan base happy — beating in-state rival Colorado State (52-31), finishing a stunning comeback over former Big 12 rival Nebraska (34-31) and upsetting then-No. 24 Arizona State (34-31) on the road.
The Buffaloes were unable to close the deal in losses to Air Force (30-23) and South Division-leading Arizona (35-30).
Colorado started the 2018 season 5-0, but Mike MacIntyre was fired during a 5-7 finish. A strong finish with bowl eligibility would be a good start to the Tucker era.
“That team has won some really close games in some tough places, and their losses have been real close and real tough ones, similar to ours (against Auburn) earlier in the season,” Cristobal said. “You see (Tucker’s) image, his DNA in the way his team is playing.”
Tucker inherited fifth-year senior quarterback Steven Montez and some explosive play-makers, including wide receiver Laviska Shenault, on offense.
The Buffaloes still have some work to do on defense as they head to Eugene ranked 102nd in points allowed (31.6 per game) and 116th in yards allowed (470.6 per game).
“It’s very evident what he’s doing and the culture he’s trying to do taking over up there. He’ll do a great job,” Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said of preparing for Tucker’s team. “I’m sure that you can see the influence they’ve had on those guys trying to get things done. We know that’s a hard job, and they’re doing a great job, and he’s a great coach.
“You can see the movement they’re making is real.”
Tucker, a former NFL defensive coordinator, would like to build a unit like Oregon first-year defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has.
The Ducks are sixth nationally in points allowed (9.8 per game) and seventh in yards allowed (261.4 per game).
“I like the way they play football," Tucker said. "They're very sound on offense, they have a good offensive line, they're strong, and they like to run the ball. They've got play-makers at the skill spots and they have an outstanding quarterback. They have very good design. They run a pro style deal, they do a great job with (run-pass options).
“Defensively, they play very fast and they're physical. They're strong up front and they have pass rushers. I like the way their team is built.”
Tucker began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State for Saban and also coached for the six-time national champion at LSU.
Oregon special teams coordinator Bobby Williams also was on Saban’s staff at Michigan State and Alabama.
“I enjoyed working with coach Cristobal and Bobby Williams also," Tucker said. “Bobby and I go way back. He's been a great mentor of mine over the years. I really like watching Mario coach. He's very intense. He's a physically imposing guy, he's got a passion for the game, and he's a very accomplished offensive line coach.
“He's got great leadership ability and his guys always play hard for him."
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email podcast mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.