Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said something during his bye week media availability that caught my attention. Expectedly, the Ducks are getting a jumpstart on Cal, getting healthy and working on their running game. But unexpectedly, they are also hyper focused on limiting penalties and turnovers, both categories that the Ducks have excelled in through their first four games.
Remember when penalties plagued Oregon football in 2017? Last season, the Ducks successfully improved from the most undisciplined and heavily penalized team in the country to fourth in the Pac-12 Conference in penalty yards. Coach Cristobal corrected UO's bad habits to dramatically improve from the FBS-worst 88.31 penalty yards per game to 47.92 penalty yards in 2018.
What a turnaround. The improvement is still evident and important to Cristobal. Turnovers and penalties don’t fit in his Oregon football vision.
“The development of the football team continuing along the lines of discipline, where we continue to narrow or shorten or eliminate penalties,” Cristobal said. “We still could eliminate more.”
The Ducks lead the Pac-12 Conference with the least amount of penalties. Currently, Oregon is eighth nationally in penalty yardage, averaging 4.25 penalties and 35.5 penalty yards per game. Arizona State’s five penalties per game ranks second in the conference and 21st in the nation, while Cal’s 5.5 penalties per game ranks third in the conference and 37th in the nation.
Penalties are still plaguing Oregon’s 2017 coach Willie Taggart at Florida State. The Seminole’s 110 penalties in 2018 were the most in the nation and by an FSU team since the Seminoles committed 114 penalties in 2005. Through four games this season, FSU is averaging 7.8 penalties per game, 106th out of 130 FBS teams.
Let’s move on to Oregon’s turnovers. Quarterback Justin Herbert has not thrown an interception in 174 consecutive attempts. The Ducks as a team have two fumbles, which ranks fifth best in the nation and second best in the Pac-12. Oregon State is the only team with fewer turnovers (one interception through three games) which is the best in the nation. The Ducks’ turnover margin is 10th best in the nation, gaining eight turnovers to equal a margin of six.
“We’ve done a good job of protecting the football and not throwing the ball to the other team and it could get even better,” Cristobal said. “Those are big focuses for us.”
It is clear Cristobal’s won’t let up on the gas until the Ducks sit at the best in the nation in both categories.