Mario Cristobal

At Oregon, it's a very good time for making an offensive change

At Oregon, it's a very good time for making an offensive change

Marcus Arroyo is leaving the University of Oregon football program at just the right time.

I can’t think of a better time for this to happen to the Ducks. I have no idea how much they will miss him on the recruiting side of the game – time will tell about that.

But I’m pretty confident they can find an offensive coordinator who can move the ball and score points as well as Arroyo did.

And remember, Arroyo has had a quarterback, Justin Herbert, who is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

I’ve never been sure that the Ducks got as much out of Herbert as they should have gotten. They always seemed to be torn between wanting to be a power-running team and being a pass-first team. Either would have been OK, but they often didn’t hit on the right balance. And to be fair to them, it was incumbent upon them to play a style most suitable to Herbert's talents, even if it was counter to their long-term philosophy.

And that could have been attributed to the head coach, too. All I know is that, quite often, the offense did not live up to expectations, considering the line and the quarterback behind it.

Now, though, Mario Cristobal has his chance to shape the offense just the way he wants to, with the hiring of a new offensive coordinator.

I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Oregon go to a more option-oriented attack with a quarterback who is more of a running threat than pure passer. It would seem to fit with Cristobal's perceived vision of a physical offensive line being able to control games with ball control to benefit a stingy defense.

And with Herbert gone, the way is cleared now to recruit toward that style of play -- or any other style he wishes. I think, too, he will have the resources to hire a big name and/or a proven commodity.

That’s why the time is right for a change. A change in coaches, in philosophy and perhaps even personnel.

Happy fans or not, losing Marcus Arroyo makes large impact for Ducks

Happy fans or not, losing Marcus Arroyo makes large impact for Ducks

After three seasons at Oregon, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo has agreed to become the new head coach at UNLV. 

Arroyo’s salary at Oregon was $825,000, the third highest Pac-12 Conference assistant salary. Arroyo's contract does have a buyout that would require the coach to pay 20% of his guaranteed salary remaining but that is waived because Arroyo took a head coaching position at the FBS level, which UNLV is a part of.

Why UNLV? Why now?

Arroyo’s head coaching aspirations are realized at UNLV in the Mountain West Conference. The 39-year-old has ties to the Mountain West, playing quarterback at San Jose State (1998-2002), coaching quarterbacks at San Jose State (2006-2008) and coaching quarterbacks/offensive coordinator at Wyoming (2009-10).

He’s raking over a Rebels program with some shiny new facilities and recruiting tools (something Arroyo is used to at Oregon). UNLV’s priority was to hire a head coach before early signing period for the 2020 class occurs from December 18-20. The Rebels have 10 players committed for what 247Sports ranks as the Mountain West’s No. 3 class.

The Rebels recently opened a $34.8 million, 73,000-square-foot Fertitta Football Complex, a likely recruiting highlight for his new staff.

Arroyo takes over a program with three winning seasons in 27 years. Tony Sanchez went 20-40 over five seasons before being officially fired Nov. 25.

Fan Un-favorite

Oregon fans developed a strong dislike towards Arroyo this season.

“Why did the Ducks throw downfield more against Auburn?”

“Where is the play-calling creativity?”

“Why are Arroyo’s play calls so predictable? One-dimensional?

“How come there aren’t many explosive plays?”

Some fans go as far to say that Arroyo didn’t develop senior quarterback Justin Herbert to his full potential.

In reality, Oregon’s offense has improved over Arroyo’s tenure and much of the “lackluster-ness” is due to UO coach Mario Cristobal’s strength and power offense designed to dominate the trenches and pound the ground.

Coming off possibly his best play calling performance in Oregon’s 37-15 win over Utah, Arroyo’s offense averaged 35.2 points per game this season. That ranked second in the Pac-12 Conference behind Washington State’s air raid. Arroyo coached Herbert to 3,333 yards passing with 32 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Running back CJ Verdell reached 1,000 yards rushing for his second-straight season. 2019 marked the second consecutive year and fourth time in program history that Oregon has had a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. The Ducks also lead the nation with number of players with a touchdown (19) and number of players with a receiving touchdown (12).

The proof is in the pudding... Oregon is 11-2, won the Pac-12 title and has a chance to win its first Rose Bowl since 2014.

What impact does this have?

With Justin Herbert NFL bound in April, Oregon’s offense will be likely run by quarterback Tyler Shough in 2020. Herbert’s heir, Shough, was recruited by Arroyo.

As evident with Herbert, who sustained three different head coaches throughout his Oregon career, coaching turnover can stunt growth and slow progress.
It’s expected that Cristobal will stick to his offensive philosophy but coaching turnover will undoubtably have an affect on Shough, who has spent two seasons with Arroyo. A big question mark is how much of an affect? Will Shough have to learn a new offense over the summer with a matchup against Ohio State looming in non-conference play?

[READ: Dana Shough's fight and win over breast cancer the "largest championship game" she's ever been in]
As with any coaching change, the 2020 recruiting class may be effected as recruiting sharks will emerge in attempt to steer prospects to other Pac-12 coaches. Oregon’s class currently ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 11 in the nation. With Cristobal’s recruiting prowess, I wouldn’t expect UO to take too big of a hit.

Other notable current Ducks who were recruited by Arroyo: wide receivers Mycah Pittman, Josh Delgado and JR Waters.

Who could be replacement?

Oregon has a few candidates in house that could be promoted within, like running backs coach Jim Mastro. However, if I were a betting woman, I’d say the Ducks will open up a nation wide search.

CJ Verdell makes Pac-12 Championship history and smells like roses

CJ Verdell makes Pac-12 Championship history and smells like roses

Oregon running back CJ Verdell sprinted across the field at rainy Levi’s Stadium leaving a sprinkle of brown mud flipping from his white Nike cleats.

After barreling into the end zone for three scores in Oregon’s upset victory over No. 5 Utah, Verdell was dashing to the stage, where his teammates awaited, dancing with confetti, alongside the Duck mascot and second year head coach Mario Cristobal.

The sophomore grabbed a ‘Pac-12 Champions’ adorned hat and t-shirt before presented with the Most Valuable Player trophy.

The Ducks won their first Pac-12 Championship since 2014, earning the conference’s automatic berth to the Rose Bowl, by beating Utah 37-15. They snapped Utah’s eight-game winning streak and ended the Utes’ College Football Playoff dream.

Quite frankly, I think maybe these guys all week long got a little bit tired of hearing we weren't the more physical team. It gives you a little bit of an edge. --Cristobal 

Against the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense, Verdell made history. The Utes entered the game allowing an average of 56.3 yards per game, with only one team to rush for over 100 yards. Verdell doubled that amount, alone, with 208 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown that was the longest run in Pac-12 title game history.

How did Verdell feel about being in Utah’s shadow, leading up to the game?

Definitely put a little chip on our shoulders. We try not to focus on the outside noise too much. Hearing they're the most physical team in the Pac-12 made us want to come out here and work even more harder. --Verdell

The clutch performance sent Verdell over the edge to surpass 1,000 rushing yards for the second-consecutive season, becoming the fifth Oregon running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back years and the third to do it as a freshman and sophomore.

Verdell gave all credit to his offensive line.

I couldn't have done anything on that field without the O-line, They made the holes, paved the way for me to give the big runs. I got to give it all up to them. --Verdell

In Oregon’s most complete game of the season, the Ducks won the battle in the trenches, the defense held Utah scoreless in the first half and quarterback Justin Herbert showed off his mobility. Afterwards, Verdell and the Ducks celebrated in the locker room smelling of mud, sweat and a slight hint of roses.

Mario Cristobal’s ear-catching comments about time of possession

Mario Cristobal’s ear-catching comments about time of possession

The Pac-12 North Division champion Oregon Ducks (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) are flying south to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA to compete for the conference title for the first time since 2014.

No. 5 Utah will be the most talented defense Oregon has faced this season. Statistically, the Utes (11-1, 8-1) are in the top-five in the nation in almost all defensive categories.

Utah leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (11.3 points per game), total defense (241.6 yards per game), pass defense (185.3 ypg), rush defense (56.3 ypg) and yards per play against (4.2). During their eight-game winning streak, the Utes outscored opponents 308-76 and held five opponents to single digits.

Another interesting stat Utah dominates? Time of possession.

Utah has the ball for an average of 34:40, ranking top in the conference and third in the nation. While some argue that time of possession isn’t important in college football, the time advantage is working for the Utes defense, who is staying fresh and fierce.  The Utes are effective at turning long drives into points and the defense quickly gets the ball back to the offense… a tough combination to beat.

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal does not want to play to Utah’s ball-control strengths.

“I think time of possession is important in any game,” Cristobal said on Monday ahead of the Pac-12 Title game. “Some games obviously roll differently than others. Part of them having so few snaps is they get of the field quickly… Their offense does a great job controlling the line of scrimmage, controlling the clock as they’ve needed, they’ve kind of had their way offensively."

Thankfully, the Ducks also have a strong defense, allowing 15.8 points per game (its lowest since 1966). The Duck defense is also on field a lot more than Utah’s. Oregon’s average time of possession is 28:33, which is 95th in the nation.

“They’ve pushed the ball down the field, they take some shots, they’ve very accurate with their downfield stuff, created explosive plays a number of different ways and that combination is a very difficult combination,” Cristobal said. “So when you enter a game like this, your plan has to be ready to take on those particular aspects because if a team like that has their way and plays to their strengths it makes it a difficult situation.”

Maintaining possession won’t be an easy task for Oregon against the Utes who have allowed an average of just 56.3 yards per game on the ground this season.

The passing game and quarterback Justin Herbert’s ability to air it out will need to be drastically better than the last two games. Against Oregon State and Arizona State, Herbert completed 57.8-percent of his passes and has three touchdowns to two interceptions.

Herbert and an out-of-rhythm Oregon offense have a tall task against a Utes defense that has been unshakeable. However, the Ducks would be in a far better position to win if they can shake it up and exert their own ball-control to test the Utes defense and allow less opportunity for Utah’s offense to put up points.

What Chris Petersen's shocking step down means for the Pac-12 Conference

What Chris Petersen's shocking step down means for the Pac-12 Conference

A shocking shake-up to the Pac-12 Conference was announced Monday morning. Washington head coach Chris Petersen announced that he is stepping down as head coach of Washington Huskies football after the bowl game, giving way to current defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.

"I'll be a Husky for life, but now is the right time for me to step away from my head coaching duties, and recharge," Petersen said.

Washington finished third in the Pac-12 North Division, going 7-5 overall and 4-5 in conference play. Petersen will transition into a leadership advisory role for Husky Athletics. In his six seasons at

Washington, Petersen led the Huskies to two Pac-12 Championships (2016, 2018), the 2016 College Football Playoffs, and three consecutive New Years Six bowl games.

If this news raises your eyebrows, you aren’t the only one.

Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham, the most tenured coach in the conference (15 years), learned of the coaching change on the Pac-12 Championship teleconference call and responded with utter shock.

“Wow. I would have never thought that,” Whittingham said. “Chris Peterson is one of the finest coaches in the country, there are a handful of guys you respect and admire as a coach. Petersen is one of my guys.”

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, who is undefeated in his two seasons against the Petersen coached Huskies, also was surprised.

“I literally got off the field and I heard the news,” Cristobal said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Petersen. He's had a great career. Certainly wish nothing but the best for him and his family."

What does this mean for Washington and how does this affect the conference?

During any coaching change, recruiting sharks will emerge in attempt to steer prospects to other Pac-12 coaches. UW’s 2020 recruiting class ranks second in the Pac-12, behind Oregon and 16th nationally.  

However, don’t expect UW to take too big of a hit in recruiting, as Lake is Washington’s top recruiter. The initial transition may cause some prospects to re-open their recruitements, but retaining and promoting Lake could strengthen UW’s future recruiting classes.

Lake has been on Petersen's staff since 2012 at Boise State, was promoted to co-defensive coordinator in 2016 and has been the Huskies' sole defensive coordinator the past two seasons. He previously coached defensive backs for six years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Under Lake between 2015 and 2018, UW led the Pac-12 in total defense and scoring defense. 

How long Petersen wants to “re-charge” is unclear and unknown. His name will certainly be in talks for open NFL coaching jobs and any vacant college coaching jobs (cough, USC, cough).

Oregon Ducks thankful for: Pumpkin pie, ham and a big rivalry game

Oregon Ducks thankful for: Pumpkin pie, ham and a big rivalry game

A meaningful Civil War game is on the horizon, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is thankful for the rivalry matchup. It appears the weather will be cold, but not wet, another reason to give thanks. It’ll be a momentous senior day, when fans in Autzen Stadium can show their gratitude and say farewell to a special senior class that has been toughened by a tumultuous career at Oregon.

[RELATED: Oregon drops out of CFP top 10: So, Rose Bowl?]

Oregon is one win away from its first 10-win season since 2014 with a chance to be crowned Pac-12 Champions. Now that the College Football Playoff is out of the picture, senior quarterback Justin Herbert said, “It means everything,” to learn from the Arizona State loss and refocus on finishing the season strong.

This Thanksgiving, Herbert would be grateful for an upcoming win against the Oregon State Beavers. 

But, what are the other Ducks thankful for? I asked them:

Coach Mario Cristobal

“I think my favorite part about Thanksgiving is that we’re practicing and getting ready for a game. What am I, 49? I can’t remember the last time Thanksgiving was here and we weren’t practicing. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, I really wouldn’t. Thank God for that, I think that’s the greatest thing in the world, and we will practice. We will practice and give thanks for all our many blessings and instead of our lunch meal it will be a Thanksgiving spread. It’s a business week. I think we all know this football life as a player, as a coach, as an AD, a president, this is your work time. Our guys understand that and I think it makes you appreciate everything that much more when you do so. It will be all about business and to have the best week of prep we can possibly have.”

Junior wide receiver Johnny Johnson

“The food, for sure. Candied yams! That’s one of my favorites… I eat ham instead of turkey. I’m a ham guy.”

Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos

“Pumpkin pie, with whipped cream. Without question.”

This season’s Civil War is “everything you could want in a college football game,” according to Cristobal. Today, I’m thankful for pecan pie and an exciting rivalry game with bragging rights on the line.

10 numbers to know: Ducks vs. Beavers in meaningful civil war

10 numbers to know: Ducks vs. Beavers in meaningful civil war

Saturday’s Civil War rivalry game is what college football is all about. Oregon (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) and Oregon State (5-6, 4-4) occupy the top two spots in the Pac-12 North Division. The Ducks look to finish conference play unbeaten at Autzen Stadium for the eighth time since it opened in 1967.  

Here are 10 numbers to know if you want to be the fan dropping knowledge on your friends at the tailgate.

A DUCK WIN WOULD...

Give Oregon its first 10-win season since 2014, making Mario Cristobal the fourth head coach in program history to win 10 games in a season.

A BEAVER WIN WOULD...

Be their sixth victory, making Oregon State eligible for its first bowl appearance since the 2013 season. Also, it’d guarantee a winning conference record for the first time since going 6-3 in 2012.

BETTING LINE

Oregon opened as 20.5-point favorites over Oregon State. The total over/under is set at 66 points.

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

In six home games (6-0) this season, Oregon has outscored its opponents 245-60, including 127-21 in the second half.

CRUNCH TIME

At home, Oregon’s defense has allowed two touchdowns in 38 second half drives, while coming away with six interceptions in the final 30 minutes.

HISTORY

Saturday is the 123rd meeting between the two programs. Oregon has won 10 of the last 11 meetings, including five-straight in Autzen Stadium against Oregon State. 2007 was the last time OSU won in Eugene. Over the last 11 games, Oregon is averaging 47.2 points with a scoring margin of +20.7 (519-291).

SMITH’S SUCCESSES

As an Oregon State player, OSU coach Jonathan Smith was 2-2 against Oregon. In the Beavers’ victory in 1998, Smith passed for 303 yards, which at the time was the most ever by an OSU quarterback vs. the Ducks. Smith and the Beavers won again in 2000 in Corvallis.

VERDELL ETCHING HIS NAME IN UO HISTORY

Sophomore running back CJ Verdell needs 87 yards rushing to becomes the fifth Duck with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons (Maurice Morris, Onterrio Smith, LaMichael James, Royce Freeman). With 87 yards rushing, Verdell will join Freeman and James as only Oregon running back to rush for 1,000 yards as both a freshman and sophomore.

A SHOW ON THE ROAD

The Beavers are 3-1 on the road in Pac-12 play this season.

SENIOR DAY

26 Oregon seniors will play their last games in Autzen Stadium on Saturday in Oregon’s final conference game, including quarterback Justin Herbert, linebacker Troy Dye, linebacker La’Mar Winston Jr., OL Shane Lemieux, OL Jake Hanson, OL Calvin Throckmorton, OL Dallas Warmack, WR Juwan Johnson, TE Ryan Bay, DT Drayton Carlberg, linebacker Bryson Young and punter Blake Maimone.

“You only have a certain amount of snaps in your career…” said Cristobal. “With every snap that you play you show in the way that you play that this thing means more to you than it does the people you are playing against. And that’s the way this senior class is defined… I’m super proud of them. More than anything, I’m just really focused on them having the best performance they can on Saturday.”

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s ear catching comments about OSU WR Isaiah Hodgins

Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s ear catching comments about OSU WR Isaiah Hodgins

This season’s Civil War is “everything you could want in a college football game,” according to Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal.

Oregon (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) is doing its best to avoid lingering effects from its devastating first conference loss to Arizona State. The Ducks have five days left to refocus and retool their goals after the trip back from Tempe, which coach Cristobal described as the quietest plane ride he’s ever been on.

The Pac-12 North Division champion Ducks still have a chance at playing in the Rose Bowl by winning the Pac-12 Title game on December 6th in Santa Clara. But first, a compelling matchup vs. Oregon State on senior day in Eugene.

The Duck defense, which was embarrassed by giving up 408 yards passing yards to ASU, will face a Beavers team riddled with offensive weapons, only one win away from bowl eligibility. OSU (5-6, 4-4) hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2013 and was seconds away at Washington State from getting their sixth win, to become eligible.

Cristobal spoke particularly high about junior wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who just moved into seventh place at OSU for overall career receptions with 168.

“He’s one of the best in the country, hands down,” Cristobal said. “He is a complete wide receiver, very polished. By that I mean he can take you down the field and go deep. He could run his double-move stuff as good as anybody out there, his stutters, great intermediate route runner, great in the quick game.”

As OSU quarterback Jake Luton’s go-to target, Hodgins has totaled 1,086 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.

Cristobal continued that "there’s nothing he can’t do” and one of the biggest things Oregon will have to defend is Hodgins ability to make players miss and take it to the house. This is concerning for an Oregon defense that is coming off an uncharacteristic bad tackling night.

It’s crucial that the Ducks secondary avoids getting burned again while the front generates pressure and an effective pass rush to keep the Beavers in check.

Well, the Oregon Ducks weren't going to win the national title anyway

Well, the Oregon Ducks weren't going to win the national title anyway

It was all turning around. The Ducks were about to flip the script on Arizona State Saturday night in Tempe, Ariz.

After pulling to within 24-21, Oregon had the Sun Devils pinned back in their own territory, facing a third-and-16 with five minutes to go. But ASU freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels slung an 81-yard touchdown pass to effectively snuff out any hope that the Ducks could play their way into the College Football Playoff.

But teams with hopes of winning a national championship don’t allow touchdowns on plays like that when they’re in great position to stage a terrific comeback. They don’t allow another one of those OK-but-not-great Pac-12 teams to beat them in a game they had to have.

And if they couldn’t beat Arizona State, which has lost five conference games this season, I have a difficult time believing they could whip LSU or Ohio State.

That’s the cold, hard truth.

And there are other truths that were exposed in the desert Saturday night.

For one thing, the Ducks aren’t as physical as they think they are. On either side of the ball. They could have gotten more pressure on Daniels all night and protected Justin Herbert better. And an even deeper truth is that Pac-12 physical isn’t the same as national-championship physical.

Oregon has a ways to go in that department.

And I think Oregon’s offense this season was trying to go two different directions at once. I believe the head coach was torn between being a run-first, conservative offense and cutting loose his soon-to-be-NFL quarterback. The result was a team that never seemed to find its identity on offense and didn’t function at full throttle in all its games.

The Ducks’ passing attack was not worthy of an All-America caliber quarterback – neither sophisticated nor diverse. I just never thought there was a real commitment to the passing game.

But it matters not. Oregon still has a Civil War game to win and that doesn’t look as easy as it usually is. After that, there is a chance to recover some swag in the conference championship game.

But a national title? It wasn’t going to happen, anyway.

Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition

Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition

Oregon’s wide receiver room has been in flux this season with injuries and transfers. That instability could have led to an unhealthy unit but instead it’s fashioned life long bonds and healthy, serious competition.

The Friendship

It would have been easy for Oregon junior reciever Johnny Johnson III to not like Juwan Johnson.

When Juwan transferred from Penn State to Oregon to help bolster a group that lost their top receiver to the NFL, Johnny wasn’t threatened by Juwan's 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame or his one more season of experience. No, instead, when Juwan messaged Johnny on Instagram to introduce himself before moving to Eugene, Johnny welcomed him, becoming Juwan's first friend on the Duck football team.

The two Johnsons started sending film back and forth, building a bond and making a bet (more on that later).

They’ve come a long way: sweating through Oregon’s spring and summer workouts; building in fall camp; winning nine-straight games together; and securing a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game as North Division champions, all with a bigger goal in mind.

Johnny’s vision: “Me and (Juwan) holding that trophy in the air at the end of the year. I’m not going to say which trophy, but, you know.”

The Competition

What’s the bet and the payout?

“That’s something that’ll stay sacred. Me and Johnny just try to battle it out on who can get the most yards every game,” Juwan said. “That’s what it’s been all year. We had a little bet and obviously he’s winning right now. He has a couple games ahead of me.”

The reference there is that Johnny leads the team in receiving yards (485) on 35 catches in 10 games, while Juwan has 299 yards on 18 catches in six games.

Johnny and Juwan both grabbed career long touchdown catches in Oregon’s win over Arizona. Is there a competition for longest touchdown?

“If there is, I need to find out. I hope so,” said Offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo. “That’s a great competition to have. Both of those guys did a great job on both of those plays. It was exciting to see and good for Justin [Herbert] to hit a couple good, deep balls.”

The Plays

At the start of the 2019 football season, junior cornerback Deommodore Lenoir tabbed Johnny and Juwan as Oregon’s most physical receivers. Their toughness has been evident. Both have different skillsets, but both provided major highlights in Oregon’s win over Arizona, marking the first time Oregon connected on multiple 50-plus yard touchdown passes since 2016.

On the second play of the game, quarterback Justin Herbert launched a 73-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Johnson III, the longest pass play of the season. A wide-open Johnny slipped behind defenders and bolted to the end zone.   

Then, a little trickery to the delight of Oregon fans. A reverse flea flicker 53-yard touchdown toss from Herbert to an extended Juwan Johnson, worthy of a SportsCenter Top 10 nod.

The Future

The Johnsons are in a groove and it could get ugly for Arizona State (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (PT) The Sun Devils are allowing almost 300 passing yards per game in Pac-12 play, ranking ninth in the conference.

It’s a prime occasion for Herbert to air it out. It’s a substantial opportunity for the Johnsons to continue their battle for most yards.

The veteran receiver best friends could be the weapons Oregon needs to close out the regular season and conquer No. 7 Utah in the Pac-12 title game. After that? It’s a fight for that trophy Johnny dreamt of.