To many, it may have simply been a strategy for the given elements, but it now appears that what Oregon football did to Washington up in Seattle was not limited to a single game. In fact, it’s who the Ducks are this season, and it’s what Mario Cristobal wanted to establish when he arrived in Eugene.
In a 26-16 victory that was more one-sided than the score showed, Oregon mauled the Huskies for 329 yards rushing. It seemed at the time like a strategy to combat the pounding rains and swirling winds that were plaguing the Seattle area that evening. However, last Saturday on a dry, crisp evening devoid of any heavy winds, the Ducks duplicated the feat against the other team from the Evergreen State.
Oregon defeated Washington State 38-24 and the Ducks again ran roughshod, compiling 306 yards on the ground for their second 300-plus yard rushing performance in as many weeks.
Several times this season, it’s been called into question who Oregon is offensively. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead can be a wizard in the passing game, but it just wasn’t something fans were seeing this year.
The Ducks have surpassed 200 rushing yards in a game five times this season. One of those was a 269-yard performance in their historic win over Ohio State.
This isn’t the read-option, get to the corner and use your speed type of running game that Chip Kelly’s squads were famous for. This is hard-nosed, follow your blocking, push the other team out of the way running that is fueled by the performance of Oregon’s mammoth offensive line groups.
Cristobal was an offensive lineman in college, he was an offensive line coach in the SEC, he polished probably the greatest offensive lineman Oregon has ever had in Penei Sewell. His offensive lines bowl over opposing defenses, even Ohio State’s.
Anthony Brown is Oregon’s starting quarterback. For much of the season, he has been criticized for his lack of vertical passing prowess. On Saturday, Brown rushed for 128 yards on 17 carries, becoming the first Oregon quarterback since Marcus Mariota to run for more than 100 yards in a game.
Running back CJ Verdell was performing so well early in the season that he was listed as a potential Heisman candidate. When he was lost for the year, Oregon didn’t miss a beat in the running game. Travis Dye has been a touchdown machine and freshman Byron Cardwell broke free for two 20-plus yard touchdown runs against Washington State.
Oregon ranks 85th in the nation out of 130 teams at 213.9 passing yards per game. The Ducks are 78th in yards per completion at 11.9 and 75th in yards per attempt at 7.5. Brown is a decent passer, he does what he needs to do. He’s not going to wow people with his aerial attack the way quarterbacks like Justin Herbert or Darron Thomas did. He is, however, a skilled runner with a large enough frame and fast enough wheels that he can be a serious problem between the tackles or in the open field when he gets loose.
In its lone loss of the season, Oregon was dismantling Stanford with their running game. As soon as the Ducks went away from that, they unraveled.
The bottom line is that the 2021 Oregon football team is a defensive-minded, ground attack team that utilizes its size and power to push opponents around. They’re not flash and finesse, they’re grind-it-out. It’s their identity, and heading into a tough road test against a solid Utah team this coming Saturday, it’s what they will bring to the table.
If Oregon is going to run the table, they need to do just that: run.