Offense. It’s what Oregon Football had become synonymous with since the mid-2000s when then head coach Mike Bellotti decided to institute the spread-option and instantly took the conference by storm, improving from 5-6 to 10-1 with essentially the same team but a new scheme.
Two years later he brought in Chip Kelly to put the offense in turbo-drive and once Kelly stepped into the head coach position himself Oregon was averaging over 40 points per contest and making hitting the half century mark a regular occurrence.
Mario Cristobal, who coached Oregon Football for four seasons before departing for Miami, had a different mindset, preferring to play a more smashmouth style that focused on wearing opponents down al la Stanford for the last decade or so.
Though the Ducks had multiple offensive coordinators during his tenure, they never really seemed to generate a lot of excitement on that side of the ball, it simply wasn’t Cristobal’s style. Most of the big plays and excitement came from having Justin Herbert under center, as his brilliance at the position helped make up for what was a somewhat droll offensive scheme.
New Oregon head coach Dan Lanning has a calling card: defense. It’s what the man does. So, how was he to reignite the more high-octane offense the Ducks had been known for?
Enter Kenny Dillingham, a younger coach, like Lanning, and perhaps a hire that flew somewhat under the radar. Dillingham had shown that he could create productive offenses in the SEC and ACC, but could that hold up on the West Coast, where explosive offenses reign supreme?
Save for the debacle against Georgia, who has only looked remotely human against Kent State of all teams this season and could easily be on their way to a repeat National Championship, Oregon’s offense has looked crisp, productive, and entertaining in a way it never really was under Cristobal.
The Ducks are averaging 51.6 points per contest over their last three games, hanging 70 on Eastern Washington and dropping 41 and 44 on BYU and Washington State, both of whom have solid defenses, especially Wazzu.
Against the (crimson) Cougars, Oregon trailed by double digits with less than five minutes left. They then scored 21 unanswered points, 7 of which came from a pick six, but the other fourteen were compliments of a fast and explosive offense, captained by former Dillingham protege Bo Nix, who since the Georgia game has looked like just what Oregon needed at the position.
Perhaps what is the most impressive, however, is the balance with which Oregon is tallying these point totals.
Against Eastern Washington, Oregon passed for 341 yards and ran for 263. Against BYU they passed for 227 yards and ran for 212. Even in the Washington State game, which was pass-happy with 446 yards through the air, the Ducks still compiled 178 yards on the ground against one of the best run defenses in the conference. Mind you, this is being done with an almost completely inexperienced group of running backs.
Stanford visits Autzen Stadium this weekend, and the Cardinal will try to slow the game down, like they always do. But if Dillingham’s offense picks them apart and hangs another 40+ on the scoreboard, especially if it is as balanced between running and passing as it has been, Oregon could start looking like one of the most dangerous teams in the conference, and a clear-cut favorite in the North Division.
Chip had Oregon’s offense running like a Ferrari, but Cristobal preferred more of a Hummer approach.
Under Dillingham so far, at least, it looks like the Ducks are back behind the wheel of a speedster again.