Oregon’s offense must evolve if it wants to move forward in 2019

Justin Herbert returns for his senior season — but to take advantage of his skills, the offense must evolve as a whole

Before I start, let me say that I’m a fan of Marcus Arroyo.

I think he’s a very talented recruiter and has shown, at certain points, some major moxie and stones as Oregon’s offensive coordinator and play-caller. He’s not afraid to challenge the Ducks with an offensive scheme that if executed properly, can lead to big wins.

But Oregon’s offense at the Redbox Bowl on New Year’s Eve was inept and listless, despite the 7-6 victory over Michigan State. It was anemic, lifeless and lacked energy and execution — resulting in season-lows in points (7), total yards (203) and first downs (11) while punting the ball a season-high 11 times.

Putting that into perspective, the Ducks entered the game averaging 37.2 points, 445.9 yards and 4.8 punts per game.

Yes, the Spartans have a stellar defense, one of the best overall in the country to complement their No. 1 rush defense. But Oregon’s struggles were more than just Michigan State’s doing — primarily due to the inadequacy of its offense.

Arroyo deserves the blame — but not all of it. It’s not his fault that Oregon dropped eight passes in the game, passes that hit receivers in the hands. It’s not his fault that the offensive line struggled to create push at the line of scrimmage, resulting in a season-low 37 rushing yards.

There’s only so much Arroyo can do with a headset on, and none of it involves throwing, catching or running with a football.

But that doesn’t let him off the hook entirely.

What the Ducks struggled with on Monday are issues that plagued them all season long, and it was Arroyo who failed to adapt. He stubbornly refused to change amidst the pressure, instead sticking with Oregon’s vanilla playbook regardless of the mixed results.

Because it was his first year as Oregon’s play-caller, I’m choosing to give him a pass. But there is no longer room for error because the Ducks’ window at a return to national prominence isn’t as open as some think it is.

The Ducks will find out how far they’ve come offensively in the first game of the 2019 season. They travel to Dallas, Texas to face SEC-stalwart Auburn at AT&T Stadium in front of a national audience.

The Tigers will enter the game with a questionable offense but a defense that knows how to win — just like the Spartans. The same mistakes that were made on New Year’s Eve can’t be repeated eight months later if Oregon wants to secure its first meaningful nonconference win since 2014.

Justin Herbert, a once-in-a-generation talent, has bypassed the NFL for one final chance at Oregon immortality, electing to return for his senior season. That means that he, Arroyo and the 9 to 10 other returning offensive starters have one season to evaluate, adjust and evolve.

"As our personnel continues to develop and as we acquire certain personnel as well, I think you'll see us evolve more," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. "Especially when you have a quarterback like Justin and some the weapons we have coming back and some of the guys coming in."

Cristobal understand and sees this. His postgame comments were very pointed alluding to a potential change coming. Whether that involves a new offensive coordinator, play-caller or scheme, nobody knows — but change is coming.

"I go back to 2014 and a place where we lose to Ohio State in a playoff game and two days later you are on a plane to go visit the University of Houston and sit down with Tom Herman and talk about tempo, 11 personnel, the RPO world," Cristobal said about his time at Alabama when the Crimson Tide learned from their Sugar Bowl loss to the Buckeyes. “There are certainly some things we need to explore.”