Fair or not, Oregon’s stagnant offense leads to more questions about Anthony Brown

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It was always going to be an uphill battle for sixth-year senior quarterback Anthony Brown Jr.

With a decent portion of the Oregon fanbase calling for true freshman Ty Thompson to be the guy under center before the first game even kicked off, it was going to take a near-perfect performance from No. 13 to win over the crowd and give confidence that he was the guy to lead the Ducks in what has the foundation of a highly successful season.

That’s definitely not what happened on Saturday against Fresno State.

Brown led 12 offensive drives in the season-opener — 14 if you’re counting, but two of those came in wind-down-the-clock scenarios before the half and end of the game. Seven of those drives resulted in either a punt or a turnover on downs; one of those drives ended in a field goal after starting on the edge of the red zone; just four of those drives resulted in touchdowns, two of which started inside the Fresno 30, and the Fresno 5, respectively.

That’s a lot of numbers to parse through, so let me just tell you what they all add up to — an inefficient Oregon offense that left a lot to be desired from a fanbase that has been starved of vintage and braggadocious Ducks football for quite some time.

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Blaming the offensive stagnation on Brown alone is completely unfair. He can not be held accountable for an offensive line that was rotating players in and out until deep into the fourth quarter, looking to find the right match to try and contain Fresno’s front-four. He also isn’t responsible for a group of receivers that struggled to gain separation over the Bulldog’s secondary, rarely getting open downfield. There’s also the topic of playcalling, which once again left fans crying for aggressive deep shots downfield, rather than a series of 3-4 yard gains on inside zone read and endless short passes to the boundary.

None of that is AB’s fault, but as the leader of the offense, he is the man who is going to be asked to answer for the shortcomings. After the game, he was ultimately displeased.

“As a whole, I would say that it wasn’t clean enough,” Brown said. “It was obvious from everybody’s outside perspective. Even from us, we just know that we didn’t play clean enough. We’ve just got to get back on the film, fix what we have to fix, and get ready for next week.”

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There are absolutely things that can be fixed, and it’s not a huge surprise that the Ducks were a bit rusty in their first game of the season. However, even with perfect play, you have to wonder if the Oregon style of offense is fit to provide enough points needed to beat a team like Ohio State. With a ground-and-pound running game in between the tackles and guards that is a better fit for an SEC-sized running back, the Ducks are asking CJ Verdell and Travis Dye to shoulder the load, both of whom stand under 5-foot-10, and 210 pounds. The bread-and-butter under Chip Kelly was bouncing it outside and allowing speed to carry you, but the Ducks have seemingly gone away from that under Mario Cristobal. I’m not saying that this style can’t work, but at some point, you can’t blame poor performance on execution any longer.

“It’s hard to put your finger on it because the energy was really good, the preparation was really good,” Cristobal said after the game. “We thought our physicality in pregame was well also. There’s enough in the execution where there are some big plays to be had, and we didn’t make them happen at times. Other times we did. So I don’t think it’s a matter of scheme or effort or want to, we’ve got to keep grinding at executing and the details that go with executing at a high level.”

It will not come as any sort of a shock to see Oregon’s offense improve drastically in the coming weeks. With a likely vanilla scheme in the opener to avoid showing their cards, coated in a layer of rust from the offseason, it’s too much to ask of them to be perfect. They weren’t the Ducks of old on Saturday, but they did enough to get the job done in the end.

Unfortunately, in our reactionary society that is quick to have an outlandish opinion on anything that strays outside of the expectation, calls for the quarterback’s job rain down at the first sign of trouble. That was extremely apparent on Saturday, with a chorus of fans on Twitter sending out a cry for Ty Thompson midway through the second quarter when Oregon punted for the third time of the day, only to recant the second Brown had a positive play. I present to you Exhibit A:

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Getting mad at fans for this is a worthless venture; that’s simply what fanatics do. With an easy outlet to express their thoughts in the moment, social media has given a voice to the people who aren’t paid to play the game, allowing them to publicly criticize those who are qualified.

This is an unfortunate situation for Anthony Brown, who has the misfortune of being Oregon’s current quarterback when the future is waiting in the wing. He follows in the footsteps of Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert, two Oregon legends who will headline Duck history lessons for decades to come. That means that any time the offense struggles, he will be to blame.

Will that result in him losing his job at some point this season? It’s not something that we can rule out. But we saw on Saturday that even in moments when he is performing well enough to win, and doing his job, it’s likely not going to be enough to satisfy a passionate fanbase who is desperate to reach the level of quarterback play that reached high heights just years ago.

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