Wrinkles coming for a more reliable running game at Oregon

Bri Amaranthus
NBC Sports Northwest

Wrinkles coming for a more reliable running game at Oregon originally appeared on nbcsportsnorthwest.com

Eugene is buzzing with hooting and hollering Ducks anxious for the 2019 football season. Coach Mario Cristobal walked out of Oregon's first spring football practice with a smile you could see across the snow spotted Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.

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"You missed a heck of a time in there," Cristobal said as he walked up to the media scrum. "It got pretty competitive… It was good to see that kind of juice, energy and crossover enthusiasm. Guys from the defense would go to the offensive guys and say ‘that was a tremendous play but I'm coming after you next play.'"

Entering into his second full season as head coach, Cristobal knows that Oregon's running game must improve and plans to start making changes this spring.

Last season, the Ducks inability to run the ball was apparent. Oregon rushed for only 37 yards on 1.4 per carry in the Red Box Bowl versus Michigan State.  Granted, MSU had the top rushing defense in the nation, but the Spartans were allowing 76 per game, not 37.

Oregon struggled on the ground in its transition to a physical, between-the-tackles style, finishing the season with the 191 rushing yards per game, the least amount for this program since 2006.

The good news? The Ducks return the entire starting offensive line and both leading rushers in CJ Verdell and Travis Dye.

The better news? Cristobal has a rushing attack plan that will be implemented this spring. His plan begins with strengthening blocking schemes and fundamentals and putting an emphasis on the tight ends. Cristobal is also adding new concepts to the run game this spring: the shotgun, pistol and under center, which he believes will "add a wrinkle" to the offense.

Cristobal will be executing his hard-pounding vision with a weapon in his back pocket, or rather, up front; The Ducks boast one of the most veteran offensive lines in the country, entering 2019 with 153 career starts.

Which is a dream come true for the former Miami Hurricanes offensive lineman and Alabama line coach.

"You spend sometimes an entire career trying to get to this moment where you have a group of guys that have played so many snaps together they know what each other are thinking," Cristobal said.

Cristobal explained that he believes if seniors Shane Lemiuex and Jake Hanson were on opposite sides of the complex, they could telepathically tell what the other one wanted for lunch. They've spent so much time together that they could tell by the way the other is walking if they were going to get an omelet or not.

Whether it's reading minds or reading a defense, Oregon's success in 2019 is undoubtedly linked to its desperate need of a reliable run game.

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