About a year ago, there was a lot of conjecture about the Oregon Ducks’ offense. Fans were coming off of yet another year of the Mario Cristobal experience, and a season that featured a trio of mediocre play from QB Anthony Brown, a mundane scheme that leaned heavily on a running game, and a largely absent display of down-field passing had left a large part of the Oregon faithful frustrated and fatigued.
Chatter about the new system that offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham was bringing to Eugene had started to pick up. Comparisons to the Chip Kelly offense of old had been thrown about, with rumors of passes that traveled further than 20 yards downfield creeping out of the depths of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. Could it really be true?
While it was intriguing, it was also still only a theory. It wasn’t until the Oregon Spring Game that fans got to finally see what the new era of Duck football looked like; an era that featured a balanced rushing attack mixed with an aggressive passing attack that wasn’t afraid to stretch the field vertically.
Notable quotes from Oregon offensive coordinator Will Stein after Saturday practice
The 2022 season was a fun one for Duck fans, offensively speaking, at least. However, it resulted in Dillingham leaving after one season to take over as the head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils.
So, what’s next for the Ducks?
Lanning answered that question quickly by hiring Will Stein, an up-and-coming offensive coordinator who one person inside the Oregon program described to me as “a rising star” in the college landscape. Stein has the track record of success necessary to be appealing, and so far in Eugene, he has delivered some early wins, helping convince QB Bo Nix to return for another year not long before flipping 4-star QB Austin Novosad from Baylor to Oregon on signing day.
That doesn’t mean that fans know exactly what they’ll be getting on the field, though.
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On Saturday afternoon, we got our first opportunity as media members to hear from Stein, and ask about his plans for the Ducks’ offense. For Oregon fans hoping that another year of aggressive passing and wide receiver breakouts are in order, you’re in luck.
“You know, the 2022 Oregon offense is very similar to the style of offense that I’m accustomed to,” Stein said. “Coming in here meeting with Bo, you know, really feeling out what he likes in the past, I’m getting really good at what he’s comfortable with. And then making sure he knows what I’m comfortable with. Blending it together with ultimately Coach Lanning’s philosophy of running the football, being physically tough, playing clean, dictating simple, and blending it all together.”
In the past, Stein has talked about his love for a physical rushing attack that wears a defense down over the course of a game. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t willing to air it out to keep the defense true to form often as well.
“Really, based out of a pro-style offense but with spread principles, RPOs, run-action pass, play-action pass. I like to think that we’re multiple in our personnel groupings and our formations,” Stein said. “We want to be an attacking offense that throws the ball down the field.”
There it is. Music to an Oregon fan’s ears.
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While many fans and coaches often get bogged down in schematics and personnel groups, a refreshing note that came from Stein on Saturday was the fact that, above everything else, he believes that good football takes place when you get the ball in your playmakers’ hands, and let them do what they do best. A well-drawn play can fool a defense, but sometimes the best medicine for offensive success is putting a dynamic player in open space, and letting him go to work.
“Offensively, our job is to get our best players the ball as many times as possible,” Stein said. “Plays are highly overrated. It’s about the players here at Oregon.”
It feels like football in its simplest form. Under Will Stein, the Ducks are going to run the ball a lot, leaning on Bucky Irving, Noah Whittington, and a deep stable of running backs to keep the chains moving and bring physicality to the game. When a defense adjusts and loads the box, Stein won’t be shy about drawing up some deep shots down the field, letting Nix air it out to guys like Troy Franklin, Traeshon Holden, and other WRs on the roster. You’ll also see guys like Tez Johnson schemed into open space, while Terrence Ferguson takes advantage of mismatches over the middle.
Notable quotes from Oregon QB Bo Nix after Ducks’ fifth spring practice
“Don’t try to outthink ourselves and put our players in a really good position.”
We won’t get a chance to see Stein’s offense in action until April 29th at the spring game, and even then it’s hard to imagine that the Ducks are going to reveal much more than the most basic pages of their playbook.
Based on what we’re hearing, though, and the tendencies that Stein has displayed in his past, the 2023 season will be another one full of highlights and high scores in Eugene.