Chip Kelly took the Oregon Ducks to four straight BCS bowl games, including a BCS National Championship game, on the strength of one of college football’s most prolific running games. With Kelly now gone to the NFL, Mark Helfrich takes over the head coaching duties in Eugune. Does he have plans to change the winning formula?
The former offensive coordinator has talked about being open to passing the ball more often than Oregon has in the past. Last season, the Ducks passed the ball just 28.7 times per game, second fewest in the Pac 12 only to the Stanford Cardinal. The wheels may already be in motion, however, to change that trend in 2013.
Last week, Helfrich added former Duke Blue Devils‘ wide receiver coach Matt Lubick to his staff for the same position in Eugene. Duke was the only FBS team in 2012 who had three different receivers with 60 catches or more. He has experience in a wide-open passing offense and could bring that knowledge and expertise to a talented wide receiving corps that has been under-utilized during the Chip Kelly era.
The Ducks’ roster lends itself to a more pass-oriented attack as well. The team has a go-to receiver in senior Josh Huff, who can run all the routes and make the difficult catches anywhere on the field. They also have a versatile playmaker in De’Anthony Thomas who has shown an ability to line up at wide receiver and running back and make explosive plays.
The biggest reason to change, however, might be at quarterback. Marcus Mariota was one of the most efficient passers in the country in 2012, but he lacked the opportunities to rack up significant stats, though he still threw 32 touchdown passes. Given a more pass-oriented attack, and the option to play in some second halves, Mariota showed the ability to make a serious push for the Heisman Trophy.
It can be argued that you shouldn’t mess with what has worked. However, Helfrich has to put his own identity on this program, and that could mean adding the passing element to the already potent offensive attack of the Ducks. Will it disrupt what they’ve got going in Eugene or take the Ducks to new heights of explosiveness?