Cristobal’s crackdown on penalties paying off for Oregon football

The Autzen Stadium crowd groaned a lot in 2017.

Not for interceptions. Not because of opposing touchdowns. And no, not because “Shout” was cut off early. It was the sight of another penalty flag against the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon finished the year with 122 penalties, averaging 9.38 per game — the most in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. But when the 2018 fall camp rolled around, new head coach Mario Cristobal brought more referees to practice in an effort to cut down on penalties against the Ducks, and it’s helping.

“There were points in fall camp where we had 20 penalties at practice,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “We just had to really improve on those and get better, and I think we did a good job today, but it’s just the first game so we’ve got to keep carrying on that same mentality throughout the rest of the season.”

In Oregon’s 58-24 season-opening win over Bowling Green, the Ducks were penalized just three times, and only once in the entire first half. An offside called against the defense in the first quarter, an offensive pass interference and kick-catching interference in the fourth were the only times the referees tossed a yellow flag against Oregon onto the Autzen turf.

“We could have walked out of the stadium with one penalty tonight,” Cristobal said after the game. “We were right on the cusp of it, which would have been good.”

Cristobal was pleased to see improvement in Oregon’s decision making, leading to the lack of penalties. He still isn’t happy to see any flags called against his team.

Instead of simply showing frustration with his players over the errors, he wants the team to learn from them.

“I can’t with a straight face go into the locker room and say great job on the three penalties,” he said. “But I can tell them of course there’s progress and these are the areas we need to fix, and we’ll get right back to work on it and address them.”

Cristobal, an offensive-oriented coach, has a mathematical formula to determine if Oregon’s penalty rate on offense is favorable.

“Offensively, if we have one penalty every 31 plays, you will have a successful night,” Cristobal explained. “Right before that running into the returner, we were on course for that. We’re pleased with progress.”

With the defense staying composed and level-headed throughout the game — its only penalty coming in the first quarter — Oregon’s offense got the chance to pepper the Bowling Green defense frequently.

Putting Oregon’s offense back out against a tired defense created gaps in the Bowling Green defense, and Oregon ran away with the game.

“That’s been a huge improvement from what we’ve been doing over the past couple years,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “It’s great to see and hopefully we’ll do even better next game.”

Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, acrobatics and tumbling, track and field/cross-country and softball. He also hosts several podcasts, including a soccer podcast, on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.