The last three wins for Oregon football have all been huge in their different ways, but they are linked by a common theme: none of them have caused head coach Mario Cristobal and his squad to get ahead of themselves.
“We’re going to continue to work on development and the enhancement of the roster,” Cristobal said. “We still feel our best football is ahead of us.”
That is the mentality that Cristobal has had all season. It didn’t change after a comeback win against Washington, it didn’t change after a game-winning field goal against Washington State, and it’s certainly not going to change after a 56-24 blowout win over USC.
The first College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, and the Ducks have the No. 7 spot with four weeks left in the regular season. Oregon has a bye week before the Arizona Wildcats come to Autzen, but Cristobal doesn’t think his team will be distracted by a big week for the rest of college football.
“It plays zero role and has no effect on the way we prepare,” Cristobal said. “Our entire focus is on us. If we ever get off of that mindset, then were just not real good. Everything will take care of itself.”
The second bye week of the season comes at the right time for Oregon, as several bumps and bruises from previous weeks have kept key dynamics out of the Ducks’ offense.
Offensive lineman Dallas Warmack was on the sidelines in Los Angeles due to a strained hip-flexor, which he suffered during the game-winning field goal in the Washington State game. Cristobal took precautionary measures with his senior guard, and Warmack’s health has significantly improved this week.
CJ Verdell is battling a mild groin strain that limited him to six carries on Saturday, but is still practicing and Cristobal fully expects him to be ready to play against Arizona. Verdell has been fighting injuries for several weeks, and although they are minor, they are certainly affecting Verdell’s involvement in the Ducks’ offense. His limited use wasn’t extremely detrimental to the offense against USC, with Travis Dye and Darrian Felix pulling their weight on the ground, but this bye week is crucial for Verdell to make sure he’s at 100% next week.
Verdell’s fellow running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio took a hit against Washington State that led to a swollen quad in practice late last week, resulting in only one carry for the sophomore on Saturday. Cristobal said Habibi-Likio is back to full strength, and the head coach is confident that Warmack, Verdell, and Habibi-Likio will all be playing against Arizona.
Oregon’s practice regimen has not only been key to the success of the team, but the key to the rise of the players that have stepped up to fill vital roles during Oregon’s Pac-12 run. The secondary was able to bounce back from a shaky game against Washington State to get three interceptions at the Coliseum. Players such as wide receiver Juwan Johnson, who had a monster three-touchdown game against USC, and Brady Breeze, who had 7 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown, are benefiting from increased play in practice.
“We have a lot of guys that can help us win football games,” Cristobal said. “Practice is regimented, synchronized, and choreographed so that all these guys are getting significant reps, and the right kind of reps.”
The Ducks are getting a bye week at the right time when it comes to injuries, but they can’t lose their focus during the long break. With the continued development of role players and Herbert’s ability to spread the ball around, we might see a different star each week for the Ducks. While it might not be clear who will break out next, it’s certain that the team’s mindset will remain the same.