Second-year coordinator shoulders blame for last season's shortcomings
EUGENE Both of his prize students have the same opinion of Oregon offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
'He's a little shy,' Kellen Clemens says. 'Once you get to know him, he's a great guy. At the same time, I've been playing for him for a year now and I don't know too much. I'm not kidding.'
Says Jason Fife: 'He's a hard guy to read.'
The two quarterbacks, their Duck teammates and coach Mike Bellotti are hoping Ludwig's offense turns out to be just as tough to read.
Ludwig, a sharp look in his eyes, vows, 'I'm confident that in my second year in the program that we're going to be better.'
Last season it wasn't hard for opponents to figure out Oregon's offense, once the envy of many West Coast schools. The Ducks' offensive output 373 yards per game was their poorest since 1994.
The offense became predictable and inconsistent and lacked explosiveness. The Ducks scored most of their points against bad teams. They scored three second-half touchdowns in the last six games and averaged 19 points in the last four three painful defeats to their Northwest rivals and an embarrassing loss to Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl.
As Ludwig spent countless offseason hours breaking down the games, the 39-year-old coordinator still trying to make a favorable impression could only look inward.
'He probably took it harder than anybody,' Fife says. 'He put a lot of the blame on himself. He knew he had a lot of weapons and we were taking the blame, but he said to himself, 'No, I'm the coach, I'm where it starts. In any situation, I need to make sure we can push the ball down the field.' '
Ludwig already has added key passing plays to complement the rest of the playbook plays that he has experience orchestrating and that complement the strengths of Clemens and Fife.
Ludwig says the plays do not necessarily include shotgun formations, which he used extensively with quarterback David Carr at Fresno State. He simply says the plays will help improve the passing game, his No. 1 priority.
He virtually guarantees better productivity. On the second-half adjustments, Ludwig says: 'It comes down to execution. We've investigated it, dissected it, we have plans. Now it's the time to shut up and hit somebody and score some points.'
Whenever Bellotti names the starting quarterback, Ludwig will have ample say in the decision.
'It's a simple deal for each one of them,' Ludwig says. 'Jason Fife must have repetitive accuracy make throws you've got to make every time. Kellen Clemens needs to pull the trigger be decisive in the pocket, because sometimes he gets caught up wishing and hoping rather than making a decision and going with it.'
Clemens agrees with Ludwig's assessment.
'I'm a little hesitant,' he says. ' É having confidence in my reads and what I see, recognizing 'That's it, that's what I'm going to do with the ball,' and boom, throwing it. Now, it's uh É not totally sure.'
Fife seemed somewhat perplexed that both Bellotti and Ludwig said he needed work on his accuracy.
'It's fine, but a lot of it was confidence,' he says. 'My accuracy wasn't bad, my stats were pretty good on that. They started to wane at the end of the season, but everybody's (stats) dropped off. Game situations, I'm all right.'
Fife completed 53 percent of his passes for 24 TDs and 10 interceptions last year.
Ludwig points to ground game 'efficiency,' the ability to score points in the red zone and 32 points per game as positives last year.
This season, he has the benefit of an experienced offensive line, two good quarterbacks, four competitive tailbacks fighting for playing time, receiver Samie Parker set for 'a dominating' senior season and a physical tight end, Tim Day, with good hands.
The Ducks have the tools, Ludwig says. Bellotti insists he won't step in and call plays or alter game-planning if they struggle, saying that he only 'makes suggestions' and 'I'm the resident expert on the concept' of the West Coast offense.
It is Ludwig's offense to run, because he does the homework, Bellotti says. 'I have all the faith and confidence in Andy Ludwig,' he says. 'We will be better.'
Meanwhile, Ludwig says criticism from fans over Oregon's relatively poor offensive performance last year does not bother him.
'I want to coach where people care they cheer loud, and if you're not winning, they will criticize,' Ludwig says.
'You take a job like this because you've shown an ability to coach and design schemes to score points,' he adds. 'That's my job, and I intend on getting that job done. People say there's pressure with coaching, but if you put enough pressure on yourself to succeed, any outside influences are not going to faze you.'