The 2018 Oregon Spring Game ushers in a new era of Oregon Ducks football under new head coach Mario Cristobal.
Gone is Willie Taggart and the demons of a 7-6 campaign that ended with a loss in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Nobody said it would be easy—Cristobal faces a major challenge out of the gates because of depth issues on his roster, altering what fans have come to know as the spring game in the first place.
While Oregon's game isn't the biggest one taking place Saturday, it could be the most important. The Ducks will implement a new offense and attempt to get back on track by impressing major recruits and fans alike.
2018 Oregon Spring Game
When: Saturday at 5 p.m. ET
Where: Autzen Stadium
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stream: Pac-12.com
Cristobal hasn't shied away from the fact this isn't going to look like a normal Oregon spring game thanks to a smattering of injuries and departures.
"It will more than likely be offense versus defense with a point system," Cristobal said, according to Tyson Alger of OregonLive.com. "Obviously we'll be in uniform, so it will be very much game-like. We just want to make sure the game flows, and we give the guys an opportunity to make plays by being organized and detailed and put in the right position."
A point system and a defense playing vanilla looks as opposed to the draft formats of old should give Cristobal and his staff a better look at the pistol offense they have been implementing this offseason.
The idea is to do something unique and to get quarterback Justin Herbert in favorable positions. He only threw for 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns against five interceptions a year ago while completing 67.5 percent of his passes in the run-heavy offense. The new scheme should help the attack as a whole balance out compared to last year's 311-628 pass-rushes ratio.
With favorable mobility and a penchant for taking care of the football (just nine interceptions over two seasons), Herbert matches the new look well, and the coaching staff wants to keep challenging him this spring.
"He's an excellent football player that wants to get better," Cristobal said, according to Alger. "And he has to get better. For us to sit back and tell him, 'Hey, you're doing great. You're good,' is the biggest injustice we could do for Justin Herbert. We have to find ways to challenge him and make him better. We [have] got to put him in difficult situations because teams are going to do that."
The offense returns plenty of brimming potential at wideout with guys like Dillon Mitchell and Johnny Johnson III. It's a similar story at running back, where losing a name like Royce Freeman hurts, but Tony Brooks-James and others are there to pick up the slack.
One look at the defensive chart speaks to the talent the Ducks have returning on that side of the football:
Small items like who nails down the cornerback job next to Thomas Graham still need sorted out, but the offseason process will help. The strength of the unit will remain up front, where Jalen Jelks and Troy Dye will look to wreak havoc again will padding possible NFL resumes.
But that's a footnote of what's staying the same as the Ducks head into Saturday, when the spring game will have a different feel for more than a few reasons.
With the only way to go being up, Cristobal looks to showcase a new beginning for a program in need of a boost.