A lot has taken place in the opening weeks of the Ducks football season. We’ve seen some dominating victories, a couple of big injuries, and most importantly, a great deal of potential from the 2012 team as a whole.
The offensive stars have shined bright in the preseason, and look as poised as ever as conference play starts up this weekend. De’Anthony Thomas is gaining Heisman attention, Kenjon Barner is showing he has what it takes to be the feature back at Oregon, and Marcus Mario-TAH is gaining more confidence with every completed pass. And with the exception of Fresno State, these guys are usually done by halftime.
In three games this season, the Oregon offense has totaled a whopping 987 yards of rushing on 160 carries, ranking 4th in the nation. Remove the workload from Barner, Thomas, and Mariota, who primarily have only played in the first half of games thus far, and much of the offensive output still remains. When the reserves take over, the player who has racked up the most touches is Byron Marshall, the talented and versatile third string true freshman running back.
Few schools other than Oregon use their third string running back much, let alone for a respectable 37 carries, 189 yards, and two touchdowns in only three games, garnering playing time in only two. But this true freshman has accepted his role for the time being and become a very dependable Duck in a short time.
Would you believe that Byron Marshall has seen more touches than De’Anthony Thomas this season? Fans may not realize this, since most exit Autzen or turn their attention elsewhere by the start of the 3rd quarter, but it is happening, another solid running back coming into his own as he starts his career.
So who exactly is Byron Marshall? And what are we, the fan, supposed to take and learn from what he has shown on the field in his first college football games?
Marshall played high school football in San Jose, California for Valley Christian High School, where he earned all of his national recognition and accolades, including the Old Spice Red Zone Player of the Year as a Sophomore in 2009.
As a senior, he ran for 914 yards with nine touchdowns, and also piled up 186 receiving yards and a touchdown, all done while battling a nagging shoulder injury.
His on-the-field performances earned him a spot on the 2011 U.S. Army All-American Bowl West roster. Marshall had already chosen the Ducks by that time, and was considered one of the top 10 backs from the 2011 recruiting class.
Byron’s strengths, according to the scouts, are his speed, acceleration, and change of direction. By that measure he certainly fits the UO criteria for a running back. In high school he was known for “breaking the ankles” of defenders with his quick cuts and jukes. In fact, he even placed 3rd in the National Indoor Track Championships, where he ran both the 60m and the 100m.
Naturally, as a speed back, Marshall did have some minor issues with his power and toughness as a runner. But hopefully those extra ten pounds he put on since high school will provide him with more durability after taking about 30 hits a game.
Simply saying Marshall has fit in well with the Ducks is an understatement. He has managed to learn Oregon’s complex offense and perform at a high level whenever called upon, with barely a month of fall camp and only two games of experience under his belt.
Some may call it garbage time, some credit his performance is due to the low quality opponents thus far he has faced, but nobody should write off this crucial game experience just because the Ducks had a big lead. We will see his playing time shrink somewhat, barring injuries, as the schedule becomes tougher, but having a dependable and skilled running back at third string with good game experience should provide Duck fans with some excitement and reassurance that the season isn’t over if either Barner or De’Anthony go down. But still…cross your fingers.
For comparison purposes, consider LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, both recruits in the 2008 recruiting class. After redshirting their freshman year, both were thrust into the lineup in the wake of LeGarrette Blount’s suspension following the first game of the season of 2009. The offense struggled in the first few games as both James and Barner adjusted to game speed. Once acclimated (around the time of the 2009 Cal game), there was no stopping them thereafter.
Now LaMichael James is with the 49ers, having left the school as the greatest Ducks running back statistically ever, and the first Doak Walker Award winner in school history (awarded annually to the top running back in the nation). Barner meanwhile, with a strong year in 2012, could ascend to #2 on Oregon’s all-time rushing list. Not bad for a duo called upon early in their careers to produce.
The difference between Barner and James vs. Marshall is that when LaMichael and Kenjon arrived both of them had a year to acclimate, learn the playbook, practice with the team, and grow comfortable with college life.
Marshall meanwhile has been in Eugene for barely two months, a true freshman fresh out of high school, just this week attending his first college classes. His development from the first game to his most recent performance show a drastic leap forward in his development as a player, well ahead of where James and Barner were when they were first thrust into the lineup, putting Marshall squarely ahead of both of his predecessors in development.
Last weekend versus Tennessee Tech, Marshall racked up his first 100 yard game in his career, in just the third quarter alone. Hesitant in his first game experience on opening day, vs. Tennessee Tech he shot through the holes with confidence showing a complete grasp of the offensive scheme and ability to be a big-time playmaker in the offense–this in only his third game as a Duck.
By the way, it also took LaMichael James until his third game (Utah 2009) before he cracked 100 yards. Barner didn’t break the 100 yard mark until his 200+ yard, 5 TD performance on opening day vs. New Mexico…his sophomore year.
With Byron Marshall, it’s not really a question of if he can become the guy; it’s when.