The names of the top Oregon offensive players since 2010 are easy for even casual Ducks fans to rattle off: James, Barner, Mariota, De’Anthony, Darron Thomas, Maehl, Tuinei, Paulson, Lyerla. Others can certainly be put on that list, but those nine are probably the most recognizable.
Receiver Josh Huff doesn’t get quite as much hype as those guys, and while that is certainly understandable (his pre-season numbers have never jumped off the stat sheet), he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as fellow receivers Jeff Maehl and Lavasier Tuinei. In fact, Huff has accomplished something none of those aforementioned nine players have: he’s played every season since 2010.
That isn’t meant to suggest that Huff has been more important than those other players. Even the most productive receivers in the Oregon offense take a back seat to the quarterbacks and running backs. It’s meant to illustrate just how much experience Huff has gained since the year when the Ducks went to the National Title Game.
Huff is one of the few current players who was a part of that historic 2010 team, and he was the only true freshman that year to play a significant role. Think about that for a second. Huff has not just been a part of these past three Oregon juggernauts (35-4 combined record), he’s been a major part.
That said, Huff has never garnered national attention like LaMichael James or De’Anthony Thomas. He’s always been a suppressed handgun in an arsenal full of AK47s. But even though he’s not as flashy as those other Oregon weapons, he’s equally capable of destroying his opponents with hardly anyone noticing.
Remember the Oregon-Stanford game on October 2, 2010? I’d sure hope so, as that was one of the Ducks’ biggest victories this decade. We all recall the early 21-3 deficit and the comeback that happened so fast, fans didn’t even have time to feel disappointed about the first quarter struggles. James rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Darron Thomas had the game of his life (238 passing yards, 117 rushing yards, 4 total TDs). Those two, along with Cliff Harris, were undoubtedly the most significant players that fall night.
Huff had a decent game (5 catches, 64 yards, 1 TD), but it was when he contributed that stood out the most. To the YouTubes!
Oregon very well could have scored a touchdown on this drive if this play didn’t happen. But say the Ducks’ offense stalls. Maybe they kick a field goal. Maybe they punt. Maybe Stanford builds their lead back up to 18 and is able to hold off the Ducks in the second half. We’ll never know. There’s a very real chance Oregon wins without Huff’s catch, but it also might’ve been one of the biggest plays of the game. Getting the score back to within four made sure the Ducks were not going to let the game slip away.
Huff delivered a similarly huge play later in the year on November 26 against 20th-ranked Arizona:
The Ducks never surrendered the lead after that. Momentum can be a bit overrated, but there’s no questioning how much of a game-changer Huff’s 85-yard run was. One week after nearly losing to Cal, Oregon looked like it was in for another tight battle. Their title game hopes were on the line. Huff’s run erased any doubts that Oregon’s high-speed, nearly unstoppable offense was in a slump. For the first time in six quarters, the Ducks looked like themselves.
Huff, by the way, finished with the most all-purpose yards that game. In all of 2010, only James had more all-purpose yards for Oregon. Huff – a true freshman that year, don’t forget – was one of the most productive players for the best offense in college football.
The following season, Huff wasn’t as involved in the running or return games (De’Anthony Thomas might’ve had something to do with that; just a theory), and still didn’t light the grass on fire as a receiver. He became less of a utilized weapon in Oregon’s ever-increasing arsenal, but he wasn’t an afterthought.
He burned Stanford again, which is something that will always endear a player to Ducks fans:
The Ducks only led by 6 before that TD. They never looked back after it.
That’s all Oregon really needed Huff to do the past few seasons. He didn’t have to catch 80 passes a year or gain 1,000 yards. As long he could make a big play like that every now and then, he would not only be adding yardage and points for his team, he’d be forcing defenders to take him seriously, opening up more space for his teammates.
This past season, Huff led Oregon in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Again, his numbers weren’t gaudy, but he served his role perfectly. He also had another game in which he made vital plays, only to be overshadowed by his teammates.
Against USC on November 3, Huff caught six passes for 125 yards and 2 TDs. Here’s his first TD (note the score):
His second touchdown (look at the score again):
These two plays and the previous ones show just how much confidence Huff’s QBs have in him in the most important moments of the game. Being Mr. Reliable might not generate a ton of hype, but it can make that player an incredibly valuable piece.
Hopefully, Huff will get more looks this coming season. While he’s played a vital role these past three years, it would be so much better to see him become an All-American-caliber player in his final year. He’s certainly talented enough to do so, and he should get opportunities since he’s the top wideout in an offense without a definitive every-down back.
With all of the success Huff’s had since 2010, a stellar individual season in 2013 would truly make him one of the finest – and quietest – success stories Oregon has seen in a long time.
Feature image courtesy of Kevin Cline
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