Mike Bellotti raised a lot of eyebrows in 2007 with the relatively uninspiring, no-name hire of someone named Chip Kelly out of Division IAA New Hampshire. Result: Oregon has been among the nation’s leaders in rushing since.
During that span, perfecting the zone read has not only turned quarterbacks into de facto running backs, but it has made talented running backs even more lethal, as defenses scrambled desperately to find the ball in a gridiron shell game the likes of which college football had never before seen. Thanks, Chip!
In the fall, two talented running backs who combined for 1,749 yards and 23 touchdowns return to the Duck 2-deep along with all five starters in the offensive line. So, yes, the Ducks’ spread option ground assault figures to be among college football’s most dominate once again.
But in Marcus Mariota, Oregon has one of the game’s most accurate passers, too, which is why for the first time since 1 B.C. (Before Chip), Oregon’s offense accumulated more yardage through the air (3,789) than on the ground (3,556). Don’t expect that kind of balance to drop off at all in 2014 — the loss of top wideout Bralon Addison to injury, notwithstanding. Expect Heisman hopeful Mariota to hook up with a number of talented Oregon receivers in 2014. Check it out —
Keanon the blocking demon —
Oregon’s run game is predicated on the O-Line opening holes to spring the ball carrier and wide receivers blocking downfield to sustain long runs. No one has proven more adept at the latter than veteran starter Keanon Lowe.
But as the Ducks’ most experienced returning receiver, he will likely be counted upon to tally more than the 18 receptions of a year ago. Now in his third season working with Super Mariota, it would not be surprising to watch him become one of No. 8’s favorite targets.
The only Stanford I like —
After appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2012, Dwayne Stanford suffered the supreme sophomore jinx in the form of a knee injury sustained during spring ball. He’s back for 2014, and his timing couldn’t be better.
Not only does the Cincinnati, Ohio, native give the Ducks a big target at 6-5, 200 pounds, but according to goducks.com he possesses a 35-inch vertical leap as well. Offered by a long list of college football’s elite, the Ducks’ out dueled Ohio State for a player who could be The Answer in the corner of the end zone in 2014.
Duck duo ready to break out —
In terms of experience in the program, B.J. Kelley and Chance Allen figure to have ample opportunity to seize significant playing time in 2014. While Kelley’s speed has never been questioned — he’s one of the Ducks who regularly splits time in the spring between football and the track — purportedly his route running has.
Allen grew up playing football with Addison in Missouri City, TX, and now will have the opportunity to lessen the sting of losing the emerging star when the 2014 season kicks off. At 6-2, 200 pounds, Allen gives Mariota another big, physical target. If he can perfect his run blocking, we could see a lot of No. 1 this fall.
A tight race at tight end —
Even if there wasn’t a clear-cut favorite to win the tight-end job at the outset of spring practice, the quality of the contestants leads one to think that the position will again be one of strength for the Ducks. Pharoah Brown was highly recruited out of Lyndhurst, Ohio, and was too good to redshirt in 2012. A big target with sure hands and good speed, the 6-6, 241-pound Brown started five games in 2013, catching 10 passes for 123 yards and two TDs.
In his debut against Tennessee, true freshman Johnny Mundt looked a lot more like a runaway train than a newbie in the Oregon offense. He then finished the season seeing action in all 13 games where he caught 16 passes for 281 yards and three TDs.
Perhaps no one capitalized on the misadventures (and early exit) of Colt Lyerla more than Evan Baylis. The redshirt sophomore from Centennial, CO, earned significant playing time and improved dramatically by year’s end, placing him squarely in the mix for 2014.
Next receivers up —
There is a lot of talent waiting on deck, but it needs to develop in a hurry if it will contribute to the Ducks’ air attack in 2014. Highly touted prep standouts Darren Carrington (RFr, San Diego, Horizon HS), Jalen Brown (Fr, Phoenix, Mountain Pointe HS) and Devon Allen (RFr, Phoenix, Brophy Prep HS) are auditioning this spring to make early entries into the rotation. And back for his senior season is Blake Stanton — once a favorite target of former Duck QB Bryan Bennett at L.A.’s Crespi High.
Will Oregon match its incredible balance of a year ago and once again move the ball through the air as effectively as on the ground? The talent is there, even sans the brilliance of Addison. Now it just has to produce.
Top photo by Kevin Cline.