Devon Allen didn’t “just” win the NCAA championship in the 110-meter hurdles. First off, there is no such thing as “just” winning at this level. You’ve got to be an absolute stud to pull it off. Next, there’s the little detail that he also broke the meet record. How big of a deal is that? Well, the previous meet record was held by one Aries Merritt, who happens to be the reigning Olympic champion and also the world record holder in the event.
On top of basking in the joy of coaching the men’s NCAA Championship track & field team, Robert Johnson has to feel like the proverbial cat that ate the canary to have an athlete (true freshman, no less — who isn’t even on a track scholarship) knock down an individual championship at a time when he needed only finish the race and score one point to clinch the team championship.
Only one collegian has ever run faster than Allen, and that is the legendary Renaldo Nehemiah. Due to the Jimmy Carter-led USA boycott of the 1980 Olympics, Nehemiah never went to the Games, but he was ranked number one in the world for four straight years.
And even though he never played a down of college football, the San Francisco 49ers made a spot for him on their roster as a wide receiver for three years, and in the process he picked up a Super Bowl ring in 1984. While many questioned the wisdom of Nehemiah’s place on the team since he didn’t have the greatest hands in the game, he did have the effect of stretching the field vertically, which opened up a lot of things underneath. (Beginning of the spread offense, anyone?)
This begs the question: what are the implications for Oregon Ducks football? First, there’s the context of raw speed. The NCAA meet record for the other flat out men’s sprint event, the 100 meters, is 9.89 seconds. So, Allen’s hurdle time is basically on par with a 9.89 second 100 meters. But there’s also the fact that if he had to jump over a tackler or two, the hurdling ability would have to work in his favor. As another point of reference, those “too-fast-for-everybody-else” speed burners that the Ducks have had in the past (and still have) are in the 10.3 – 10.4 range.
Of course, Oregon likes receivers who can block. At 6’1″ and 175 pounds, Nehemiah looked like a gazelle going over hurdles. An inch shorter and fifteen pounds heavier, Allen looks like a graceful freight train that somehow learned to fly.
So, should Allen bulk up by 10 pounds to put himself at an even 200 and make himself a more effective blocker? What effect would another 10 pounds have on his hurdling ability? Or could he add 10 just for football and then back off on the weights during track season to lighten up?
Or is being the fastest man on the field and having the footwork to run the third-fastest time in the world so far this year in the hurdles enough to push around smaller cornerbacks and safeties that aren’t all that much bigger?
Chances are that Allen will learn how to block, if he hasn’t already. You don’t go from being a pretty good high school hurdler jumping over 39″ hurdles to being a world-elite NCAA champion and record holder at going over 42″ hurdles in less than one year as a side interest to college football without being coachable. Allen has already had a redshirt season to learn the ropes, and Oregon is sinfully notorious for knowing how to coach downfield blocking.
Speaking of notorious, as a football player Nehemiah was notorious for not catching passes. Time will tell what kind of catches Allen can make, but the two receptions for 90+ yards in the Spring Game are a good start.
Any way you cut it, Allen’s speed adds another wrinkle to the Duck offense, which wasn’t exactly wrinkle-free to start with. With Josh Huff‘s graduation to the NFL and Bralon Addison‘s injury, there was a strong argument that the receivers group was Oregon’s Achilles heel for 2014.
Somehow, I believe defensive coordinators will think twice about crowding the line of scrimmage to stop Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Marcus Mariota from running, while leaving some relatively lead-footed cornerback on an island against Allen. If they don’t think twice, there is one Duck that is going to be doing a lot of pushups.
Top photo from video