Over the past decade, Oregon fans have been blessed with stellar running backs carrying the ball for the Ducks. From Jonathan Stewart to LaMichael James to De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon has had success running the ball with different types of backs. This past month’s NFL draft was the third straight draft with an Oregon running back being drafted.
This upcoming season with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner as the two featured backs, the Ducks potentially boast their best backfield yet. However, the one leading the charge – Marshall – has been seriously overlooked. Whether it’s the success of previous backs, the anticipation over who’s next or a combination of both, Byron Marshall has been in the shadows of his peers during his time as a Duck. But this could be the year that all changes.
If you were looking at a timeline of recent Oregon football running backs, it would be split up into eras starring different players. From LeGarrette Blount to James to Kenjon Barner to Thomas, all had their time to shine leaving their names in the Oregon record books. Now it seems that everyone is anxiously waiting for Tyner to carry the torch while forgetting that Marshall has been putting up very impressive numbers in his own right.
I understand the hype behind Tyner; he came into college as a five-star prospect, having turned heads when he scored 10 touchdowns in one high school game. And, he is from the state of Oregon. The “Heisman Pundit” has even hyped him as a potential Heisman trophy candidate. Now, Tyner is certainly an amazing back; he will have his time to shine. But, I believe this will be Marshall’s year.
Byron came into Oregon a bit under the radar, as he was behind senior Barner, who had anxiously waited for his time to shine, and sophomore standout Thomas. As a true freshman, Marshall played mostly in garbage time but he still ended up as the fourth-leading rusher on the team as he honed his skills and learned the Ducks’ high octane offense.
The following year, as a true sophomore, Marshall assumed the role of starting running back. He began the season with a mixed bag production wise, but once conference play started, he truly hit his stride. In fact, he rushed for more than 100 yards in the first five games of Pac-12 play and scored 10 touchdowns to boot.
What was important about that stretch is that it coincided with an injury to DAT. Marshall was able to show that he could carry the ball for Oregon in a consistent matter. Unfortunately, that five-game stretch proved to be the apex of his season, as Marshall struggled against Stanford, was injured against Arizona and then missed the Civil War due to his injured ankle. However, fueled by the disappointment that the end of the season brought — and the steadily improving Tyner nipping at his heels for a starting spot, look for Byron Marshall to be the next great Oregon running back this season.
He may not be able to match the numbers that James and Barner put up when his time as a Duck is over, but I believe he is just as good. In fact, with his slightly bigger frame, he might fare even better at the next level than his predecessors. Here are a couple of reasons why I believe, that when this season is all said and done, Byron Marshall will have cemented his legacy as the next great Oregon Duck running back:
Lack of Experience at Receiver
With Josh Huff, De’Anthony Thomas and Daryl Hawkins no longer with the program and with Bralon Addison tearing his ACL in practice, this Oregon team does not boast a proven, playmaking wide receiver. Last season, the first under new head coach Mark Helfrich, we saw Marcus Mariota’s passing numbers rise across the board. That was expected as Oregon boasted its best 1-2 punch at receiver in years, with Huff and Addison. This upcoming season however, with the receiving corps pecking order yet to truly materialize, look for Marshall to showcase his unique blend of size and speed early and often.
A Tough Test Early in the Year
Oregon’s second game of the season is against the Michigan State Spartans. Oregon hasn’t had a big time non-conference matchup like this since they played LSU in 2011. With all due respect to the previously mentioned receivers, look for Oregon to depend on the players that have been in the trenches, when such a formidable opponent comes to Autzen Stadium.
There’s a time to try out new things and then there’s a time to depend on your bread and butter. Quite frankly, this is an occasion for the latter. Hopefully, Oregon will be able to control the line of scrimmage against the reigning Rose Bowl champions, instead of having to rely too much on the inexperienced receivers as they play in their big, early test.
Oregon is coming into this season with arguably the best quarterback in the country. Yet, they have also developed their best running back combination since LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. With all the hype surrounding Marcus Mariota and the intrigue of Thomas Tyner with a full college offseason under his belt, let’s not forget who has been playing his tail off for the Green and Yellow these past few seasons.
Yes, it’s time to get excited for Byron Marshall.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck