The Oregon Ducks’ dynamic high-speed and high-tempo offense has been truly amazing to watch during the last several years. With a brilliant mix of veteran talent and developing young stars looking to make names for themselves in the 2014 season, the Ducks show no sign of slowing down.
Fortunately, the 2014 version of the Oregon offense will include several crucial veteran returnees from the 2013 Ducks team who went 11-2, with an Alamo Bowl victory.
The most significant returnee will be quarterback Marcus Mariota. After his first two extremely impressive years as a Duck, Mariota is one of the preseason favorites to be included in All-American and Heisman Trophy talk. However, Mariota will be joined by a host of familiar faces.
The offensive line, which helped the offense to lead the Pac-12 in rushing the past eight years, will get back Jake Fisher and Hroniss Grasu. Fisher has had three years of experience for the Ducks, two of which he has been a starter and earned Pac-12 honorable mention all-conference honors.
Grasu will return as one of the Ducks’ most experienced players – he has started in 39 consecutive games for the Ducks. The two-time first-team all-conference selection has also been referred to as the consensus “leader” of the offensive line by teammates.
Fisher and Grasu will both need to lead the other less-experienced members of the offensive line in order for the Ducks to maintain their extremely high-functioning level of offensive production. With the complexity of the Oregon Ducks’ offensive style of play, high performance from the offensive line is essential to both the running and passing game plans.
The Ducks’ skill-position players will also be comprised of a group of veteran stars and young talent, especially in the unit of wide receivers.
The key returning wide receiver will be redshirt senior Keanon Lowe, who be counted on to take up some of the production lost to Bralon Addison‘sseason-ending-before-it-started injury. In 2013, Lowe proved himself to be one of Mariota’s most reliable targets, catching 18 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. Addison set Oregon school records in 2013, catching 61 passes — sixth all time in single-season receptions for the Ducks — which were good for 890 yards and seven TDs.
On top of being a steady target, Lowe has also established himself as one of the hardest working down-field blocking wide receivers for the Ducks. This makes him not only a threat on offense catching the ball, but also a key part of Oregon’s outside-run game and screen-pass schemes.
Lowe has also performed effectively as a kickoff and punt returner for the Ducks’ special team units in 2013 — though time spent there this year will probably be in emergency-only service. Lowe has a career average of an approximate 21-yards-per-kick return, while the Ducks will have to replace Addison’s 14.1-yards-per-punt-return average including two he took back for touchdowns.
The receiving core will feature the talents of Darren Carrington and NCAA and USA 110-meter-hurdle national champion Devon Allen.
The two redshirt freshmen each had stellar spring game performances. Carrington had three catches for 47 yards, and scored the only touchdown for his ”Twifo” team on an impressive 20-yard catch from reserve quarterback Taylor Alie.
Allen scored twice for his ”Mariasu” squad, once off of a 45-yard backside-post pass from Mariota in the first quarter, and once gain off of a 49-yard pass from now-departed quarterback Damion Hobbs. Allen’s dynamic speed will make him Oregon’s best option as a deep-ball threat.
The Ducks’ backfield will feature the experience of running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. Marshall, who is known for his hard-nose running style, accumulated 1,038 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns for the Ducks in 2013, averaging approximately 6.2 yards per rush and 86.5 rushing yards per game. His aggressive running style will be complimentary to the explosive speed of Tyner.
As a freshman in 2013, Tyner saw a limited number of carries due to Marshall and De’Anthony Thomas carrying the majority of the load. However, Tyner still finished the season with 711 rushing yards, and averaged 6.2 yards per carry — and 59.2 yards per game.
Tyner had an exceptional performance in the 2013 Civil War Game that was crucial in helping the Ducks squeeze out their win against the Oregon State Beavers. In that game, Tyner rushed for 140 yards, on 22 carries, and scored once. Tyner also led all rushers for the Ducks in this year’s spring game, where he ran for 58 yards, and also caught a touchdown pass from Mariota.
Tyner looked physically stronger in the Spring Game and more aggressive in his running style, while still maintaining the blazing speed he has been known for in the past. With both Marshall and Tyner’s improvements coming into the 2014 season, they could end up being the most effective one-two punch backfield in the Pac-12.
In the end, it appears that the high-speed Oregon offense fans have grown to love will remain as fast and as effective as ever. While the Ducks will rely heavily on performances from their established veterans — especially Mariota — the new faces of the Oregon offense will be expected to adjust and perform immediately in order for the Ducks to have the greatest chance at continuing the recent dominance.
Top photo by Kevin Cline
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