With news of consensus All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s season-ending knee injury splashed all over college football pages and blogs from Tallahassee to Eugene, attention has been largely focused on the dire implications for a depleted Ducks’ secondary now forced to go up against last year’s Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, and a dynamic receiving corps led by Rashad Greene, a 6-foot senior with 93 catches for 1,306 yards (seventh in the NCAA), and seven touchdowns.
What’s missing in the frenzy to cover this breaking story is the always-crucial element of plain old-fashioned human nature. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure this one out. Duck defensive backs coach John Neal and head defensive boss, Don Pellum, already have Chris Seisay (top photo), Dior Mathis and their teammates pumped to “win one (or hopefully two) for the Gimper,” if you’ll forgive the horrible pun.
Obviously neither of these players, nor anyone else in the Oregon defensive backfield for that matter, possesses Ekpre-Olomu’s combination of experience, leadership and talent. Neither, however, are they slouches. Seniors Erick Dargan and Troy Hill as well as sophomore Reggie Daniels are proven commodities. Redshirt freshman Tyree Robinson and true freshman Arrion Springs have tremendous upsides.
I look for this group to come together over the next couple of weeks, brought along by Neal and Pellum, encouraged and mentored by Ekpre-Olomu. I expect them to hit the field in Pasadena on January 1st both determined not to let their fallen leader down and stoked to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to highlight their skills on a massive national stage.
Look for that combination of emotion and determination to blunt the Seminoles’ passing game. And for the game’s focus to shift to the battle between the teams’ respective lines and their outstanding freshman running backs, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. Add running threats behind center in Heisman Winners Present and Past, Marcus Mariota and Winston, and on balance I like the Ducks’ chances.
Top photo Kevin Cline