ESPN writer Kevin Gemmell understands Oregon and its offense more than your typical national writer or talking head. As he correctly points out, “What do you think of when you think of Oregon? Fine, after all of the uniform combinations. You think of offense. And specifically, the ground game.” OK, so he has the requisite “too many jerseys” one-liner, but he understands that the ground game is the basis of everything at Oregon. Gemmell then adds, “A great running back opens up the play-action (sort of a big deal in Oregon’s attack), he frees up the quarterback to run (also a must in Oregon’s attack).”
With all of this in mind, it’s no wonder that Gemmell named Royce Freeman as Oregon’s most important player heading into next season. Although Gemmel disqualified quarterbacks from his list, his understanding of the role that a power back such as Freeman plays in the Ducks’ offense suggests he may be the MVP.
Gemmell notes that Freeman’s success as a carrier could be the key to the offense this season, because it will free up the passing game and fellow carrier, Thomas Tyner and receiver/scat back Byron Marshall. Freeman may be the most important player on offense and underrated as the Ducks’ human battering ram.
While Freeman does have the speed and quickness to make huge plays, his bread and butter is running in-between the tackles, being “a bulldozer who can wear down defenses,” as Gemmell said. If Freeman can fulfill this role, then Mark Helfrich and Co. will be free to use Tyner and Marshall in packaged plays, screen passes, and play-action passes.
Freeman could also benefit from the play-action game. He has the ability to be a competent receiver out of the backfield when called upon. A powerful run game will also make the transition easier on the quarterback, enabling the coaches to use play-action passes to allow him time to get the ball to some of their great receivers.
As Gemmell put it, the run game, “… remains the magic bullet of football.” And nowhere is this more apparent than in Eugene. While Marcus Mariota does get a lot of credit for last season (and rightfully so), Freeman was a huge part of why the offense was so successful. There’s a reason he was named Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year — rushing for nearly 1,400 yards and averaging 5.4 ypc; he was a beast last year.
Oregon will have an astonishing array of weapons on offense, with multi-talented running backs, a solid tight end in Evan Baylis, and what may be the deepest group of wide receivers Oregon has ever had.
Nonetheless, the backbone of the offense is going to be the 5’8”, 230-pound beast known in Eugene as ”Rolls Royce.” If Oregon is going to make another playoff or National Championship run, then Freeman is going to have to set the tone for every game, showing opponents that the reports of Oregon’s softness have been highly exaggerated.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck