Surprise Stars Propel Oregon to Pac-12 Championship

Joshua Whitted Editorials

Mario Cristobal has firmly established himself as one of the top recruiters in the country. He has proven that it is indeed possible to bring elite talent to Eugene, and under his leadership, the Ducks have compiled the best roster in the Pac-12… on paper.

For all of their supposed talent, the Ducks have struggled to find difference makers on both sides of the ball in 2020. With many veteran stalwarts graduating or opting out, Oregon has had to rely on fresh faces in key positions. And even though many of those new starters were once highly ranked recruits, their impact has been generally underwhelming.

That is, until the Pac-12 Championship Game. Players who had been quiet for most of the year stepped up in a big way against USC, and their emergence propelled the Ducks to their second Pac-12 title in as many years.

Defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus — a former under-the-radar recruit whom the Ducks snatched from the heart of SEC country — had been a rotational player in a defensive line that had struggled all season long. But on Friday, he teamed up with superstar pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux to terrorize USC quarterback Kedon Slovis. Dorlus looked like a transformed player; his strength and power were on full display throughout the night. He routinely bullied the Trojans’ offensive line, finishing with a sack to go along with additional hurries and disruption that won’t show up on the stat sheet.

Jamal Hill had a big game for the Ducks.

Another former recruit from SEC territory, defensive back Jamal Hill, also stepped up big time. He snatched a pair of interceptions, including the one that ended up sealing the deal for the Ducks as the Trojans were looking to tie the game. Hill gave the Ducks’ secondary the spark that it needed, as he flew around the field, showcasing much-improved instincts paired with his natural athleticism.

Finally, on offense, the Ducks needed to complement star tailback Travis Dye, especially without CJ Verdell in the lineup. Running back Sean Dollars has flashed explosive potential just about every time he has seen the field throughout his young career, but his opportunities have been few and far between, as he has been buried on the depth chart. He finally saw some extended action on Friday, and he didn’t disappoint. He led the team with 7.4 yards per carry, and he helped to kickstart an offense that had been stuck in neutral for a couple of weeks.

The best teams in college football reload rather than rebuild. The Ducks have been recruiting well enough to avoid taking big steps back whenever key players on the roster depart. For much of 2020, Oregon had been waiting for new stars to emerge. That finally happened against USC, and if these three players can build upon their breakout performances, this certainly won’t be the last time they find themselves hoisting postseason hardware.

Joshua Whitted
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by John McGillen From USC Athletics

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