How Does Oregon’s Offense in 2021 Stack Up Against 2014?

David Marsh Editorials

2014 was the first year of the College Football Playoff, and Oregon was the first team to win a CFP semifinal game. The 2014 season was an incredible year for Oregon fans, as Marcus Mariota was the first Oregon player to win the Heisman, which he did while setting QB records — not only for Oregon but for the entire conference.

The 2021 season is already looking promising for Oregon (check out the odds here), but how does the current 2021 team stack-up against Oregon’s 2014 team, the last Oregon team to reach the National Championship Game?

Today, we look at the offenses to determine which of those two Duck teams has the advantage.

Quarterback

This one is simple. No matter who the quarterback for Oregon is this year, no one is going to be as good as Mariota in 2014. Anthony Brown will do just fine if he holds onto the starting job. Just don’t expect him to be putting up Mariota-like numbers. Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford all have the potential to become breakout stars at Oregon, but even if one of them does win the starting job, it is highly unlikely they will be as polished as Mariota was in his final year at Oregon. However, the 2021 quarterback room for the Ducks is far deeper than it was in 2014, as Mariota did not have a reliable back-up.

Advantage — 2014 Ducks

Craig Strobeck

Marcus Mariota is still the best quarterback in Oregon’s history.

Running back

This one is a bit odd because Royce Freeman was a freshman in 2014 and CJ Verdell is a junior heading into 2021. However, even as a freshman, Freeman was a force to be reckoned with, and his supporting cast at running back consisted of Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall. The running back corps in 2014 was just better on the whole. Even though Travis Dye will have more receiving yards this year in Joe Moorhead’s offense, it is difficult to see him getting more yards as a receiver than Marshall, who surpassed 1,000 in 2014.

There is, however, an opportunity for some of the young running backs coming into Oregon to get meaningful snaps. Trey Benson and Byron Cardwell are both bigger backs, and they could very well take over some of the carries from Verdell as the season progresses.

Advantage — 2014 Ducks

Wide Receiver

Heading into 2014, wide receiver was a big unknown for Oregon. The headliner was Bralon Addison, who was explosive and a threat anywhere on the field. He even gained some intriguing quarterback play in 2015 due to injuries. However, Addison was injured and missed the entire 2014 season. Devon Allen, Darren Carrington, Keenan Lowe, Charles Nelson and Dwayne Stanford would all make an impact throughout the season, and though Marshall was listed as a running back, he did surpass the 1,000 receiving yards in 2014, so he should really be counted as a receiver, as well.

Kevin Cline

Devon Allen had an incredible year in 2014, especially in his breakout game against Michigan State.

Though this receiving corps was solid throughout most of the year, it was not deep. By the National Championship Game, Allen was injured and Carrington was suspended due to failing a drug test. The lack of depth showed, as Mariota struggled to find receivers at times against Ohio State’s defense.

In 2021, the situation at wide receiver comes with far more certainty. Johnny Johnson III, Jaylon Redd, Mycah Pittman, Kris Hutson and Devon Williams are all returning, and the freshmen Troy Franklin and Dont’e Thornton look to be stars in the making. The mix of veterans and youth at wide receiver make it perhaps the greatest offensive position of strength.

Advantage — 2021 Ducks

Tight End

The 2014 Ducks featured tight end Pharaoh Brown, who was having an incredible season until he was critically injured against Utah. Johnny Mundt and Evan Baylis were serviceable, but neither had anywhere near the same ceiling as Brown. Oregon’s offense lacked a true tight end threat without Brown on the field. Brown was especially missed in the National Championship Game, where Oregon just lacked reliable receiving targets for Mariota.

In 2021, however, Oregon has a plethora of tight ends with varying degrees of experience. Spencer Webb looks like he will be a consistent passing target, whereas DJ Johnson is a powerful blocker who also had some nice hands for some short range passes. Those who have yet to play a game, Patrick Herbert, Moliki Matavao and Terrance Ferguson, all showed flashes of potential during the Spring Game. The Ducks have a great amount of tight end depth, which will certainly come into play as the season wears on.

Advantage — 2021 Ducks

Gary Breedlove

Pharaoh Brown was a large receiving target for the majority of the 2014 season.

Offensive Line

The 2014 offensive line was on the whole pretty good, though they did suffer injuries throughout the year. Tyler Johnstone was one of Oregon’s starting lineman and was out before the season even began with a torn ACL. Jake Fisher was out for multiple games with an injury, which allowed freshman Tyrell Crosby to establish himself along the offensive line. Starting center Hroniss Grasu missed a few games later in the season after suffering an injury at Utah.

It was a miracle that Oregon made it to the National Championship Game with all the injuries along the offensive line, and it was really the spectacular quarterback play by Mariota and the running back play by Freeman that hid the problems along the offensive line.

The 2021 offensive line still has a lot to prove. They are physically bigger than the 2014 offensive line, but they haven’t proven their ability to create in the run game and their pass protection has at times been suspect. However, the 2020 season was a mess so it is difficult to make any real judgement as to their continued development.

The Spring Game was also of little help in determining Oregon’s line capabilities because that would require us to have a complete understanding of the defensive line play, and the defensive line still has many questions, as well.

But if this offensive line can simply live up to their potential, they will be a great, mauling offensive line.

Advantage — 2021 Ducks

Conclusion

The Oregon offense in 2021 has the potential to be great. The biggest advantage they have over their 2014 counterparts is depth. The 2021 offense should be able to take numerous injuries and maintain a high level of play, something that was difficult for the 2014 team. However, will Oregon take advantage of all the high quality recruits and surpass the 2014 offense, or will the 2014 offense remain the pinnacle of Oregon’s offensive capabilities?

David Marsh 
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By: Craig Strobeck

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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