The pressure of Our Beloved Ducks becoming a legitimate contender closing out this season and in the near future will come down to how the incredible backfield depth Oregon possesses is utilized. The defense is playing inspired, and with the quarterback play in question (especially against the Huskies), the stable of talented running backs has never felt more like the good old days in Eugene.
Travis Dye has been the spectacle of that rushing attack in 2021 under offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. His touchdown production is outstanding, he is a fantastic leader off the field, and he’s carrying an offense that could only manage 98 passing yards against the Huskies. Anthony Brown and company have been relying on Dye to shoulder more than his fair share of the load this season with CJ Verdell going down to injury, and I expect this lead back role to sustain despite Oregon’s embarrassment of riches in the running back room.
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Dye however is graduating, and next season’s lead back role could be determined in the next few weeks. I believe it will be Byron Cardwell’s position to lose by the end of 2021.
Cardwell has had a limited role this season as a freshman with an outstanding senior back ahead of him on the depth chart in Dye, which is typical of past Oregon offenses that thrive on the ground. In the limited role he had against Colorado, Cardwell looked like a seasoned vet with more than just speed, but the versatility to be able to bulldoze downhill as a runner as well. The arsenal of abilities he possesses outweighs what other backs bring to the table despite their immense talent, and is what I feel gives him the edge to have a huge role in 2022.
Seven Mcgee also popped onto the scene with a few “splash” plays towards the end of the high-scoring affair against Colorado, and his role in this offense is yet to be determined (maybe the next Byron Marshall?). With the pair, I see Cardwell leading the backfield and Mcgee’s role being focused more on the edges rather than between the tackles. Mcgee is as good as anyone I’ve seen coming out of high school in the open field.
Sure, with Ty Thompson and the quarterback room developing more in this upcoming offseason, we could see a push to a less tailback-centric offense (led by Devon Williams as the next superstar Oregon receiver?). That won’t eliminate the role, however, and I still believe Cardwell is the best fit for the position in 2022.
Mcgee could easily emerge as a star elsewhere on the field, and injured Sean Dollars will return to spell Cardwell. At the end of the day, whoever takes the spot will certainly have earned it. And I mean EARNED it.
Do you see Cardwell becoming the lead back in 2022? How crucial will Dye’s role be in the last few games to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff?
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Top Photo By: Craig Strobeck
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Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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