Oregon Football 2014 – Better, Worse or about the Same?
Oregon Update: The Year of the Duck
How often does your favorite college team have three high NFL draft picks (Two would have been first round) that decide to return for a final year? Oregon fans are thrilled to have a veteran team returning that can legitimately point to the National Championship Playoff as a realistic goal. This team has done a ton of winning over the last five years, and only when pundits refer to a two-loss campaign (11-2 in 2013) as a down year, you know your team has arrived at elite status.
I shake my head at the talent on the offensive line returning as the Ducks have all the starters from last year back and yet loaded with more four-star talent pushing the starters than ever in my thirty years of watching Oregon football. Hroniss Grasu at center is one of the nation’s best at his position, while Tyler Johnstone mans the blind-side left tackle again as an acclaimed star on that front line. Jake Fisher on the right side has more unnecessary roughness penalties than any tackle in the past and the big news in Eugene this spring is how the offensive line is up ten pounds per man on average—yet they are running the No-Huddle at the usual fast pace. Stanford…look out!
The entire backfield returns led by Heisman Candidate Marcus Mariota, who many project as the #1 NFL draft pick next year. His accuracy passing and speed running the Zone Read is a treasure for Duck alumni to enjoy one more year. Running backs Bryon Marshall and Thomas Tyner both return and both have picked up some muscular weight and ran well throughout the spring. In relief Oregon can turn to five-star incoming freshman RB Royce Freeman to rumble for the Red Zone yards, and the only weakness in this area is the lack of a proven backup QB to Mariota. Fall camp should solve that issue between Jeff Lockie and incoming freshman star Morgan Mahalak.
Wide Receivers are the only area of glaring inexperience as Josh Huff has joined Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, and Bralon Addison has been lost for the year due to injury. Veteran Keanon Lowe will man one spot while an impressive group of freshmen and sophomores jockey for their opportunity. Dwayne Stanford (6’5”) is one tall soph target, while speedy Darren Carrington, RS Freshman, and spring game star Devon Allen RS Freshman, battle for the other opening.
Oregon has often underutilized the amazing talent at Tight End and this year the Ducks will undoubtedly throw more often to this four-deep group led by Johnny Mundt and Pharoah Brown. This will take some pressure off while we note that Oregon will also throw more often to the RBs as they did in the spring game to allow the young talent at WR to emerge.
The biggest news on defense is the elevation of twenty year coaching veteran Don Pellum to be Defensive Coordinator. His philosophy of simplifying the defense to add to reaction time in conjunction with the increased level of talent is already turning heads in Eugene. Oregon will not just be known for their offense under this regime! Remember that Oregon scores as fast as any team in the nation and the result is a defense that has played almost equally between the first and second teams. The result is experienced players stepping forward to be starters in all but one case on this side of the ball.
Defensive line was one of the most pleasant surprises of the spring game as the starters played impressively and the second team was nearly as good. I wrote an analysis about their progress that was showcased in the spring game.
DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Alex Balducci and Tony Washington headline as starters with a ton of experience while monster JC transfer, Tui Talia threatens to break into the starting rotation. No matter, as at Oregon—up to 25 defensive players are on the field extensively during the games.
Oregon’s Line backing corps returns two of three starters with OLB up for grabs among a five-deep group that Oregon has never seen in such young reserve talent. The inexperience in this group showed at times last year, and Coach Pellum expects a big jump in line backing production in 2014.
Oregon returns a free safety in Erik Dargan who started a few times and played so often to engender confidence among the Duck faithful, while the star of the defensive backfield in Ifo Ekpre Olomu is a high first round NFL pick that will probably have a boring year as few will throw to his side and challenge him. The other corner position has senior Dior Mathis leading and a favorite among fans who love his talent and his patience waiting for this opportunity to start. Strong safety has former four-star basketball shooting guard Tyree Robinson (6’4”!) leading to bust blocks and make plays, while nickel back has a cover man who has seen it all in Troy Hill.
Big legged Matt Wogan returns to refine his placekicking while attempting to win the punting slot as well from Ian Wheeler. Football/Track star Devon Allen threatens to overtake the return role, as a basketball player in Johnathon Loyd is making people miss in his football debut.
Can this offense be better than last year? The answer is “yes” as Marcus Mariota is healthy going into this season and rarely has so many experienced offensive weapons returned in the same year as they do for 2014 for the Ducks.
The defense will be a shade less in talent, but faster in pursuit, thus I categorize it as a “draw” when compared to last year’s squad. If the defensive stats improve as many believe—it will be due to the young talent blossoming from so much game experience of the past and because of the change in the defensive approach and lack of complexity. Special teams should be better simply because Wogan is no longer a freshman!
The schedule is set for a NC playoff appearance as powerful Michigan State and Stanford come to Autzen while the Ducks play emerging power UCLA in the Rose Bowl. This is a team that can run the table with the veteran talent assembled, but I have to go with a 13-2 year in winning the Pac-12 Conference and appearing in the National Championship game as Oregon did in 2010. Let’s go Ducks!
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com
FishDuck.com is the hottest, fastest-growing Oregon Duck football site on the web. More than 80 volunteers help with Writing, Editing, Photography, Research, and the Social Media aspects of the site, serving visitors from more than 50 countries who read our articles up to a quarter million times every month. We seek to educate and entertain our readers with Football Analysis, Op-Ed articles, Recruiting, History, and even Humor. We have been interviewed and cited/quoted as a source by the Wall Street Journal, and twice have been featured in prominent articles in the Online Sports Section of The Washington Post for our contributions to fans and coaches wanting to learn about the Oregon Spread Offense. FishDuck.com has even been accredited by Google News as an official Oregon Sports news source. Our football instructional videos have been viewed more than a Million times and we are UO Media Credentialed, sitting on Press Row in the Autzen Press Box and Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.