Late suspensions may not doom Oregon’s championship hopes vs. Ohio State

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Tonight’s national championship game is a testament to teams persevering after losing key players — Ohio State made it here without quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, while Oregon lost cornerback Ifo Epkre-Olomu and wide receiver Devon Allen before kickoff of its 39-point win over Florida State Jan. 1.

But at what point does a team lose so many players that it can’t replace them? For Oregon, we may know the answer to that question by late Monday night.

The Ducks will be without receiver Darren Carrington and reserve running back Ayele Forde for tonight’s title bout against Ohio State, with the NCAA levying a drug-related ban to each player. The NCAA’s out-dated and extreme drug policies are a separate issue here, but because those won’t be thrown out in the next 12 hours Oregon has to move forward without a surging pass-catcher and a special teams cog.

Carrington, a redshirt freshman, set a season high with seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown in Oregon’s Pac-12 Championship win over Arizona, then bested it against Florida State with seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns (entering the Arizona game, Carrington had one touchdown and no more than five catches and 79 yards in a game).

Without Allen, who suffered a knee injury during warmups of the College Football Playoff semifinal, Carrington became a favorite target of Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. CSN Northwest’s Aaron Fentress runs down how Carrington’s loss will affect the depth chart against Ohio State and has reaction from the Ducks, but more importantly, offers this insight:

Oregon does not rely on a go-to receiver. The Ducks simply run their system and quarterback Marcus Mariota goes through his reads until he finds the open guy. He doesn’t zero in on a particular player.

That makes the receivers pretty much interchangeable. So while many have viewed Carrington’s 165-yard, two-touchdown performance against Florida State as a reason for major concern regarding his absence, the reality is that the Ducks believe any of their top receivers could have made those plays that day. 

Of course Carrington, Allen, Pharaoh Brown — the tight end who suffered a season-ending injury in November — and last year’s second-leading receiver Bralon Addison, who tore his ACL during spring practice, are talented players. But consider this: Since Chip Kelly took over in 2009, Oregon has had one wide receiver selected in the NFL Draft — last year, when Kelly’s Eagles took Josh Huff in the third round.

Oregon’s offense is predicated on running an explosive, effective system that’s stocked with players who are the perfect fit for it. The Ducks have had one top-10 recruiting class since 2009 and yet have made two title games and been in the championship conversation nearly every year since.

So when Mariota turns to Byron Marshall (66 REC, 834 yards, 5 TDs), Dwayne Stanford (39 REC, 578 YDS, 6 TDs), Keanon Lowe (25 REC, 359 yards, 4 TDs) and Charles Nelson (21 REC, 306 yards, 5 TDs), there may not be a significant dropoff.

And that’s the mark of an elite program, one that deserves to play for the first College Football Playoff Championship.

 

WR Weston Bridges is fourth Michigan State player to enter portal

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In the offseason, Weston Bridges changed positions.  Midway through the 2019 season, it appears Bridges is now set to change schools.

On his personal Twitter account Monday afternoon, Bridges indicated that he has decided to take his leave of Michigan State and transfer to an undetermined elsewhere.  It has subsequently been confirmed that the wide receiver is headed into the NCAA transfer database.

A three-star member of the Spartans’ 2017 recruiting class, Bridges was rated as the No. 31 running back in the country and the No. 24 player at any position in the state of Ohio.  During the spring this year, Bridges moved from running back to receiver.

After redshirting as a true freshman, Bridges carried the ball 16 times for 53 yards last season.  He was suspended for a late-September game because of unspecified violations of team rules.

Bridges is the fourth MSU football player to enter the portal since the 2019 season kicked off, joining linebacker Brandon Bouyer-Randle (HERE) as well as a pair of running backs in Connor Heyward (HERE) and La’Darius Jefferson (HERE).

Louisville’s season-opening QB starter to undergo year-ending surgery

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Jawon Pass began the 2019 season as Louisville’s starter under center.  After a couple of weeks of uncertainty, the redshirt junior will end it on the sidelines.

Pass suffered what turned out to be diagnosed as a case of turf toe in the season-opening loss to Notre Dame.  It wasn’t severe enough, however, to keep the starting quarterback out of the Week 2 win over Eastern Kentucky.

The past four games, though, Pass has been sidelined because of the injury.  Tuesday, it was confirmed by the football program that, as some have speculated, Pass will undergo surgery and, as a result, miss the remainder of the 2019 season.

With Pass sidelined, Malik Cunningham had started all four games in his place.  The redshirt sophomore, though, has been dealing with his own injuries, including a knee issue, that at least temporarily knocked him out of a pair of games.

True freshman Evan Conley replaced Cunningham both times, and was even named as the ACC’s Quarterback and Rookie of the Week for his performance in the upset of Wake Forest this past weekend.

For the season, Cunningham has completed 44-of-66 passes (66.7 percent) for 820 yards, seven touchdowns, one interception.  Conley is at a 64.9 completion percentage on his 37 attempts, throwing for 422 yards, four touchdowns and a pick.  Cunningham is the Cardinals third-leading rusher with 226 yards, while Conley is fifth with 84.

As of today, head coach Scott Satterfield has not named a starter for this weekend’s game against No. 3 Clemson.

USC’s leading rusher set for knee surgery

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Vavae Malepeai tolerated the pain as long as he could, until he couldn’t.

A knee injury sidelined Malepeai for most of USC’s summer camp.  Even as he had played — and played well — in all six games, the issue lingered on into the regular season; this weekend, the pause button was hit on Malepeai’s year as Clay Helton confirmed that the running back will undergo surgery to repair the damage to his knee.

No timetable for a return was given.

“Vavae is a warrior,” the head coach said according to the Los Angeles Times. “[He was] dealing with a sore knee and really fighting through it for his team. It’s just gotten to the point where it’s gotten too sore, so we’re going to go ahead and take care of it now.”

Malepeai’s 406 yards rushing and four touchdowns currently lead the Trojans.

With Malepeai out for the foreseeable future, Markese Stepp and Stephen Carr will see their opportunities in the running game increase.  Stepp is second on the team with 241 yards rushing, Carr third at 233.  Both players have a pair of touchdowns each on the ground.

Mike Leach banned Wazzu players from social media

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With this development, just how Washington’s State’s “fat, dumb, happy and entitled” football players will communicate with their “fat little girlfriends” is the great unknown.

After starting the 2019 season 3-0, dropped two straight games heading into the bye — the first an embarrassing collapse against UCLA and then a 25-point beating on the road against then-No. 19 Utah.  Following the loss to the Utes, Tracy Claeys stepped down as Wazzu’s defensive coordinator.

Leading into this past weekend’s game against Arizona State, the Pac-12 Network confirmed, Mike Leach banned his players from using social media late last month because of the distractions such activities bring.

“I think we entertain too many distractions,” the head coach explained to the network, by way of the Yakima Herald, “and if I had it to do over again, I would’ve done it when we started camp. But no, I think we entertain too many distractions. I think we’re a little too distracted right now, but I think there is a team-wide determination to be less distracted.”

The social media ban wasn’t an immediate elixir for what ails Wazzu, however, as they fell to No. 18 Arizona State 38-34 in Week 7.  The Cougars jumped out to a 10-0 lead and held leads of 31-24 (early in the fourth quarter) and 34-31 (late in the fourth quarter) before allowing the game-winning touchdown with less than 40 seconds left on the clock.

With the loss, Wazzu now sits at 0-3 in Pac-12 play.