Bralon Addison

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.

 

CFT Previews: Three X-factors for the National Championship

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You know about Marcus Mariota and Cardale Jones. You know about Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and Ezekiel Elliott. You know about Urban Meyer and Mark Helfrich. You even know about Brutus and Puddles.

But here are three things you may not have considered that could paint the national championship trophy in scarlet and gray or apple green and electric yellow. We in the business like to call them X-factors.

1: Arik Armstead and Joey Bosa (and their friends). In a game that boils down to quarterback vs. quarterback, the team that makes the other guy’s signal caller most uncomfortable will likely win. Oregon pass rusher Armstead will look to get to Jones before he can get ahead of steam in the run game (or fire a 60-yard bomb to his plethora of speedsters on the outside). On the other side, constant pressure is the only proven antidote to beating Mariota in his three years as a starter.

2: Tyler JohnstoneIfo Ekpre-OlomuBralon AddisonDarren CarringtonDevon Allen and Pharoah Brown. Oregon obviously has fantastic depth to make it this far without the four listed above, but could there be a moment late in the game, with Ohio State fans joyous, Meyer cracking a smile and Puddles showing a longer face than normal, that you start to think, “Man, it’d be nice the Ducks had their top left tackle, top cornerback, top three wide receivers and/or top tight end, wouldn’t it?”

Chris Seisay did a fine job filling in for Ekpre-Olomu, and the Ducks limited Florida State’s Rashad Greene to six grabs for just 59 yards, but Ohio State’s receiving corps is better than the ‘Noles. The Oregon offensive line has charged along well without Johnstone this season, but they haven’t faced a defensive front as multi-faceted as Ohio State’s. Evan Baylis set career highs in the Rose Bowl with six receptions for 73 yards in the Rose Bowl, proving a capable replacement to Brown. But without Carrington, Allen and Addison (who hasn’t played at all this season), Oregon’s top remaining receiver is Dwayne Stanford, a sophomore who averaged 4.5 receptions for 44 yards in 13 games this season.

3: Sean Nuemberger and Aidan Schneider or Matt Wogan. These three anonymous gentlemen are your title game kickers. Ohio State has ridden with Nuemberger all year, to mixed results. The freshman has knocked in 13-of-20 field goals this year; he hit both of his tries in the Sugar Bowl but is just 5-of-10 from beyond 40 yards this season. Oregon has alternated between Schneider and Wogan this season, leaning on the former in the Rose Bowl. Schneider is 9-of-10 on the year, while Wogan is 7-of-9. Neither has been used a lot this season, and each squad’s dominance throughout the season means none of the three has been asked to make a game-on-the-line kick. Now there’s a greater than zero chance one of them will face that situation for the first time with a national championship on the line.

Bralon Addison sets target date for his return from torn ACL

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The Oregon Ducks don’t expect to have a healthy Bralon Addison this season. The wide receiver has completely different expectations.

Addison, who tore an ACL in his left knee during spring practice, expects to be back on the field and contributing by September.

“His goal is Michigan State,” Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota told SI.com.

The Michigan State contest is set for Sept. 6 at Autzen Stadium and occurs less than six months after Addison suffered the injury. It would be a remarkable recovery for any athlete, but he’s already impressed his teammates during his rehabilitation.

“He looks good,” Mariota said. “I’m excited.  Hopefully he gets ready for that second game.”

If — and we’re stressing IF — Addison returns for Michigan State, he would only miss one game against the South Dakota Coyotes.

Until Addison is cleared by the doctors, the Ducks have to replace their leading-returning receiver. Last season, Addison caught 61 passes for 890 yards. Without Addison in the lineup, the Ducks have very little experience at wide receiver. Senior Keanon Lowe then becomes the Ducks’ top target by default. Lowe finished sixth on the team last season with 233 receiving yards. Dwayne Stanford and Darren Carrington are expected to start alongside Lowe. Tight end Pharoah Brown should be expected to be a much bigger part of the offense this season, particularly until Addison is ready to contribute.

And Addison may be able to contribute sooner rather than later.