Josh Huff

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.

 

Update: Ducks’ leading-returning receiver tears ACL

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If you happen to see members of the Oregon football walking around campus with any available appendage crossed, you’ll soon understand why.

By way of the Oregonian, KEZI reporter Erik Elkin tweeted late Thursday afternoon that Ducks wide receiver “Bralon Addison suffered a non-contact injury to left knee at practice yesterday. Made a cut, went down. Diagnosis unknown.”

Because of the non-contact nature of the injury, the speculation is running rampant that Addison has an ACL issue even as the school has yet to offer an update on the receiver’s injury.

If the injury is as severe as some believe, however, it would be a significant blow to the Ducks’ offense.

In 2013, Addison was second on the team in receptions (61), receiving yards (890) and receiving touchdowns (seven).  With Josh Huff off to the NFL, Addison is easily UO’s leading returning receiver — Daryle Hawkins went 23/347/3 to finish well behind Addison at No. 3.

UPDATED 7:37 p.m. ET: Unfortunately, the Ducks worst fears have been realized as, citing multiple team sources, Aaron Fentress of CSNNW.com is reporting that Addison suffered a torn ACL during a practice session earlier this week.  According to the Oregonian, Addison will miss the entire 2014 season because of the knee injury.

UO is expected to officially announce the severity of the injury at some point before the start of the upcoming weekend.

Marcus Mariota tearing it up in first half against Texas

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Marcus Mariota is back.

The Oregon quarterback, who was slowed by a knee injury during the latter part of the regular season, looked as good as ever in the first half of the Alamo Bowl against Texas. The sophomore put up 262 yards of total offense (130 passing, 132 rushing) as the Ducks jumped out to a 20-7 lead over the Longhorns.

Things didn’t start out well for Texas as quarterback Case McCoy’s second pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Avery Patterson. But the Longhorns hunkered down and got their physical run game going, with Malcolm Brown churning out 113 yards on 18 carries.

A close 13-7 game turned in Oregon’s favor late in the half when the Ducks drove 88 yards in seven plays and wound up in the end zone as Mariota found Josh Huff for 16 yards.

This Oregon offense is showing signs of that unstoppable force that was at one time a national title contender. The Ducks will get the ball back to start the second half, which means Texas is in danger of letting this one get out or control. Unless the Oregon starts making some mistakes, Mack Brown’s final game could end up being a forgettable one for the Longhorns.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 14 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

THUMBS UP

Bama bummer a boon for Buckeyes
Well, that escalated quickly.  With an Alabama-Florida State BCS title game tucked comfortably into the vast majority of people’s minds, Auburn done went and did that damn thing: a stunning 100-yard return of a missed field goal with no time left on the clock to send Alabama to its first loss and very likely ending the SEC’s streak of seven straight BCS titles.  And, at the same moment, sending the entire state of Ohio — and the bus carrying the Buckeyes back home — into a mix of stunned joy and utter elation.  Suddenly, Ohio State sits firmly in the driver’s seat for one of the two spots in the BCS title, with only Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game standing between the Buckeyes and a trip to the Rose Bowl Jan. 7.

Let’s also get this straight while we’re here: a one-loss SEC champion Auburn/Missouri will not leapfrog an unbeaten Big Ten champion Ohio State.  They shouldn’t, and they won’t.  It’s simply not going to happen, so that little meme — which is already being pushed by one SEC athletic director — needs to be nipped in the bud before it gains any type of serious traction.  Yes, it’s quite possible Auburn/Missouri could jump past not only Ohio State but Florida State as well in the computer composite with a win next weekend; no, they won’t jump either in the two human polls that make up the other two-thirds of the BCS rankings.  To put it in a historical context, no undefeated automatic-qualifying conference team has been ranked behind a one-loss team in the final rankings in the 15-year history of the BCS.

Boiled down?  If Ohio State and Florida State handle their respective conference business next weekend, it will be a Buckeyes-Seminoles BCS title game.  If one or both stumbles?  Some combination of Auburn, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Michigan State and, yes, Alabama, could be right back in the mix.  The title-game scenario has the opportunity to be relatively simple and very straightforward… or turn into utter chaos once again.

As for the rest of the BCS bowl games, they are shaping up to look as follows if it’s an OSU-FSU title game:

  • Rose Bowl: Stanford/Arizona State vs. Michigan State
  • Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Alabama
  • Sugar Bowl: Auburn/Missouri vs. UCF
  • Oklahoma State/Baylor/Texas vs. Northern Illinois

Obviously, that’s a very tentative look at how the BCS will look, depending on how next weekend plays out.  Still, it gives you a fairly solid idea of which direction the major bowls appear to be headed.

Exiting Week 14, the second-to-last BCS rankings that are released Sunday night should look as follows: No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Alabama.  Exiting Week 15?  Based on the past couple of weeks, who the hell knows.

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Oregon’s Mariota throws 3 TDs to Huff in Civil War victory

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The Civil War really could not have ended any other way. A back-and-forth game from the start, Oregon (10-2, 7-2 Pac 12) managed to come out on top with a late game-winning touchdown lifting the Ducks to a 36-35 victory against Oregon State (6-6, 4-5 Pac 12).

 

The two teams reached halftime with a 17-17 stalemate, and the second half was full of twists and turns. Oregon took a 24-20 lead in to the fourth quarter when Marcus Mariota completed a touchdown pass to Josh Huff from 28 yards out of the end zone. That set the stage for an incredible fourth-quarter effort by the Beavers. The rally started with a field goal to cut the lead to one and was followed just minutes later with Sean Mannion completing his second touchdown pass of the night, this one to Tyler Anderson for a 29-24 lead after a failed two-point conversion attempt.

Oregon responded midway through the fourth quarter when Mariota and Huff hooked up for another touchdown, this one inside the red zone on 4th and 11. Needing just a field goal to take a lead, Oregon State worked their way in to the end zone. Rather than needing to settle for a field goal, Victor Bolden rushed for 25 yards and a touchdown to cap a 74-yard drive on eight plays, giving Oregon State the 35-30 lead. Unfortunately for Oregon State, the defense was unable to hold on to the late lead. Oregon drove right down field on the Beavers and the Mariota-to-Huff combo struck for a third time in the game, giving the Ducks a late 36-35 lead after a failed two-point conversion.

This was a bitter loss for Oregon State of course. Mike Riley‘s program ended their regular season losing five straight games against some of the better teams from around the Pac 12. After a 6-1 start to the year marred only by a season opening loss to FCS Eastern Washington, Oregon State will go limping in to the postseason.

The win by Oregon could end up helping the Pac 12 get two teams in to the BCS bowls. Stanford and Arizona State will play next week for the Pac 12’s automatic BCS bowl spot in the Rose Bowl, but the loser will likely fall out of the mix. With Northern Illinois looking to grab one BCS spot with a win next week in the MAC Championship Game, Oregon could be on the outside looking in on the BCS fun this season.