Tag Archives: Byron Marshall

The Autzen Romping That Was…

As the old saying goes here in Eugene— It never rains at Autzen Stadium.
And after a day in which it rained through the most of the morning and afternoon, Mother Nature decided to once again make good on her unwritten pact with Puddles the Duck; pushing the sun out to show its face just in time. So that begins a list of predictable things at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
As for South Dakota—they are who we thought they were.
And, Oregon—essentially the same is true.
That game on Saturday was as sure as sure bets come. One thing that was not expected was for Byron Marshall to go off for 228 yards—138 of which were receiving with two touchdowns.
So much for not having an experienced wide receiver…
Really, Aside from a 62 yard bomb from Marcua Mariota to redshirt sophomore Dwayne Stanford; Oregon’s receivers were relatively inactive as the running backs stole the show at Autzen. But, who are we kidding? We all knew that was the way things would go in front of the 96th straight sellout at Autzen Stadium. Mark another one down in the “predictable” column.
I really thought it would have been nice for the young receivers to get a little more action, and thus by that, more confidence to carry into next week’s showdown with Michigan State. The Spartans will be sure to do a better job of bottling up Oregon’s running attack much better than the Coyotes did. Next week might not be so predictable. In fact there’s probably going to be a fair share of surprises. But one thing is certain heading into game two. Oregon will have to work, and they will have to surprise the Spartans if they want to beat them. With all the different offensive formations and plethora of backfield weapons the Ducks are more than capable of pulling this off. They will just need to execute. To prove my point, look at the zone read option play in the second quarter where Mariota essentially slow danced into the end zone as if South Dakota’s defense was designed for the opponent to score. To detract from it, that won’t happen against the Spartans.
So you see? The Ducks will have to do what they do differently to win. Stick to the formula but switch up the game plan.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu hurt himself. That wasn’t good. He says he’s fine, and we should all hope he is. A less than stellar defense losing its more than stellar star is a recipe for disaster. He seemed to look okay doing agility drills on the sidelines but the Ducks coaching staff told the cornerback they didn’t need him. Saw that one coming. Surprising they let the likes of Mariota and Marshall play as long as they did. Perhaps it was punishment after Marshall decided to get cute and drop the ball on the half yard line. It amazes me still when that happens. Didn’t DeSean Jackson embarrass himself enough for all of us (especially fellow football players) to never do that again? Tisk Tisk Byron. None of that nonsense next week ya’ hear?
I won a bet with my girlfriend on this game, which is always fun of course. I set the over/under at 66 and she said under. You know it’s a sure thing when you don’t expect the opponent to score more than 14 and feel confident with the over in that bet. But, again, we were all oracles with this one now weren’t we? That is exactly why I chose not to go. I saw that game well before it actually happened. As for Michigan State, I’m still looking for tickets.


Photo credit: Daily Emerald

Pre-Season Top 25: 1-5

With only a week and a half until the season finally gets underway, it’s time to unveil the year’s heavy hitters. These are the best teams heading into the season. Schedules, avoiding upsets, and dealing with expectations will determine if these squads will be successful in navigating their way to a college football playoff berth. My thinking is that only two of these five will likely make it. Check back next Monday when I tell you which two teams those will be and who from outside the Top 5 will be joining them.
 
5. South Carolina
South Carolina has become one of the most consistent programs under Steve Spurrier. With eight offensive starters back this year they should find similar success. Though they will head into the year with a new starter at quarterback, Dylan Thompson has plenty of game experience in the last few years and is in his fifth year in the program. Playmaker Bruce Ellington will now be playing WR on Sundays, but Thompson will have the Gamecocks’ next nine top pass catchers back from a year ago. He won’t need to do much throwing though with an offense that will rely heavily on stud RB Mike Davis and an experienced offensive line, one that is one of the ten best in the country. The other side of the ball is a little more bleak. South Carolina will break in new starters at both DE and CB spots. Having both safeties back will make sure the pass defense doesn’t fall to sieve levels. Additionally, year after year the defense has been solid, giving up more than 20 ppg only once in the last half decade. The Gamecocks have won double digit games each of the last three seasons and are a good bet to make it four.
4. Oregon
For the Ducks, it all starts with Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota. The offense was rolling last year until he got injured, and who knows if they would’ve stayed undefeated had he not gotten hurt. Mariota will have to hope new receivers step up as the Ducks will not have four of the top five guys from a year ago. Regardless, Oregon should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard as usual with the help of a dynamite run game. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner form a running back duo that will continue the success Oregon’s backs have had the previous half decade. Paving the way will be an offensive line that returns four starters and should be dominant, even with the recent loss of starting LT Tyler Johnstone. As far as stopping the other team, it will be interesting to see how the Duck defense performs. They have elite players in returning leading tackler Derrick Malone and potential Top 10 pick Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at corner, but it will be how the others on the unit perform that will determine if Mariota needs to continue putting up points or if he gets to watch from the sidelines most fourth quarters. While it seems like Stanford has Oregon’s number after winning the last couple matchups, the Ducks actually beat the Cardinal by 20+ in the previous two games when both teams were in the Top 10. They have to play fellow Top 10 team in UCLA on the road, but avoiding USC and Arizona State means Oregon will be in the thick of the playoff race until the end of the season.
3. Ohio State
I don’t think Ohio State is as complete of a team as the others in the Top 5, but when you have the impact players they do it makes up for a lot. Like Oregon, the Buckeyes season hopes start and end with a Heisman candidate QB. Braxton Miller has improved every year at OSU and comes into the year after accounting for 36 touchdowns last season and over 1,000 yards rushing. Miller will need to help out on the ground game early in the year as the Buckeyes find a consistent replacement for Carlos Hyde, but I think Urban Meyer would feel better if Miller decreased his rushing attempts drastically over the course of the whole year to make sure he stays healthy. Playmaker Dontre Wilson should be a bigger part of the offense this year and take some of that pressure off of Braxton Miller. The only worry might be an offensive line that breaks in four new starters. There shouldn’t be a ton to worry about on the defensive side. The pass defense could be a concern, but with a front seven that should be dominant that won’t be as big of an issue. The Buckeyes will roll out the best defensive line in the country, even with Noah Spence starting the year serving a three game suspension. And though they did lose first round pick Ryan Shazier, when was the last time Ohio State didn’t have another NFL caliber linebacker to replace the most recently departed one? Even with back to back losses to end last year, the Buckeyes have found themselves ranked in the Top 10 for 20 consecutive weeks, and will continue to add to that total for most, if not the whole season
2. Alabama
Alabama seems to be the most consistently top ranked team after consensus #1 Florida State, so I tried to think of reasons not to follow that trend. Clearly I didn’t find enough. I can understand the argument about Bama breaking in a new quarterback; I just don’t think it matters. Whether Jacob Coker or Blake Sims wins the job, the Crimson Tide have so much talent on offense that even a “Blaine Gabbert on the Jaguars” type of performance can’t stop them from scoring points. Arguably the best group of running backs in the country (TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake would all be Heisman contenders if given 250 carries) will run behind an offensive line that returns three starters along with 5 star T Cameron Robinson. All the QBs have to do is get the ball to a talented group of pass catchers that includes future pros in Amari Cooper and OJ Howard. There are a few more question marks on defense. A’Shawn Robinson, Trey DePriest, and Landon Collins give the Tide an elite player at each level, but will that translate to a great defense overall? I lean towards yes. No matter who Alabama has lost to the NFL, Nick Saban has trotted out a defense that hasn’t given up more than 14 ppg since Tim Tebow won the Heisman (2007). The pass defense may not be up to Saban’s standards but fortunately for the Tide, they won’t play anyone in the regular season whose offense is led by a dynamic passing attack.
1. Florida State
The defense loses some of their top tacklers, a team with a great corner could shut down the Seminoles passing attack which has only one standout wide receiver (Rashad Greene), and the running game is relying on a player who didn’t start last year at running back and had only 91 carries. Those are the only potential reasons Florida State could struggle this year, and even those seem far-fetched. That running back, Karlos Williams, will likely do just fine after averaging over 8 ypc carry and 11 TDs last year. Any worries about workload are mitigated by Williams’ history (came to FSU as a hard-hitting safety) and the impact incoming 5 star RB Dalvin Cook could have. As far as the passing game, history has told us that Heisman winning, number one pick caliber quarterbacks can keep an offense humming no matter who’s catching passes. Jameis Winston will have all day to throw behind an offensive line that returns four starters back including two All-Americans. And the defense? Though it does lose some key leadership from last year, they have talent on D that would make SEC coaches drool. Mario Edwards Jr and Eddie Goldman are just two of many five star talents, both on the defensive line. The back seven is lead by Ronald Darby, PJ Williams, and Jalen Ramsey who help form maybe the best defensive backfield in the nation. The Seminoles even return Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo to knock home field goals. Florida State may fall short of winning back to back championships, but they are the clear favorite heading into the season.

What a "Disappointing" End To 2014 Could Mean For Mark Helfrich

Mark Helfrich is certainly looking to improve on his 11-2 finish from 2013 wherever he can.
Mark Helfrich is certainly looking to improve on his 11-2 finish from 2013 wherever he can.

 
Mark Helfrich is in an awkward place coming into his second year as head coach of the Oregon Ducks. In his first year he accomplished a record of 11-2 and orchestrated a whooping of Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
But, was it a success?
No, no it wasn’t Coach Helfrich.
In only his second year on the job, Helfrich could find himself on the hot seat come January if his team doesn’t meet expectations. Meaning, if the Ducks don’t at the very least, win the Pac-12, then he will find himself walking out of athletic director Rob Mullen’s office with a check in one hand and no job in the other.
It does seem a bit early to be judging the man so harshly given he has only had the job for one full season. However, when you take the reins of the winningest football program in the Pac-10/12 over the past 10 years, immediate success is expected, not hoped for. Yes, he did finish 11-2. But his team also broke two offensive school records and had one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the nation under center. Yet, they managed to squander all chances of a BCS bowl berth in a humiliating loss to Arizona? And we’re not talking about some pedestrian record numbers here. We’re talking about Oregon record numbers. You know, the guys that put up 50 points a game, spread it all over the field, and make 300 yards rushing in a game seem normal? Those guys.
I suppose in some eyes that should be a silver lining to a season in which the Ducks missed out on a BCS berth for the first time in five years. But, the Alamo Bowl? There is something seriously wrong with that picture. A defense that allowed 42 points to a Wildcat team that finished 8-5 (4-5 Pac-12) needs to be addressed. And new defensive coordinator Don Pellum should light a spark on that side of the ball. If he doesn’t, then that’s another demerit for Helfrich.
Duck fans will probably chastise me for saying this… But I used to make fun of and get legitimately angry with Oregon fans and their lofty expectations slathered in arrogance. And now, I too have fallen victim to what has become the Chip Kelly Hangover Curse. This relatively new found attitude of Duck fans was certainly prevalent during Kelly’s tenure. In fact, it truly started with Mike Belotti. I first started to really notice it in 2007 after the Ducks went to the Big House in Ann Arbor and silenced 100 years of tradition; adding insult to injury after the famed Appalachian State defeat. However, since Kelly’s departure I fear it has grown worse. Possibly because after the last transition of leadership Oregon didn’t skip a beat, in fact they got even better. That guy (Chip Kelly) just took over and skewed every Eugene resident’s definition of success.
The good news is that Mark Helfrich has every tool and resource available to succeed. World-class facilities, loyal fans, a veteran offensive line, Marcus Mariota, two legit weapons in the backfield and oh yeah… that guy Phil Knight. Aside from that, Oregon just needs to shore up the defense and all should be well in Eugene. I realize that sounds rather ridiculous, better defense is “ALL” that needs to happen. But, the Ducks’ have the talent to make it happen. Enough at least to give Mariota and Co. room to breathe.
Title expectations year after year are as great a problem as any to have. However, on the other side of that coin lie disappointment and infuriatingly obtuse conversations. Twenty years ago Oregon had a tough time beating Washington, now they don’t make the Rose Bowl and it’s “off with his head.” Unfortunately, Eugene has now sucked me into their lynch mob. Obviously, Best of luck to Helfrich and the Ducks.
We will be watching.

A Visit To The Trenches: The Ducks' Offensive Line

 

The Ducks' are returning all five starters to the offensive line in 2014
The Ducks’ are returning all five starters to the offensive line in 2014

Very few teams that have offensive line problems can disguise them enough through other areas of their offense to legitimately contend at the conference and/or national level. Often times, it’s the other way around, in that a great offensive line can often make an average quarterback or running game appear as elite.
The Oregon Ducks should have no issues disguising anything.
In addition to having a top quarterback and a great set of running backs, the Oregon Ducks have the luxury of returning all five starters from an offensive line that in 2013 set school records for total yards in a season (7,345) and yards per game (565.0) while also leading the Pac-12 in rushing for the eighth year in a row (273.5 ypg).
This, and not necessarily Mariota and the running backs, are what makes the Ducks serious contenders for the 2014-15 National Championship. Without these five you could kiss Mariota’s Heisman wishes and an eighth consecutive 1,000 yard season from the Ducks courtesy of  Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner or even both, out the window.
With that being said let’s take a look at the incumbents and what their return could mean for the Ducks’ “Natty Run.”
 
HRONISS GRASU-C
This is one bad man. The Los Angeles native of Romanian descent was a 1st Team All-America selection according to SI.com last year in addition to being awarded Pac-12 All-Conference 1st Team honors for the second consecutive year. In his senior season, Grasu will not only be looking to open running lanes for his highly talented backfield but also guarantee he is one of three Ducks (Mariota, Ekpre-Olomu) that will likely end up being chosen in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft.
JAKE FISHER-RT
This will be Fisher’s third year as a starter on Oregon’s offensive front. A big boy, listed at 6’6” and 300 pounds, was the recipient of the Ducks’ 2013 “Pancake Club” award which pretty much speaks for itself. Fisher is a workhorse that logged more snaps than any other lineman in six games last season and was at his best when Oregon eclipsed the 300-yard mark rushing against Virginia, Colorado and Pac-12 foe UCLA. In both years he has started he was chosen as a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention and despite his size is one of the team’s fastest lineman logging a time of 5.1 second in the 40-yard dash.
TYLER JOHNSTONE-LT
Johnstone injured his knee against Texas in the Alamo bowl last year and while it is something the Ducks’ coaching staff is keeping a watchful eye on this isn’t considered a glaring issue moving forward. Another potential three year starter opposite Fisher at left tackle, Johnstone was a Second Team Pac-12 All-Conference selection in 2013. The native of Chandler Arizona was ranked as the programs 4th best player according to 247sports.com.
HAMANI STEVENS-G
The eldest of the projected five starters and unlike the previous three we’ve introduced, Stevens didn’t crack the starting lineup (collegiate career interrupted 2009-10 due to religious mission commitment) until his junior year. However, once he did he really showed his worth as a snap eater. Last year he logged a team high 90 snaps against UCLA and his 898 total snaps was the most of any offensive player. If he continues to show the durability that has made him such a valuable asset to the Ducks line then he could find himself getting drafted in the later rounds and fighting for an NFL roster spot this time next year.
CAMERON HUNT-G
Like Stevens, last year was Hunt’s first as a starter, but Hunt did so as a freshman. And, while there were growing pains for each in his own right Hunt performed rather well in his first year of action. Hunt is a former four-star recruit (ESPN.com and Rivals.com) and was ranked as the nation’s No. 15 offensive guard by Scout.com. Hunt is the first true freshman to crack the starting five in 16 years and has a ton of promise to assert himself as the future anchor of this line once Grasu departs for the NFL. He came into the starting fold late in the year, debuting against Washington State. However, he did play in all 13 games and did enough as a starter in the final five games to earn himself Freshman All-America honorable mention status.
 
If in 2013 these guys (two in their first year as starters) broke all the records then in 2014 why not expect more? Asking a bit much? Sure, but with everything that’s at stake this year and Tyner having his freshman year behind him and Mariota gunning for unfinished business before his departure, the sky’s the limit with this starting five paving the way at Autzen.

Ducks' Marshall And Tyner Fly Together

 

Thomas Tyner looks to build on his record setting freshman season and run wild in 2014.
Thomas Tyner looks to build on his record setting freshman season and run wild in 2014.

 
Here in Eugene, college football can’t begin soon enough.
On my way home from a business trip in Seattle last night I swore I could hear the roar booming from the stands of Autzen Stadium as I drove by.
“OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!”
That’s how close football season is people.
And with the BCS now safely tucked away in the annals of college football history this looks to be one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. In preparation for perhaps the most highly anticipated season in years I’d like to preview another position of interest as we get set for kickoff on August 30th.
Last week I highlighted Devon Allen as a player to watch in Oregon’s young and unproven group of receivers. This week is a completely a different tale.
Once again, Oregon’s backfield looks to be a major strength. This is a group that could not only be the best in the conference but come December the best in the country. In addition to having the Pac-12’s leading returning rusher from 2013, Byron Marshall, this group is also led by home-state favorite and former 5-star recruit Thomas Tyner as well as California high-school phenom Royce Freeman.
With so much talent at the position it’s difficult to say who will literally carry the load this year.
Rushing for more than 100 yards a total of six times in 2013, Marshall became Oregon’s 20th 1,000 yard rusher and eighth in the past seven years earning honorable mention Pac-12 all conference. That success should merit him a hefty share of carries in 2014. However, I could also see Tyner being the premier back given he does boast the most explosiveness and big play ability of the three and uh, these are the Ducks. At the spring game Tyner seemed to enjoy the most playing time as he led all rushers with 58 yards as well as catching a pair of passes for 26 yards and a score. By the way, he also set a UO record last year with 711 rushing yards as a true freshman.
It really just depends what direction Mark Helfrich chooses for this team. I say share the love.
But, look for Freeman to also play an integral role in what should be per usual a very dynamic offense. As a senior at Imperial High School, Freeman rushed for 2,824 yards (11.0 avg.) and 41 touchdowns. Yeah, that wasn’t a typo, 41 trips to the end zone in one year. I don’t care if it’s high school or not. That’s just straight crazy. And when he lined up against the best of his peers at the U.S Army All-America Bowl in January he went off for three touchdowns in a 28-6 West win. I could easily see him contribute as Marshall did in his freshman year when he ran for 464 yards and 4 touchdowns. Oregon does have a history of giving highly touted true freshman ample opportunity to contribute, just as they did last year with Tyner. But, definitely expect for Marshall and Tyner to be the featured backs.
If you’re offensive coordinator Scott Frost, why just drive your Ferrari when you’ve got a Maserati and a shiny new Stingray parked right next to it? I expect he will. It’s easy to say this offense will go as far as these backs can take them. But, I will say regardless of the inexperience at wide receiver there will be plenty of openings down field for Marcus Mariota to capitalize on as teams will be forced to stack the box or pay the price against the Cerberus that is Marshall, Tyner and Freeman. With that, Mariota’s Heisman trophy chances likely ride on how balanced the rushing attack can be under Frost. He may get the numbers he needs because of the attention they draw or on the flip side they could be so productive that despite Mariota maybe being the best player in the country, he will fall short on the attempts he needs to post monster numbers. Either way, this offense looks to be explosive in his final year.
The question of whether Marshall or Tyner starts has in my opinion been the biggest storyline for the Ducks leading up to their opening game against South Dakota State. And really, I don’t think it will matter.
I’m saying now Marshall will “start” games and set the tone having more of a downhill style than Tyner. But definitely look for them to be used in tandem and to both put up big numbers in 2014. Could they possibly be better than Lamichael James and Kenjon Barner? Who knows for now. But as is the custom in Eugene, we once again see the Duck do about 1,000 pushups a game.
I wonder if he works out with the players?
 
 

Dethroning Jameis Winston

 
A few weeks ago I chronicled the best five Heisman seasons of the BCS era. There were some pretty amazing seasons just in the last half decade; does anyone this year have the chance to make that type of run? These days predicting the Heisman winner is nearly impossible. Not too long ago you could simply look at the top quarterbacks and running backs that were juniors and seniors and had pretty good college careers up to that point, and you would’ve given yourself a pretty good chance. These days the pool has grown immensely. With both freshman and sophomores having won the award and that barrier being broken, you now have to consider every player in college football. Freshmen, and particularly quarterbacks, are getting to campus more prepared to succeed immediately than ever. In the last few seasons, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, and even Jameis Winston’s Heisman seasons were somewhat of a surprise. Sure they may have been talented players, but who knew they could have that type of season that soon. It’s hard not to have Jameis Winston as the Heisman favorite coming into this year. He won it last year, won the championship, and is returning to a still loaded Florida State Seminoles team. But it is nearly impossible to win a second Heisman trophy, as Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel among others can attest. The bar is raised much higher, and you have to significantly outperform your Heisman season numbers to even have a chance. There are various factors working against Winston besides just history. Florida State will be rolling through most of its season again, so it will be hard to improve on last year’s numbers playing only two or three quarters in half his games. And while the Seminoles offensive line is loaded, losing a first round receiver in Kelvin Benjamin doesn’t make your wide receiving corps better. These aren’t really knocks against Winston, and don’t mean he won’t improve as a player, but are little things that in the end will lead to him not bringing home the Heisman again this season. So who could be the finalists to stand at the podium where Winston was last year?
 
1. Bryce Petty – QB Baylor
Last year Petty put up incredible numbers while only throwing three interceptions. Everybody already knows about Baylor’s high octane offense and not turning the ball over gets people’s attention. Once again Baylor will have one of the top offenses in college football, and I think they go 11-1 which will keep Petty at the forefront of the Heisman conversation. A benefit Petty has over Winston is that Baylor’s defense isn’t exactly up to par with Florida State’s, which will keep Baylor in shootouts and Petty slinging it all over the field well into the fourth quarter.
 
2. Braxton Miller – QB Ohio State
Braxton Miller received Heisman buzz going into last season, and may have been a finalist if not for missing a few games. When you have 36 total touchdowns and rush for over 1,000 yards you’re going to be in the conversation. Miller has improved every year, and 2014 will be no different. On a Buckeye team that will be in the college football playoff race until the very end, I would be surprised if Miller doesn’t top 40 total touchdowns assuming he stays healthy.
 
3. Melvin Gordon – RB Wisconsin
If nothing else the numbers should be there, and they’ll have to be. With quarterbacks taking home 11 of the last 12 Heisman trophies, it’ll take a monstrous season from a running back to win the award. Fortunately, Gordon has the talent and the system to do just that. Gordon rushed for over 1600 yards last year on only 206 carries. As hard as it is to imagine, Wisconsin may have to lean on the run even more this year with the departure of most of their top pass catchers from a year ago. A run at 2,000 yards is not unrealistic, but Gordon will have to double his touchdown total (12) from last year to overcome the record of a Badger team that will likely be significantly less impressive than that of other Heisman contenders’ teams.
 
4. Marcus Mariota – QB Oregon
Mariota’s situation reminds me of Andrew Luck’s a few years ago. You could argue he’s the best player in the country and a potential number one pick in the NFL draft, but the numbers just might not be there to get enough momentum amongst Heisman voters. Mariota could’ve been on his way last year if not for a mid-season injury. This year however, Oregon will be very inexperienced at WR and could lean heavily on the dynamic duo of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner at RB. Regardless, I expect Mariota to be an invitee to the ceremony even if his Heisman campaign ultimately falls short.
 
5. Rakeem Cato – QB Marshall
Every year there seems to be a quarterback from a non-power conference team that puts up huge numbers and injects himself into the Heisman race. This year that player could be Rakeem Cato. Cato finished last year with 39 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while throwing for almost 4,000 yards. His receiving core returns leading wide out Tommy Shuler, who could become the first player with three 100 catch seasons, and adds promising 2012 recruit Angelo Jean-Louis. If Marshall can make their way through the season undefeated and Cato makes even moderate improvements to his stat line, he could find himself unexpectedly in the race if the top candidates falter.