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Oppo Notes: Previewing the Oregon Ducks' Offense

The UCLA Defense will face its biggest test of the year when they take the field tomorrow afternoon in Eugene.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

In his preview of Oregon's defense, AHMB noted that the Ducks' defense has been a pretty underrated unit. The same certainly cannot be said about the offense, and this year's edition might just be their best yet. The numbers are highly impressive: the team's 57.6 ppg ranks 2nd in the nation (FBS), as does their 643 yards/game of total offense and 332 yards/game on the ground. Per, the Ducks are averaging a ridiculous 8.28 yards/play, including 7.05 yards/carry.

After watching last week's loss from the stands in Palo Alto and talking with some of the front page writers afterwards, I realized that today has some unfortunate significance in my UCLA fandom. Today marks 10 years since I have seen UCLA win a Football game in person (20-13 over ASU at the Rose Bowl). My personal losing streak began a few weeks later during my final game in the Rose Bowl student section, to Oregon. It continued though the end of that season and beyond as I left Los Angeles. Though interrupted by LSAT's, law school and a few years living on the other side of the country, the streak lived on. Through bowl games, my return to northern California and even my return to the Rose Bowl - a dozen games strong - the streak continued on.

While I won't be in Eugene to watch in person tomorrow in hopes of breaking the streak, there are some tidbits of encouragement for the Bruins to take from Oregon's performances to take. Mainly that their opponents to date have not been that good. Not Justin Wilcox's defense at UW - which is quite good - but the rest of the schedule isn't much to write home about: opening with FCS squad Nicholls St, and following with Virginia and Tennessee - both major conference schools, but at or near the bottom of their respective conferences. Oregon opened Pac-12 play against defense-optional Cal and Colorado, before their game with UW and last week's game against WSU (who to be fair, did hold the offensive juggernaut that was Lane Kiffen's USC to 7 points). About that game against the Huskies... Oregon still found a way to gain 631 yards on that one, while not turning the ball over and actually leading in time of possession.

Marcus Mariota is in the middle of his second year behind center in Eugene. After establishing himself as one of the Pac-12's several promising young Quarterbacks in 2012, he has elevated his game this fall to become possibly the best player in the country. Through the first seven games this season, Marcus has yet to throw an interception (though he fumbled twice against Washington State) while completing 62.4% of his passes for 2051 yards and 19 touchdowns. For good measure, he has also run for 493 yards and 9 TD's on 49 carries. He has been sacked just 8 times in those 7 games, high marks for his escapabilty as well as the play of the O-line.

This was supposed to be the year that Los Angeles prep legend De'Anthony Thomas would assert his presence on the college football world. After two years as a key - but supporting figure in the Oregon backfield along with - the Black Mamba was primed to make a run for the Heisman, but a couple of things got in the way. Marcus Mariota's stellar play would have been enough to suffocate that kind of campaign, but an ankle sprain has kept him out of the Ducks' four Pac-12 contests to date (aside from one kickoff return), though he is expected to return to action on Saturday. Before his injury, De'Anthony had run for 338 yards on 42 carries, caught 3 passes for 58 yards and returned 5 kickoffs for a 23.2 yard average.

Most teams would struggle to cope with losing a back of Thomas's talent - but Oregon has not missed a beat. Byron Marshall, a 5'10 redshirt sophomore from San Jose has run for over 100 yards in each of his four games as the lead back, including 192 yards and 2 scores last weekend against Washington State. Overall, Byron has rushed for 746 yards (6.72 ypc). and 9 touchdowns. Thomas Tyner has seen his workload elevated beyond what most expected of the prized true freshman: 54 carries for 360 yards and 7 TD's on the ground - including 99 yards on just 7 carries last week - along with 8 catches for 98 yards. Ayele Forde served as Oregon's #3 running back over the past few weeks, but aside from his 10 carries against Colorado did not get many touches, and should see even that role diminish now that De'Anthony is back.

Opening up holes for those running backs and keeping Mariota's jersey clean is a pretty good group of offensive linemen anchored by junior all-conference Center Hroniss Grasu (6'3, 297 lbs). Flanking him at the guard positions are 5'11, 287lb senior Mana Greig on the left side, and 6'3 312 lb junior Hamani Stevens. 6'6 277lb sophomore left tackle Tyler Johnstone joined Grasu on the preseason all-conference team, while junior Jake Fisher (6'6, 293lb) returns to the Oregon lineup after missing the WSU game due to injury. That is an experienced line, with Cameron Hunt (6'4, 282) - who did start in Fisher's place last weekend - as the only true freshman currently in the two-deep.

Sure, the running backs have been running over the opposition, and Mariota has put up some crazy stats this season. But someone has to be on the receiving end to help Marcus shine and to keep defenses honest for those runners. Oregon's lead pair of receivers - 5'11 senior Josh Huff and 5'10 sophomore Bralon Addison - have demonstrated the elevation of the Ducks' passing game in Mark Helfrich's first year in charge. Per the Oregon game notes, the team did not have a single receiver reach 500 yards receiving last season. This season, Huff (32 catches, 627 yards) and Addison (32 catches, 543 yards) have already passed that mark.

Oregon's base offense (per their official depth chart) accounts for 3 wide receivers and a tight end. After Colt Lyerla's dismissal from the team, true freshman Johnny Mundt took over at tight end and comes into the week as the team's 3rd leading receiver, though nearly half of his production for the season came in the Tennessee game (5 catches for 121 yards against the Vols). 6'6, 240lb Sophomore Pharoah Brown shares the duties at tight end with Johnny, but has not registered much in the passing game (2 catches for 42 yards). 5'9 Junior Keanon Lowe is the team's 3rd wideout and 4th leading receiver for the year (13 catches, 164 yards). Look out for Daryle Hawkins (10 catches for 152 Yards) and Chance Allen (4 catches, 78 yards) further in the receiver rotation.

This concludes our preview of the Oregon Ducks. Our earlier posts on the Oregon Defense and Coaching/Special Teams can be found via the previous links.

Unless otherwise noted, stats are via Oregon's weekly press release and their v. UCLA game notes (PDF).