For players, a tuneup game is a chance to play football. The stadium is loud and the adrenaline flows. The opponent doesn’t really matter, Athletes relish the chance to compete and show what they can do, to play the game they’ve loved since they were little kids. The most joyous moments happen when the little kid comes out. Just playing, celebrating a touchdown, carried away in a moment with their teammates, putting on the uniform and running around.
Several younger Ducks have the opportunity today to earn a bigger role, boost their confidence and show they’re ready to contribute in the PAC-12 race.
Kenjon Barner is tough and a warrior, and he’s worked very hard this off season after an endless litany of can-you-be-the-every-down-back questions. Look at his arms and legs. Barner is 5-10 195, but none of it is fat. He’s powerful, compact and marvelously conditioned.
Even so, the Ducks can’t want to rely him for 34 carries every game, like he had in getting 201 yards against Fresno State.
The freshman Marshall should get an opportunity today to display his talents, and show some of the explosiveness and cutting ability that made him the highest-rated running back prospect in the West last recruiting season. Against Arkansas State two weeks ago in his first college action, Marshall looked a little tentative rushing 24 times for 67 yards, a 2.7 yard average. His longest carry went for 25 yards, and he did have a 3-yard touchdown run, but there were too many plays when the Red Wolves defense stopped him up and got him dancing in place.
With a chance to study film and get some additional guidance from Gary Campbell, expect the Valley Christian product to display the form that saw him average 6.7 yards a carry as a high school senior.
Running with authority and ball security will allow Campbell, Helfrich and Kelly to rely on Byron for 5-10 carries a game during the season, giving Barner and Thomas some valuable breathers and protect the rb rotation from injury and breaking down.
Colt Lyerla/Keanon Lowe/Rahsaan Vaughn
These three are listed together because they have each shown some good signs in the first two weeks, coming up with some good catches and making positive plays both as blockers and receivers. B.J. Kelley also has a couple of catches for 39 yards and a td, and Stanford and Addison have some touches.
Oregon needs one or two of these guys to break through with 5 to 6 catches and a big play, winning the confidence of their quarterback and coaches. The expectation is that the passing game could be a bigger part of the Oregon attack with Mariota throwing, but he needs targets, particularly someone reliable to go to in key situations like third and seven, a receiver that can be depended upon to get open and finish the play.
All of these guys have talent. Most of them were four and five star recruits. Breaking through in a game situation, even a tuneup game like this one, gives them some momentum for the coming weeks.
Lyerla in particular has run hard with every catch this year, very tough to bring down. The Ducks need to get him the ball more. Against Fresno State the offense completely lost its rhythm in the third quarter as the Bulldogs blitzed on nearly every play. Safe, simple throws to the tight end are a terrific rhythm starter and an extremely effective antidote to the blitz. Get the big fella the ball. He’s one of the most explosive, gifted, strong, athletic packages the Ducks have had in a long line of standout tight ends.
Erick Dargan and Derrick Malone
Dargan and Malone were all-everything playmakers in high school, sought after superstars who ranged the field and led their teams to league championships. They’ve been tough as rotational players and special teams standouts early in their Oregon careers. Dargan is already second on the team in tackles. Malone, Academic honorable mention in the PAC-12 last season, had five tackles versus Arkansas State.
Both sophomores, each of these ending-in-k good citizens is counted on for a bigger role in the Oregon defense, and each is a tweaked ankle away from being a full-time starter on a national championship contender. They have to be ready, and making some plays today will signal that they are.