Scott Frost and Mark Helfrich will have to get innovative to stay ahead of the rest of the PAC-12 and achieve the high expectations that have been set for the Ducks this year.
While 24 of 39 media members at PAC-12 Media Days pick the Ducks to win the conference, Aaron Fentress and others speculate about whether the rest of the conference is “catching up” to Oregon’s spread offense. The up-tempo spread isn’t the novelty it was in 2005 when Mike Bellotti first brought it to Oregon, or 2007 when the arrival of Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator kicked into turbo Mr. Fusion overdrive.
“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”
To make the challenge even greater, Frost/Helfrich have to find a way to scheme and implement around the loss of Josh Huff, De’Anthony Thomas and Bralon Addison, three of the playmakers that produced 565 yards and 45.5 points per game last season.
Unfortunately with an injured Marcus Mariota the 2013 offense averaged 18 points per game in two November losses, keeping them out of a conference championship game or BCS bowl.
To improve the record in 2014, the Ducks have to get immediate help from a group of young receivers. Out of Dwayne Stanford, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington, Chance Allen, B.J. Kelley, Jalen Brown, Charles Nelson and Tony James, two have to assert themselves in fall camp and show they can make plays in big games. They’d better hurry, because Michigan State comes to town in game two, and the Ducks have a very tough trip to UCLA on October 11th.
But the real key to the next genesis of the Oregon offense, other than trusting in the accurate right arm, fleet feet and great decision-making of the country’s most complete quarterback, is a bold and simple principle:
Use Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall in multiple roles.
The Ducks are blessed to have two proven tailbacks, both good athletes who are dangerous in one-on-one matchups. They have good hands and plenty of athletic ability.
Frost should use them the way they should have utilized The Black Momba last season. Move them around. Get them in the slot. Throw them the bubble screen. Hand them the ball on the fly sweep or speed reverse. Motion one of the them. Put Tyner in the four vertical set. Put the ball in Marshall’s belly on the zone read, with Tyner trailing for the pitch.
With the Ducks short on proven receivers, using these two on short passes and screens as an extension of the running game can pressure teams to defend the whole field, particularly with Mariota with being so good at sifting through multiple options.
Get Marshall and Tyner on the Jugs gun every day, and work on improving their hands. Force the defense to find Tyner on every play and account for his world-class speed. He’s faster than Reggie Bush was, bigger and stronger, and potentially just as versatile.
With Kani Benoit and Royce Freeman in the rotation, there’s no need to save Marshall and Tyner or spoon out the carries. Put them to work in as many roles as possible. Use the best weapons you have to tax the defense. Run them underneath, on crossing routes. There isn’t a linebacker in the conference that can stay with them.
Mariota delivers an accurate, catchable ball that’s easy to handle. Use the backs in the passing game, and move them around in the formation. They are Super Mario’s two best weapons with Addison gone.