It’s a grievous mistake to base too much on a spring game, but Devon Allen drew a lot of heightened awareness and attention among fans with his two-touchdown performance (2 catches, for 49 and 45 yards). He added another layer of intrigue by setting a school record in the 110-meter hurdles, 13.27, besting the old mark by .11 seconds.
While track and spring game success doesn’t always translate, the kid is seriously fast, and clearly doesn’t wilt in big-time competition. As a high schooler he ran a top time in the 100 meters of 10.48. In his senior year at Brophy Prep in Phoenix, Arizona he won state titles in the 100, 200, and both the high and low hurdles. Just a couple of weeks after his spring game showing he helped the Oregon men’s track team win their 8th straight team title by finishing second in the 110 and 400 meter hurdles as a true freshman.
The Ducks have a lot of offense to replace this fall with Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas moving on to the NFL and Bralon Addison out for the year with a torn ACL he suffered during spring practice. Allen could be part of the answer. He’s in a group of super-fast underclassmen that includes Tony James, Charles Nelson, Darren Carrington and Jalen Brown, from which Matt Lubick has to find at least two that are ready to contribute right now. Johnny Mundt (16 catches, 281 yards, 3 tds) and Keanon Lowe (18 catches, 233 yards, 3 tds) are the leading returning receivers. With one of the nation’s best returning quarterbacks, there’s a lot of production unaccounted for. At the outset the offense is like a bar on a random Monday night, a target-poor environment.
Will Oregon continue to be a run-first team in 2014? Last year they had 568 rushes for 3556 yards, 405 passes for 3789. With a veteran offensive line (108 returning starts) and two capable starting tailbacks in Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, who combined for 1753 yards and 23 tds last season on the ground, plus a defense that replaces about half its starters, the ability to grind it out when necessary becomes a potent weapon. The Ducks are famous for their fast tempo, but what some college football fans around the country don’t understand about them is that they run three distinct tempos, green light, yellow light and red light, with the red light being the check-to-the-sideline and more deliberate pace.
Meanwhile in two years Marcus Mariota has averaged about 100 carries a season for 733 yards, but you wonder if they might be more careful with him as a junior. Certainly the speed and mobility is a big part of his game, but Oregon’s national title hopes depend on keeping him healthy. It’s likely he’ll still be employed as a running threat, but the instructions will be firm: “touchdown, first down, get down or out of bounds.” They need him for the whole season.
Many observers expect the Oregon offense to evolve a little this season. It has to. The spread and up-tempo is no longer the mystery it was when the Ducks went to the Rose Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game. Teams see it week after week and many practice against it every day now. There will likely be some subtle changes and shifts in emphasis. It will be interesting. Exciting offense has become a trademark, and this is a team that’s loaded at tailback, deep on the offensive line, gifted at qb, and green at wide receiver. The South Dakota game won’t reveal much, but they’d better have a cohesive plan for Michigan State. The Spartans are one of the most hard-hitting and disciplined defenses in the country, although they had some considerable losses to graduation, particularly in the defensive backfield and on the defensive line.
While the Quack Attack produced its typical gaudy numbers for the season, averaging 45.5 points and 565 yards a game, there were some significant glitches, particularly later in the year. Red zone failures, penalties and turnovers were costly in the two losses. The Ducks only managed one offensive touchdown in the Alamo Bowl. They’ll need better execution to win a conference title and compete for college football’s first playoff, particularly in big games, MSU, Stanford and UCLA.
The Ducks began the summer with a team bonding exercise. According to Seth Prince of the Oregonian they hiked Mount Pisgah, Southeast of Eugene, participating in a two-day leadership camp run by an organization called The Program that has worked with several top Division One football schools including Alabama and Ohio State.
Tyler Johnstone led the hike up the hill, and that’s a good sign as he continues rehab of the knee he injured in the Alamo Bowl. Mariota and Tyner participated.
The camp sets the tone for summer workouts and encourages the group to articulate the goals they have this year. Chances are they won’t talk about them much publicly. In 83 days talking won’t be necessary.