Though it’s now the final days of the season in January, and not the early anticipation of August, The Oregonian/OregonLive are doing two-a-days in the run-up to the College Football Playoff national championship between No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. Each day leading up to the Jan. 12 kickoff at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, we will preview two position matchups each day.

Today: Oregon’s receivers against Ohio State’s defensive backs.

The kids are all right.

Oregon’s receivers and Ohio State’s defensive backs each entered the season challenged and relying heavily on younger players, yet have come out the other end shining.

In the national championship game, something’s gotta give.

The Ducks are down yet another receiver after redshirt freshman Devon Allen’s reportedly season-ending knee injury, suffered on the opening kickoff of Oregon’s dominating rout of Florida State in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl.

Yet despite the absence of the unit’s touchdown leader, the receivers left the field in Pasadena as some of the biggest winners of the afternoon, with redshirt freshman Darren Carrington solidifying himself not just as a player to watch in 2015, but as someone who’s very much come into his own already. A staggering forty-one percent of Carrington’s 704 receiving yards this season have come in the past two games, and he’s caught three touchdowns in Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl victories.

But this is Oregon, too, where yards don’t always equate to performance and perimeter blocking is as valuable as a touchdown (because they so often lead to one). Senior Keanon Lowe did not catch a pass against the Seminoles but “dominated” the game blocking, head coach Mark Helfrich said Monday. Unprompted during interviews Monday, quarterback Marcus Mariota also singled out Lowe’s performance.

One guess at Oregon’s starting receivers would be Carrington, Lowe, Dwayne Stanford and tight end Evan Baylis, whose six catches Jan. 1 were two more than he’d had all season.

Without star power, the Ducks will hope to overwhelm Ohio State’s defensive backs with their sheer amount of youthful options. And vice versa.

The Buckeyes list freshmen Eli Apple or Gareon Conley as co-starters at one corner spot and sophomores Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell at the two safety positions. The only senior on the depth chart at DB is corner Doran Grant, the All-Big Ten first team selection.

Ohio State’s last performance wasn’t glittering, allowing 35 points in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, when Amari Cooper, the brightest star there is in college receiving, caught nine passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. It brought back some — some — of the concerns about the secondary that were voiced in the season’s first weeks, when Cincinnati’s Chris Moore caught three touchdowns and gained more than 200 receiving yards.

But the bottom line is that when taking the long view, Ohio State’s passing efficiency defense has been terrific, ranking fourth-best in the country. That unit ranked 83rd in 2013. Part of that spike can be tied to its 24 interceptions this season, which also ranks fourth-best in FBS.

One unit will be exploited come Monday, over course. But don’t let that spoil the accomplishments of the Ducks’ and Buckeyes’ respective youth movements so far, which have been anything but child’s play.

Up next: Oregon’s secondary against Ohio State’s receivers and tight ends.

— Andrew Greif
[email protected]
503-221-8100; @andrewgreif

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