Despite key losses, Oregon confident in its depth at receiver – USA TODAY
USA TODAY Sports NCAA football writer breaks down the title game between Oregon and Ohio State.
DALLAS — In an alternate universe, one in which Oregon does not have quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks might be worried about losing multiple receivers this past week.
They already had lost a couple to injuries earlier this season, and that was before redshirt freshman Devon Allen left the Rose Bowl after injuring his knee on the opening kickoff. And before Darren Carrington failed an NCAA drug test and was ruled ineligible for Monday’s national championship game.
FOOTBALL FOUR: Rating and debating college football and the Playoff
Without the best quarterback in the nation — and without depth at the receiver position — Oregon would have been concerned. Instead, the Ducks are confident and insist that it doesn’t really matter who’s out there catching the ball as long as their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is throwing it.
“Just catch the ball,” receiver Johnathan Loyd said. “Run the route and catch the ball, because he’s going to put it on the money every time. It definitely makes it easier when you have the best quarterback in the country.”
Said Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost: “Marcus makes everybody better, there’s no question about it. If you ask him, he wouldn’t say that; it’s a team thing. These guys have been rising to the occasion all year.”
One of the receivers to rise to the occasion was Carrington himself. The redshirt freshman had seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the Ducks’ Rose Bowl victory. Carrington did not travel to Dallas with the team.
“It doesn’t affect what we’re doing at all, to be honest with you,” receivers coach Matt Lubick said. “We’re excited about the guys we’ve got. We’ve got depth. It’s actually the healthiest we’ve been in a long time.”
That’s despite a few serious injuries. Oregon has played its last four games without valuable receiving target Pharaoh Brown, who suffered a season-ending leg injury against Utah. Before the season, top returning receiver Bralon Addison tore his ACL. Allen’s injury at the Rose Bowl came after an impressive rookie campaign; he had 41 receptions for 684 yards and seven touchdowns.
Still, Lubick said Oregon has used a six-receiver rotation because there hasn’t been much of a drop-off between its top pass-catchers and their backups. Last season that wasn’t the case, and some receivers played entire games because the coaching staff didn’t want to play reserves.
“Through this whole year, if one guy goes down or gets nicked up, it gave someone else an opportunity,” Lubick said. “Then, (I say,) ‘Oh wow, I’ve got to get him on the field (more).’ As a coach, that’s a good problem to have. We didn’t have that last year, the depth to do that.”
Players grudgingly addressed Carrington’s absence during Oregon’s mandated media day on Saturday. Some said they hadn’t spoken to Carrington, others declined to discuss specifics. Lubick said his impression was that players felt bad for Carrington but not let down by him.
“As far as our football team, we’re going to be fine,” Lubick said. “Our preparation stays the same. But when a guy who’s worked that hard, something like this happens because of bad decisions, naturally you’re not going to feel good about it.”
At the end of the day, though, Oregon can only play as well as its players here in Dallas play. In terms of top available receivers, that means the Ducks will rely on Lloyd, Byron Marshall, Dwayne Stanford, Keanon Lowe and Charles Nelson. Someone will surely step up to make big plays, Lubick insists. He knows who will throw ’em — the same quarterback who’s tossed 40 touchdowns on the season.
“He has a way of making us look good,” Lubick said.