DALLAS — It was after his press conference opened with six questions in a row about ineligible receiver Darren Carrington that Oregon coach Mark Helfrich channeled the attitude of all his defiant, confident Ducks on Saturday morning.

“Let’s go, let’s move,” Helfrich said. “We’re going to waste a lot of time here.”

Hunched forward, Helfrich sat at a podium on a fake, full-length football field imported inside a massive convention center. Behind him, fans sat in grandstands listening to interviews over headsets. In front of the coach, players mingled with reporters for an hour on media day, two days before kickoff of the College Football Playoff national championship against Ohio State.

The topic of many of those conversations was, of course, Carrington, the redshirt freshman receiver ineligible for the title game — and likely half of next season, per NCAA rules — because of reportedly testing positive for marijuana. The news came eight days after Carrington’s two-touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl, his second consecutive 100-yard game in as many starts, the kind of stretch that left some considering Carrington — with 37 catches and 704 yards — a burgeoning star.

“I was sad for Darren,” sophomore receiver Dwayne Stanford said. “He’s a young kid, he’s been having such a great season and he turned it around, maturing a lot and I was just sad for him.”

Sad for him though they may be, his Ducks teammates are not concerned about how the receivers will respond in his absence. The message: If you couldn’t tell, we’ve been here before.

“Our focus is we feel really good about the guys who are here,” receivers coach Matt Lubick said. “We’re fortunate to have great depth at the receiver position.”

The receivers have lived a “next man up” existence since spring, when the attrition began with a knee injury to leading returning receiver Bralon Addison. He’s sat out this year, working toward a redshirt, and he will not play Monday, Lubick said.

Senior Keanon Lowe, the receiving unit’s emotional leader and best perimeter blocker, missed three games with a hamstring injury. Tight end Pharaoh Brown’s thriving season as a receiver ended when he suffered a season-ending injury Nov. 8. On the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl, Devon Allen injured his right leg, and won’t play Monday, either. He hobbled around the convention center Saturday morning on crutches.

“Nothing in our preparation has really changed because of the tempo of our practices, we probably rep eight guys each practice,” Lubick said. “A lot of guys who are redshirting even take reps with the ones and twos just because the tempo and the number of plays we get.”

In some ways, the limited depth at receiver has helped Oregon because it’s developed a need for versatility. Every receiver knows how to play each position, freshman Charles Nelson said, enabling a seamless season of plug-and-play.

“There are parts and pieces that everyone can put together to do what (Carrington) does and has done,” Nelson said. “With him out we’re just going to throw somebody else in there and make plays as always.”

Those who could benefit from Carrington’s ineligibility are Nelson, who’s worked his way into valuable but still limited role in the last two months, and little-used reserves Chance Allen and Johnathan Loyd.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been tested in that realm of guys not being available for whatever reason all season long, and our guys have stepped up,” Helfrich said.

Lowe, Byron Marshall and Dwayne Stanford are listed as starters on the Ducks’ depth chart.

Oregon Ducks wide receiver Dwayne Stanford (88) practices at Euless Trinity High School near Dallas on Saturday morning. 

“We can’t just sit back and think that the starting player isn’t playing anymore that we can relax,” Ohio State freshman middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “We have to prepare for everything. As the next man steps up we still have to prepare like he started.”

The Ducks’ status as a touchdown favorite hasn’t budged, according to the Bovada sports book in Las Vegas.

Carrington remains in contact with several Ducks, with his fellow receivers attempting to raise his spirits while raising their games.

“It’s just more of a hungry mentality knowing we don’t have some of the people with us,” said Marshall, whose 66 receptions and 834 yards are each a team-high.

Helfrich also confirmed Saturday that reserve senior running back and special teams standout Ayele Forde also failed a drug test and did not make the trip.

Though the Ducks (13-1) boast depth, the loss of Carrington does leave the unit down a player who, while still young, unrefined and officially a backup, produced big plays like his team churns out uniform combinations. Of Oregon’s 66 plays of 25 yards or longer this season, Carrington was on the receiving end of 10.

But just as Oregon believes the big play will still very much be part of its arsenal Monday, the Buckeyes (13-1) aren’t fooling themselves that Carrington’s absence means Oregon’s downfield threat is now greatly diminished.

“They like to run around you and make you tired and hit you when you’re least thinking about it,” McMillan said. “When your mind is going and you’re thinking about your fatigue they’ll hit you on deep balls and stuff like that. “We have to keep our composure and just not think about fatigue.”

Oregon’s famous tempo accounted for a sizable chunk of the questions the Buckeyes’ defenders received Saturday when it was their own turn to face the cameras. Time and again, they responded that Ohio State’s own fast pace on offense has prepared them well for the central challenge of Oregon, a team that doesn’t like to waste time whether it’s moving into scoring position, or moving past a latest setback.

— Andrew Greif
[email protected]
@andrewgreif

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