University of Oregon is Running Back U: But Which Player is No. 1?

This is still one of my favorite ESPN Mag covers of all time.

It’s only right that the school with the flashiest uniforms and fanciest facilities has the most star players at the flashiest position: running back. Take a look back throughout the decade:

Maurice Morris, Onterrio Smith, Terrance Whitehead, J-Stew, JJ, LeGarrette Blount and LaMichael James. And that doesn’t even count Reuben Droughns or the newest crop of soon-to-be standouts.

Without a doubt, University of Oregon is Running Back U.

And accordingly, that creates quite the controversy in Aaron Fentress’s daily Oregon football all-decade team poll.

Do you go with strong and steady (Jeremiah Johnson, Mo Morris, Terrance Whitehead) or short-lived superstuds (Onterrio Smith, Stewart, LMJ)?

It’s a tough choice, but there’s really no wrong answer.

I’m partial to Smith, because he was the first Duck I ever fell in love with (although at 11, I wasn’t quite old enough to understand the meaning of the Whizzinator). But unfortunately, his career fizzled out and said Whizzinator is now his lone claim to fame.

I would pick LMJ because he was AWESOME in my first year covering the Ducks as more than a fan (and being able to watch a player in person makes you appreciate them that much more), but he needs one more studly year for me to justify putting him atop the list. Although, based on pure talent and potential, he’s probably number one.

That leaves one: Jonathan Stewart. Although I never saw him play in person, his 1,722 yards and third-team all-American performance in 2007 speaks for itself. Plus he helped carry my fantasy team to a championship last season. Great recruit, great guy, great player, great pro. J-Stew embodies everything we want from an Oregon Ducks running back.

Who’s your favorite Oregon Ducks running back?

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Breaking Down the Rose Bowl: Battle of the RBs

This play made me salivate.

This play made me salivate.

Continuing with position breakdowns, today I’ll go over the running backs. If you missed yesterday’s, you can read about the quarterbacks here.

After losing Beanie Wells, a first round pick, last season, there were questions about how effectively the Buckeyes would be able to run the ball. Coach Jim Tressel downplayed it, instead talking up how Terrelle Pryor’s growth over the summer would account for the lack of the workhorse running back they are used to having (Wells, Antonio Pittman and dare I say it, Maurice Clarett).

That didn’t go according to plan, but Ohio State still won the Big Ten (eleven), even though they might as well have been playing against beer-league flag football teams. I mean, their biggest competition was Iowa. If the second best team if your conference can throw five interceptions again Indiana (the Hoosiers!) and still win, yeah, you have a weak conference.

In fact, their leading ball carrier is none other than the quarterback. Not a good sign for a team that is known for grinding it out on the ground. It’s amazing what teams will do to land a top recruit.
Apparently Ohio State was willing to throw their entire offensive strategy out the window. But hey, I guess it was time to change it up. Getting smashed harder than Lindsay Lohan at an open bar in BCS games is only fun for so long.

But in all seriousness, the Buckeyes do have a legitimate threat in the backfield, even though he is third on the team in carries and gets little to no national publicity. For all the press than Pryor and DeVier Posey receive on the offense, junior Brandon Saine goes relatively unnoticed.

In fact, like Bill Livingston said in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the biggest case of tOSU neglect stands 6-2, weighs 217 pounds, ran a faster 100-meter time (10.38 seconds) when he was Ohio’s high school state champion than Ted Ginn Jr., the old Glenville flash, and made second team All-Big Ten, despite having only the third-most carries on his team.

Neither of the Ohio State losses can be blamed on Saine. He received only one carry for two yards against Southern California while sophomore counterpart Daniel Herron ran 18 times for 44 yards, including getting stuffed at the Trojan goal line.

Saine also missed the Purdue game with an injury. But he has gotten healthy and turned on the jets lately, finishing the season strong with four touchdowns in as many games.

It will be intriguing to watch the Duck defense contain the Buckeye backfield, with an uncharacteristically fast offense match up with the speedy Oregon side.

Meanwhile, we all know about LaMichael James. My number one man crush also received Pac-10 freshman of the year and AP Third Team All-American honors.

James more than filled in for LeGarrette Blount; he made fans forget about him. He made me feel like I was playing a video game every time he touched the ball.

Case in point: the UCLA game (fast forward to 55 seconds in).

LMJ’s short stature actually works to his advantage, allowing him to sneak behind the offensive line until he finds the hole and then bursts through it faster than Lance Briggs fled the crime scene after crashing his Lamborghini Murcielago in 2007.

The freshman has the highest yards per carry, at 6.9, than any other running back in a BCS conference.

The re-emergence of Blount only adds to the punch of the Oregon backfield. (See what I did there?)

For the first time all year, Chip Kelly can give LMJ a breather knowing that he won’t have to take a hit in talent at running back. (Oops, I did it again)

The running game has been the strongest point for the Ducks all season long, averaging over 236 yards per game on the ground.

But the Buckeyes are no slouches either, topping 200 a game themselves.

I think it’s safe to say that whoever wins the running game will most likely come out on top.

Rating:

Oregon 10, Buckeyes 8.

Total: Oregon 19, Buckeyes 15.

Ducks Pummel Cougars: Force Their Way Back Into BCS Picture

It’s official: Oregon’s offense is back and flying higher than ever. Which means the Ducks are the team to beat in the Pac-10, and even more importantly, they have forced their way firmly back into the BCS picture.

Yeah, it was that kind of night for Washington State.

Yeah, it was that kind of night for Washington State.

Fresh off of a 39-point thrashing over then ranked-No. 6 Cal, Oregon completely obliterated Washington State 52-6 Saturday night, making the Cougars look eerily similar to the team from “The Waterboy” before stutterin’ Bobby Boucher arrived to save the day.

After an initial scare on the opening kickoff (again), the Ducks were all business, completely outclassing a defenseless Cougar sqaud who couldn’t help but watch as the Oregon offense moved the ball at will, compiling 505 yards of total offense.

Jeremiah Masoli kept the Washington State defense guessing as he executed Chip Kelly’s spread-offense to perfection, completing 14 of his 18 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

He added 56 yards and a score on the ground, before giving way to Nate Costa midway through the second quarter leading 35-0.

With the Ducks’ offensive line constantly creating holes larger than Phil Knight’s safety deposit box, the talented stable of running backs couldn’t help but have a field day. And I mean everybody.

LaMichael James, Remene Alston, Masoli, Andre Crenshaw, Kenjon Barner, Costa, and even Jide Shinaba all were effective carrying the ball.

Five different players found the end zone as Oregon rushed for 316 yards on 60 carries, averaging just under six yards per rush.

As impressive as the Ducks offense was, the defense was even better. The unit allowed only 139 toal yards, with much of that coming in garbage time.

They forced nine punts, recorded four sacks, came up with two interceptions and did their best to keep Washington State off the scoreboard entirely.

So putrid was Washington State’s offense, that they fumbled the ball on their only play that went longer than 12 yards.

The Cougars only touchdown came after Scott Brady called for a fair catch and muffed the punt at his own 2-yard line. And even then, it took Washington State three tries to get in.

“We wanted the shutout real bad,” rover Javes Lewis said. “But in this type of game, it doesn’t really matter.”

After a hectic week dealing with both on and off the field issues, the Ducks had reason to let down.

Two days prior, the possibility of a LeGarrette Blount reinstatement came about. And at the beginning of the week, they learned that cornerback and team captain Walter Thurmond would be lost for the season.

But the Ducks quickly suppressed any chance of a letdown by scoring touchdowns on six of their first seven drives.

“Our letdown was Week One,” Lewis said, referring to the 19-8 loss at Boise State that precipitated Blount’s infamous outburst. “You learn your lessons through pain, and we had a lot of pain that game.”

Despite being written off by the voters following that demoralizing loss on the Smurf Turf, the Ducks have steadily improved each game.

After squeaking past Purdue, the defense shut down a Utah team that carried with them the nation’s longest undefeated streak. And then last week, the offense came alive as well, when the Ducks put together a nearly perfect game against Cal.

Oregon couldn’t have picked a better time to hit full steam, because they are entering the make-or-break portion of their schedule next week. They travel to UCLA to face the Bruins, followed by Washington, USC, and Stanford.

In the past, the Ducks have been known to crumple under the pressure of lofty expectations, but this year is different. Why? They are armed with a weapon they have never had before: a shutdown defense.

So now, sitting undefeated atop the Pac-10, and climbing their way back up in the polls, Oregon has once again returned as a team to watch in the BCS…and this time, not just because of their uniforms.

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Live From The Chip Kelly Press Conference: “This Is Not a Football Decision”

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly made it clear this morning that the decision to possibly reinstate Legarrette Blount has nothing to do what he can do on the football field. Instead, he is wholly concerned in the character of his senior tailback.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Kelly announced that if Blount adheres to strict behavioral and academic “ladders”, there is a possibility he will gain an opportunity return against Stanford on November 7th.

“This is not a football decision, this is a human being decision. It’s about that individual,” Kelly said Friday. “And he’s got a lot of things he’s got to do.”

Under NCAA guidelines, Blount’s punch of Boise State player Byron Hout would have warranted just a one or two game suspension. But it’s what Blount did before and after the punch that proved to Kelly that Blount needed a major character improvement.

It is no secret that Blount has had off the field issues before, as he was previously suspended over the offseason and has had troubles with his academics. Those issues, combined with Blount’s actions leaving the field at Boise State, forced Kelly to make a swift decision to suspend him for the entirety of the season.

So that raises the question, why would Kelly suspend Blount for the remainder of the season if he had plans for a possible reinstatement? Wouldn’t an indefinite suspension be more appropriate for the future credibility of Kelly and the Oregon athletic department?

Not according to Kelly.

“Legarrette needed to understand there was a finality to it. I only used strong language to show LG the importance of the situation.”

Say what you will. Kelly flip-flopped. Kelly wouldn’t be considering a reinstatement if the Ducks were out of the BCS and Pac-10 races. Kelly isn’t experienced enough to make such a difficult decision.

But from sitting in the first row at the press conference this morning, I could see the honesty, integrity, and thoroughness in which Kelly handled the situation.

After the initial suspension, Kelly had no plan to reinstate him. He even expected Blount to pack his bags and take off back home. But Blount stepped up, took responsibility and stuck around. He even reached out to Kelly on September 4th, asking for Broncos head coach Chris Peterson’s phone number so he could call and apologize.

Two weeks ago, Kelly saw a possibility for reinstatement. The fact that Blount continued practicing with the team, while working on his off the field issues proved to Kelly his desire to remain a part of the Oregon football program.

Which is why after speaking with Tony Dungy, John Gruden, Harry Edwards, and several other notable NFL authorities, Kelly decided if Blount can do what he has put in place for him, he deserves a chance to play again.

But Kelly was very sure to emphasize that this is no guarantee.

“There’s a distinct possibility he’ll never play football here again,” Kelly said. “But the ball is in LeGarrette’s court.”

Kelly justified his change of heart on the suspension by saying, “if I only suspended Blount for 4 games, I couldn’t change it to 12. But this way, if he proves he deserves it, he can be reinstated, with the approval of Larry Scott.”

Which is also no guarantee. Kelly has not talked to Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, but feels whatever he rules will be the correct decision.

Personally, I feel Kelly handled this excellently. He sent a message to Blount, and the rest of the team, that this behavior will not be tolerated. He also has given Blount a chance to earn back his reinstatement, something I feel Kelly will judge very carefully.

And now the ball is in Blount’s court to prove that he deserves a chance to come back and represent the University of Oregon as a football player.

According to Kelly, “discipline is about behavioral improvement, not about punishment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Live From The Chip Kelly Press Conference: “This Is Not a Football Decision”

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly made it clear this morning that the decision to possibly reinstate Legarrette Blount has nothing to do what he can do on the football field. Instead, he is wholly concerned in the character of his senior tailback.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Kelly announced that if Blount adheres to strict behavioral and academic “ladders”, there is a possibility he will gain an opportunity return against Stanford on November 7th.

“This is not a football decision, this is a human being decision. It’s about that individual,” Kelly said Friday. “And he’s got a lot of things he’s got to do.”

Under NCAA guidelines, Blount’s punch of Boise State player Byron Hout would have warranted just a one or two game suspension. But it’s what Blount did before and after the punch that proved to Kelly that Blount needed a major character improvement.

It is no secret that Blount has had off the field issues before, as he was previously suspended over the offseason and has had troubles with his academics. Those issues, combined with Blount’s actions leaving the field at Boise State, forced Kelly to make a swift decision to suspend him for the entirety of the season.

So that raises the question, why would Kelly suspend Blount for the remainder of the season if he had plans for a possible reinstatement? Wouldn’t an indefinite suspension be more appropriate for the future credibility of Kelly and the Oregon athletic department?

Not according to Kelly.

“Legarrette needed to understand there was a finality to it. I only used strong language to show LG the importance of the situation.”

Say what you will. Kelly flip-flopped. Kelly wouldn’t be considering a reinstatement if the Ducks were out of the BCS and Pac-10 races. Kelly isn’t experienced enough to make such a difficult decision.

But from sitting in the first row at the press conference this morning, I could see the honesty, integrity, and thoroughness in which Kelly handled the situation.

After the initial suspension, Kelly had no plan to reinstate him. He even expected Blount to pack his bags and take off back home. But Blount stepped up, took responsibility and stuck around. He even reached out to Kelly on September 4th, asking for Broncos head coach Chris Peterson’s phone number so he could call and apologize.

Two weeks ago, Kelly saw a possibility for reinstatement. The fact that Blount continued practicing with the team, while working on his off the field issues proved to Kelly his desire to remain a part of the Oregon football program.

Which is why after speaking with Tony Dungy, John Gruden, Harry Edwards, and several other notable NFL authorities, Kelly decided if Blount can do what he has put in place for him, he deserves a chance to play again.

But Kelly was very sure to emphasize that this is no guarantee.

“There’s a distinct possibility he’ll never play football here again,” Kelly said. “But the ball is in LeGarrette’s court.”

Kelly justified his change of heart on the suspension by saying, “if I only suspended Blount for 4 games, I couldn’t change it to 12. But this way, if he proves he deserves it, he can be reinstated, with the approval of Larry Scott.”

Which is also no guarantee. Kelly has not talked to Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, but feels whatever he rules will be the correct decision.

Personally, I feel Kelly handled this excellently. He sent a message to Blount, and the rest of the team, that this behavior will not be tolerated. He also has given Blount a chance to earn back his reinstatement, something I feel Kelly will judge very carefully.

And now the ball is in Blount’s court to prove that he deserves a chance to come back and represent the University of Oregon as a football player.

According to Kelly, “discipline is about behavioral improvement, not about punishment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Boise State Shows Oregon The Importance of Scheduling

It’s easy to look back after the fact and play armchair GM. You hear it all the time from fans: “coach X needs to grow a pair, he should have went for it on 4th down!” or “he shouldn’t have tried to steal second base in that situation, what an idiot.” But those are the types of plays where if you make it, you’re a genius, and if you don’t, well, you get the picture. After all, hindsight is called 20/20 for a reason.

That blue on blue combination is completly unfair. Yea, I'm bitter. You wanna fight about it?

That blue on blue combination is completely unfair. Yea, I'm bitter. You wanna fight about it?

But there are some instances so apparent, so obvious, that even before something goes wrong, you just know it’s going to happen. And when it does, all you can do is just cover your face with your hands and painfully watch through the cracks in-between your fingers, like watching a replay of car accident in slow motion, over and over again.

What am I referring to? No, it wasn’t the Legarrette Blount punch, or Jeremiah Masoli’s mountain of sucktidude on Saturday against Utah. It was scheduling the first game of the season on the road against Boise State.

Let me break it down. Coming into the season, Oregon wasn’t really a model for stability and constancy. Unlike Florida, who returned all 11 starters on defense, their Heisman-winning quarterback, and a head coach who has a vice grip on the title of “best football coach east of USC”, Oregon faced a lot of questions marks.

How fluidly will Chip Kelly take over the reins from the Mike Bellotti era? Will Masoli play like the superstar he was against Oregon State and Oklahoma State or will he produce stinkers like the Cal game? How will the Ducks handle the losses of Patrick Chung, Jairus Byrd, Nick Reed and Ra’shon Harris on defense and the departures of Max Unger, Fenuki Tupou and Jeremiah Johnson on the offense? That’s a whole lot of turnover to deal with over one offseason. And despite all that, Oregon was hyping themselves up as a Pac 10 contender and BCS title sleeper. That’s a lot of pressure.

So in a season with so many unknowns, they scheduled Boise State, a team desperate for a major non-conference win, in their first game on the road, in a stadium that can unflap even the most unflappable. Doesn’t sound good.

Yes, when they scheduled this game several years ago, they might not have known how much turnover they would be dealing with this season. But last year, when the Broncos traveled to Eugene to face the Ducks – in a very similar situation (new quarterback, a raucous stadium notorious for its effect on the opponents), Boise State didn’t have to play Oregon until their third game of the season, conveniently scheduling tune-up games against Idaho State and Bowling Green to work out all the kinks before playing a powerhouse like the Ducks. And what do you know, it worked out.

So the unproven Ducks go into Boise that Thursday night, in front of a nationally televised audience no less, to play a team who has a home record of 64-2 since 1999 and playing for their BCS life. That’s a dangerous combination.

Playing in a non-BCS conference, where even if they go undefeated, they still aren’t guaranteed a BCS bowl berth, a win against a team like Oregon was absolutely necessary, as a loss would make pundits say, “if they can’t beat Oregon, they have no chance against Texas or Florida.” And Boise State played like it.

But luckily for Chip Kelly and the Ducks, and the fate of their 2009 campaign, even with a loss in the opener, a Rose Bowl appearance still hangs in the balance. So in order for Oregon to have a chance in the Pac 10, they must put the loss to Boise State completely behind them and focus solely on the task at hand, the #6 California Golden Bears. Oh my.

Broncos Repeatedly Try to Give Away Game, Ducks Want None of It; Inevitably Ends In Loss.

That was an absolutely pathetically awful, terrible, horrible, no good very bad game. There I said it. Wait, there’s more: ghastly, atrocious, hideous. Sorry I had to get it out of my system. Basically, there are not enough anti-superlatives in the dictionary to describe how poorly the Ducks played last night.

To sum up, it basically felt as if Legarrette Blount personally punched me in gut, continually, from about 7:15 to 10:30. I would have rather have been after game-punch recipient Byron Hout than a Duck fan at about 11:45 PM Mountain Daylight Time. Blount’s sucker punch made Carmello Anthony look like Muhammad Ali.

1_21_h450_20090904071622_320_240This game ranks on Bill Simmons’s “Levels of Losing” as a combination of Dead Man Walking and the Full-Fledged Butt Kicking, with a twist of ruined season tossed in. In a vacuum, this game is already extremely painful, but to figure in our high expectations, along with the necessity to stay undefeated in the BCS hunt, this game clocks in right behind a cracked femur or childbirth on the pain scale.

The Bronco’s kept trying to give the Ducks a chance to get back in the game, but Oregon never capitalized. And that’s not an exaggeration. They didn’t even have a single first down until the 7:07 mark third quarter!

Simmons says it perfectly, “Especially disheartening because you wave the white flag mentally, but there’s a tiny part of you still holding out hope for a miraculous momentum change. … So you’ve given up, but you’re still getting hurt, if that makes sense.”Boise State kept rolling out long drives, completely wearing out the Ducks already shaky D, but not getting anything to show for it, keeping the faintest glimmer of hope alive in the back of my mind.

Similarly to the Purdue game last year, the Broncos sucked the life out of the Ducks but kept the door open by keeping it a 3- score game. And for the Ducks, when they’re offense is clicking, that margin can be made up in a matter of minutes. Difference was,  in the second half last year, Oregon capitalized on turnovers and kept inching their way closer, until finally tying the game and taking over momentum in the final minutes. The Ducks gained no such momentum this year.

Once Oregon got the ball after forcing a turnover, you could just tell that they were thinking, “I wonder how long before we screw up and give it back.” Or maybe that’s just what I was thinking. Whatever the case, it sure didn’t take very long.

Before I cry myself to sleep, again, I’ll you find the parallels between the Full-Fledged Butt Kicking and the pathetic attempt the Ducks made to play football last night. Go for it Simmons: “Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn’t your team’s day. … And that’s the worst part, not just the epiphany but everything that follows — every botched play; every turnover; every instance where someone on your team quits; every “deer in the headlights” look; every time an announcer says, “They can’t get anything going”; every shot of the opponents celebrating; every time you look at the score and think to yourself, “Well, if we score here and force a turnover, maybe we’ll get some momentum,” but you know it’s not going to happen, because you’re already 30 points down. … You just want it to end, and it won’t end. … But you can’t look away. … It’s the sports fan’s equivalent to a three-hour torture session.”

And there goes the season.