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MailTribune.com
  • Loaded backfield has Ducks off and running

    Oregon had three 100-yard rushers in Saturday's victory
  • Nicholls' overmatched defensive front was already beaten, battered and gasping for breath.
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  • Nicholls' overmatched defensive front was already beaten, battered and gasping for breath.
    Oregon's experienced offensive line opened up gaping holes for De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Marcus Mariota to rush for more than 100 yards each and score five combined touchdowns on the ground.
    And then in the fourth quarter, the unforgiving Ducks put Colt Lyerla in the backfield. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end provided the knockout punch with three bruising carries for 17 yards and a touchdown.
    UO's coaching staff believes that Lyerla can be a closer of sorts in the backfield, even when this powerful team is picking on opponents its own size.
    "I think to have that guy (Lyerla) in the backfield is a threat to any defense," running backs coach Gary Campbell said.
    "His athletic ability and his competitiveness with the ball is just way above normal. It's a real plus to have him and be able to throw him in there and have him just kind of bulldoze over guys. And they better not give him an opening, or he'll outrun them, too."
    Lyerla, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards during his junior and senior seasons at Hillsboro High, said he is very comfortable with the role. He had 13 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown last season, in addition to his 25 receptions for 392 yards and six touchdowns.
    "I'd like to be back there every play if I could," Lyerla said. "It's up to the coaches, and I'm going to make the most of every opportunity I get back there."
    It's already going to be difficult for offensive coordinator Scott Frost to find enough carries for this talented stable of running backs without adding a Colt to the mix.
    Thomas had a career-high 18 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the opener. Marshall produced 124 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries (15.5 yards per carry), and Ayele Forde added 54 yards on three carries (17.7 yards per carry).
    Mariota kept the ball five times for 113 yards (22.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
    Now Campbell is planning to add highly touted freshman Thomas Tyner to the mix this Saturday at Virginia.
    "It all just depends on how the games go I guess," Lyerla said. "If our initial running backs are already killing it, then there's probably no need to put me back there. If they do need a big man back there, I'm sure they'll put me back there and use me."
    The coaching staff can also use Lyerla flexed out as a receiver, they can put him in motion or line him up at his listed position of tight end. He only had one reception against Nicholls, but Josh Huff (118 yards), Bralon Addison (42 yards, one touchdown), Chance Allen (30 yards, one touchdown) and the other wide-outs did plenty of damage.
    "To have someone like Colt who's so versatile, I think that's pretty special," Mariota said. "He can play in the backfield, he can play anywhere, and that's hard for defenses to key on him. It gives him an opportunity to make plays and he's the type of guy that wants to. I think it's going to be very vital for us."
    The emergence of Johnny Mundt, a true freshman who made his debut against Nicholls, allowed UO to utilize Lyerla as a running back. When sophomore Pharaoh Brown recovers from injury, the Ducks are going to be able to create even more matchup problems with their tight ends.
    "It's like (Mundt) already redshirted pretty much. He is really mature and he has a great grasp of the offense so far. He learned a lot faster than I did, it's pretty impressive," Lyerla said. "The better our tight ends are as a group, the more versatility I can have as an individual. As long as it all works out well for us as a team."
    UO strong safety Brian Jackson compared Lyerla's physical presence in the backfield to what Stanford had with running back Toby Gerhart. But the Ducks' junior tight end is about five inches taller and at least 20 pounds heavier than Gerhart, who is entering his fourth season with the Minnesota Vikings.
    "He's not a little 180-pound back," UO tight ends coach Tom Osborne said of Lyerla. "Big guys like that are going to be harder to bring down and harder to keep from gaining a little bit of yardage. He's fresh coming in and only carrying it a few times, compared to a guy who has carried it 20 to 25 times. That can give us some advantages."
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