Finding a balance
EUGENE — Oregon led the Pac-12 in rushing each of the past eight seasons.
Jonathan Stewart (2006-07), Jeremiah Johnson (2008), LaMichael James (2009-11), Kenjon Barner (2012) and Byron Marshall (2013) each produced 1,000-yard seasons during the dominant span.
Through four games the 2014 Ducks rank third in the conference in rushing offense (225.2 ypg) and haven’t had a running back eclipse 100 yards in a single game.
Of course, this isn’t fantasy football.
The reality of the situation is No. 2 Oregon is 4-0 entering Thursday night’s game against undefeated Arizona at Autzen Stadium.
“I don’t think we’re trying to change anything. We do have maybe the best passer in college football, so we’re going to put some things on him,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “But we have to be able to run it, too, and we want to stay as close to balanced as we can.”
The Ducks have averaged 5.7 yards on 157 rushing attempts and 11.4 yards on 116 passing attempts this season.
“I think we have a ground game,” Marshall said. “Just because we don’t have a 100-yard rusher, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a ground game.”
Marshall, the Pac-12’s top returning rusher, has been splitting his snaps between slot receiver and running back.
The versatile junior leads the team in all-purpose yards (201 rushing, 235 receiving).
Royce Freeman leads the team in rushing with 261 yards (65.2 per game) and five touchdowns. Thomas Tyner has 175 yards (43.8 per game) and a touchdown.
“I think they’ve done really well. They have all had really good games and kind of taken turns doing that,” Frost said. “We’re going to go with the hot hand and we expect to be able to make plays.”
Despite getting sacked seven times behind a reshuffled offensive line, Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns during the victory at Washington State.
Devon Allen finished with 142 yards receiving and two touchdowns, and Keanon Lowe had 104 yards receiving and two scores. Marshall added 45 yards receiving, including some clutch grabs on third down, to go his 22 yards on two carries.
“We’re winning the way we are. There’s a lot of talented people on our team and it’s hard to get everyone carries like that,” Marshall said. “Last week Devon went over 100, and Keanon went over 100. So with two different 100-yard receivers, it’s kind of hard for a running back to get over 100. And Marcus had a lot of rush yards also.
“The way this offense is, it’s not based on one player. The yards are going to be split up. Some games it may look like you didn’t do much, but you played your role and you helped other people get open and score.”
Mariota, who has thrown for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns without an interception, is also second on the team in rushing with 214 yards and three touchdowns.
“We take what they give us. If they’re giving us an opportunity to run with the football, we’re going to continue to run the football. We’ve got some guys who can do it,” running backs coach Gary Campbell said. “But if we have to throw it, we’ve got a guy back there who can throw it. Six points is six points.”
The Wildcats (4-0) currently rank eighth in the Pac-12 in total defense (430.5 ypg) and seventh in rushing defense (135.2 ypg).
Oregon leads the conference in scoring offense (48.5 ppg) and is third in total offense (555.2 ypg).
Marshall, who was injured in the first quarter of last year’s 42-16 loss at Arizona, leads the team with 18 receptions and 9.6 yards per rushing attempt. He had only four yards on three carries before getting injured in Tucson.
Then Marshall had to watch Ka’Deem Carey rush for 206 yards and four touchdowns, leading Arizona fans to storm the field after the game.
“I hated it,” Marshall said of the experience. “We’re definitely coming out here practicing with a chip on our shoulder.”