The Lowe down
EUGENE — Keanon Lowe is listed as 5-foot-9, 186 pounds.
During Oregon’s 59-20 mauling of Florida State in the College Football Playoff semifinal, the diminutive wide receiver had one reception, which didn’t count as Lowe was called for offensive pass-interference on the play.
Most of the 91,322 witnesses at the Rose Bowl didn’t notice No. 7 in a game headlined by two Heisman Trophy winners and an astonishing performance by the Ducks’ defense.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the film showed that Lowe “dominated” the Seminoles to lead the program to the national championship next Monday against Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“I think honestly it starts with Keanon Lowe,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “Keanon taught a lot of these guys what they’re doing out there on the field. They all look to him as their leader.”
That includes redshirt freshman Darren Carrington, who has received most of the glory with a combined 14 receptions for 291 yards and three touchdowns in the Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl.
The list of young and/or inexperienced receivers Mariota leaned on to win the Heisman during the season also includes true freshman Charles Nelson, redshirt freshman Devon Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford and former starting running back Byron Marshall.
“(Lowe’s) impact on the game is immense for us, whether he has a catch or not,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “He’s the leader of that group and a leader on our team.”
Wide receivers coach Matt Lubick only gives out one postseason award to his group, which is for blocking. Lowe received the honor in 2013 and, despite missing four games this season due to injury, the fifth-year senior from Portland is on pace to repeat as the all-out blocks champion among receivers.
“It was real impressive, he played with an attitude,” Lubick said of Lowe’s performance on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif. “We ask our guys to be the point of attack along the perimeter, and he was striking and knocking guys back. Even some of the big pass plays you saw were set up because of the way he blocked.”
The Ducks’ tempo, offensive line and running backs Thomas Tyner (124 yards, two touchdowns) and Royce Freeman (44 yards, two touchdowns) wore Florida State down inside.
And Lowe made sure Mariota and the passing game provided a knockout punch to the defending champs on the outside.
“I just try to come out and play with a swag and play as hard as I can and really just lift up our team and lift up our offense and do whatever I can. I have no problem doing the dirty work,” Lowe said. “I think our offense really gets rolling when we have that inside game working and we can throw it out to the perimeter and get nine, 10 yards a pop. We did that. Our offense is pretty hard to stop when we can do that.
“I feel like that starts with me and I take pride in that. I definitely was looking to dominate and did my job.”
Lowe redshirted in 2010 when the Ducks made it to the BCS championship game under Chip Kelly. Early in his career, the former Jesuit High standout wasn’t sure if he was going to stick with the program.
“It definitely wasn’t easy for me. I wanted to leave at times during my younger days and went through a lot, played under Coach Kelly and all that,” Lowe reflected after Tuesday’s practice. “When I first got here we went to the national championship, and I learned a lot from a lot of great players. I just tried to use my personal experience and team experience to pass down and be a big brother.”
The Ohio State secondary won’t have to worry about Lowe in the same way it did Heisman finalist Amari Cooper, who caught nine passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns during Alabama’s 42-35 loss to the Big Ten champions in the Sugar Bowl.
But the Ducks know Lowe is a key to the program’s reaching a new high with its first national championship.
“I think every year you see seniors that completely embody what we imagine a player at Oregon is and everything we want guys to become,” Frost said. “You see two or three guys a year, sometimes more, that graduate and you go, ‘That’s the kind of guy I’d want to have as a son, that’s the kind of guy I’d want to go to war with.’
“Keanon is a shining example of that.”