Johnstone’s sacrifices pave way
EUGENE — Tyler Johnstone will make his 38th career start at Oregon today in the Civil War against Oregon State.
The left tackle has protected Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr. like fine china and served up a stack of pancakes as an important cog in the Ducks’ dominant running game over the years.
Longtime offensive line coach Steve Greatwood respects Johnstone even more for his contribution to the 2014 Pac-12 title team when the talented 6-foot-6, 295-pound redshirt senior was sitting out with a torn ACL.
“His greatest contribution was probably last year when he wasn’t playing. It takes a lot to come out every day when you’re hurt and you’re not playing and be a part of the team,” Greatwood said. “I hope the other kids realize the sacrifices he made to do that. I just want everybody to know how much I respect the leadership that he has put forth last year and this year.”
Instead of sulking in the training room, Johnstone helped coach Tyrell Crosby, who started at both tackle spots as a true freshman. He also provided an extra set of trained eyes in the film room for seasoned veterans such as Jake Fisher and Hroniss Grasu.
“It’s tough when you have to sit an entire season, especially if you’ve been getting a lot of playing time beforehand,” said Johnstone, who sustained his season-ending injury during fall camp before Mariota’s Heisman Trophy-winning season kicked off. “You feel like if you’re off the field there’s not much you can do to help the team. I tried my best to stay as much a part of it as I could, help out the young guys and give my two cents to the older guys where I saw fit.
“The biggest thing was the team rallying around me and making me feel included.”
Johnstone was there to celebrate the Rose Bowl win over Florida State and to grieve with his teammates over the loss in the national championship game to Ohio State.
When the winter conditioning program started, Johnstone was ready to anchor a line that lost three seniors to graduation.
“Every year there is a special group of seniors and it will be no different this year,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “I think about guys like Tyler Johnstone that have been here as long as I can remember. He’s been through some ups and downs. …
“If you last four or five years around here and see it through to the end, by the time you leave here you’ve had a special experience. And the program does a good job of turning those kids into special people.”
Seisay’s return bolsters secondary
Chris Seisay was the most important puzzle piece Oregon had returning as John Neal attempted to put the secondary back together this season.
The Ducks lost three starters, including Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, to graduation after the team’s run to the national championship game.
Seisay had already filled in for the All-American cornerback during the College Football Playoff and was ready to lead the unit. Then he sustained a lower-leg injury on Sept. 12 at Michigan State.
Oregon’s inexperienced secondary, which had already gotten off to a shaky start in the opener against Eastern Washington, struggled throughout the first two months of the season.
Out of 128 FBS teams, only Indiana (325.5 ypg) has allowed more passing yards per game than the Ducks (310.5 ypg) this season. But Seisay, a 6-1, 190-pound redshirt sophomore, returned to the lineup last week for Oregon’s 48-28 victory over USC.
“Chris is the one guy that I have that’s a true veteran,” Neal said. “Not only because he has played, but because he knows what he’s doing and he does it with confidence and he can play multiple positions. Having him back in all phases was really huge.”
Seisay rotated in at cornerback and safety as Oregon’s defense held USC to three touchdowns.
Tyree Robinson, another versatile redshirt sophomore, was also back on the field after sustaining an injury at Stanford and leaving that game on crutches.
“All of a sudden Seisay comes back and we’re able to get him some reps and (Robinson) some reps and we’ve continued to get better,” defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. “I think it’s huge right now that we’re getting guys back. The depth is better, and now obviously we can do more matchup things.
“It opens up the playbook now that we have more experienced bodies.”
Young cornerbacks Ugo Amadi and Arrion Springs, who have been routinely toasted by talented wide receivers this season, are making big plays during Oregon’s five-game winning streak.
Reggie Daniels, the lone returning starter from 2014, has 16 tackles from his safety spot in the past two games. Redshirt freshmen Khalil Oliver and Glen Ihenacho have also been getting lots of playing time with safety Juwaan Willians out with an undisclosed injury.
“We rotated almost all of our DB’s last week against USC, so everybody got tons of playing time,” Oliver said. “Everybody can play every position. Coach Neal prepares us for exactly what’s going to happen, and we were ready for it.”