We now cast our eyes south to Eugene, Ore., where Washington's upcoming opponent makes its home. Now in his fourth season as the Ducks' head coach, Chip Kelly has proven himself to be an absolute offensive magician whose hurry-up spread-option running game has decimated defenses across the country. In three-and-a-half years, Kelly has taken his team to the BCS National Championship Game once and the Rose Bowl twice, amassing a record of 39-6 along the way along with two conference Coach of the Year awards. Today, we examine Kelly's much envied and often imitated (but rarely duplicated) offense.
Quarterback: Oregon is breaking in a new quarterback this year, though you might not guess that from the numbers that Marcus Mariota has racked up thus far. Through five games, the redshirt freshman has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,103 yards and 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. As you might expect of an Oregon signal caller, Mariota is a threat to gash opposing defenses with his feet, either on designed runs or scrambles, and is averaging 5 yards per carry this year to go along with his one rushing touchdown. If he’s shown one overarching weakness, it’s his tendency to put the ball on the ground, as Mariota is responsible for four fumbles so far. Don’t be surprised to see backup QB Bryan Bennett for a series or three throughout the game, especially if the Ducks go with their packaged runs to Colt Lyerla (more on that in a minute).
Running Back: For three years, Kenjon Barner (pictured above) was maybe the most talented backup ball carrier in the Pac-12, and with the departure of LaMichael James to the NFL, he’s doing his utmost to seize the opportunities that accompany being the No. 1 back on one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. Barner is well on his way toward gaining 1,000 yards this season, as he’s picked up 605 so far as well as nine touchdowns.
Barner’s ostensible backup, sophomore phenom De’Anthony Thomas, can hardly be accurately described as such; it’s much better to think of him as a change-of-pace player, instead. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a college player who is more difficult to bring down in the open field than Thomas --- as Wisconsin found out, much to their chagrin, in the 2012 Rose Bowl --- and his diminutive 5’9", 176 lb. frame seems to only help him in that regard, as he has a knack for slipping through defenders like water running through cupped hands. Thomas has already gained five scores on a mere 31 attempts this year, and his absurd average of 9.7 yards per carry, if he can keep up the pace, makes him a virtual lock to visit New York at the end of the season as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Offensive Line: The Ducks suffered a blow of no small significance last month when it was announced that senior guard Carson York, a team captain, suffered a season-ending knee injury against Fresno State. The loss of York further accentuates the offensive line's youth, as eight of the ten players listed on the line's two-deep have one year or less of game day experience. That inexperience has shown up in the Ducks' running game, as Oregon has given up 37.0 tackles for loss, which ranks 118th in the nation. Their pass protection is notably better, however, as the Ducks have surrendered just seven sacks so far.
Tight End: If you are not familiar with the name Colt Lyerla, you soon will be. The homegrown product out of Hillsboro (Ore.) High School was a favorite red zone target of Darron Thomas last year, as five of his seven receptions were scores. He's only upped his game in 2012, catching nine balls so far for two touchdowns, and was revealed in Oregon's game against Arizona to be a beast in the backfield, as well. If Oregon substitutes a package that includes Lyerla and Bennett, don't be surprised to see Justin Wilcox scrambling like a bat out of hell to get his big run-stoppers in Semisi Tokolahi, Danny Shelton and Thomas Tutogi onto the field to combat Lyerla's 6'5", 246 lb. frame.
Wide Receivers: Mariota has done an excellent job for a first-year starter of spreading the ball around, and not favoring one receiver too much. Thomas leads the team with 19 receptions and three touchdowns, but five receivers have recorded double-digit touches so far, and eight wideouts have seen the end zone. Oregon is a run-first team by trade, but Chip Kelly has never been afraid to change his attack based on the circumstances before him, and it won't be surprising to see him make whatever adjustments he needs to in order to get the ball into the hands of the inimitable Thomas.