2015 Oregon Ducks Football Preview
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich – (3rd at Oregon and overall – 24-4 overall)
2014 Record: 13-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12
Bowl Result: Rose Bowl (CFP Semifinal) 1/1/15: Oregon 59 Florida State 20, CFB Playoff National Championship Game 1/12/15: Ohio State 42 Oregon 20
With Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota leading the Ducks’ high-flying attack last season, it appeared as though the Oregon program might capture its first-ever national title. However, those dreams were ended by Ezekiel Elliott and the Buckeyes in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game.
Now, third-year coach Mark Helfrich—who has compiled a 24-4 mark in two seasons after taking over for Chip Kelly in Eugene—and his Ducks will attempt to avoid a drop off as they break in a new signal-caller.
Oregon will have the luxury of welcoming Eastern Washington star Vernon Adams, who opted to use his final year of eligibility with the Ducks after already graduating from EWU. Adams, who was the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award (awarded annually to the top player in FCS) in each of the last two seasons, completed 66.1 percent of his 380 attempts as a junior when he threw for nearly 3,500 yards and 35 touchdowns despite missing at least four games due to injury.
Junior Jeff Lockie, who appears to be Adams’ main competition for the job threw for 207 yards and completed 21 of 28 attempts in mop up time in 2014.
The receiving corps returns its top two targets from a season ago in senior Byron Marshall (74-1003-6) and junior Dwayne Stanford (43-639-6), but after that duo there are some question marks due injuries and off the field issues. Devon Allen (41-684-7) and tight end Pharaoh Brown (25-420-6) are coming off knee surgeries while Darren Carrington (37-704-4) will possibly miss the first half of the season after failing a drug test prior to last year’s National Championship Game.
The running game, which yielded 234.5 ypg, was the top in the Pac-12 a year ago and should be strong again. Running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, who combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards a year ago, return and will be running behind an offensive line that features three returners. Freeman, who ran for 1,365 yards (5.4 ypc) and 18 touchdowns as a freshman, could receive Heisman consideration as a sophomore.
Defensively, the Ducks allowed their share of yards—which is largely due to the number of plays the opposition runs as a result of Oregon’s offensive style—but they did a good job of not breaking as they allowed 23.6 points per game (2nd in Pac-12, 30th nationally).
The starting linebackers—which will feature returners in Tyson Coleman and Rodney Hardrick—should all be seniors, which will allow defensive coordinator Don Pellum to be more aggressive with his playcalling this season.
The secondary’s biggest question marks are at corner. The top four consists of three sophomores and a freshman with the most experience being possessed by Chris Seisay. Seisay was thrust into a starting role late last season when Ifo Ekpre-Olomu went down in the postseason.
The safety spots are fairly solidified with the return of Reggie Daniels and Tyree Robinson. Daniels, who started in ’14, was third on the team with 83 tackles while Robinson tallied 36 stops in a reserve role.
The special teams should be solid. Kicker Aidan Schneider was 11-of-12 on field goals after replacing Matt Wogan. Punter Ian Wheeler averaged 39.1 and showed promise at times, but needs to improve his consistency.
Charles Nelson, who saw time returning punts and kickoffs as a freshman, is back and brings explosiveness to the return game as he took two punts back for scores a season ago.
Oregon has emerged into one of the nation’s top programs over the last several years. The Ducks, who have played in major bowl games in five of the last six seasons and not lost more than two games since going 10-3 in 2009, will look to record their eighth straight season with 10 or more victories. The talent to continue that trend is certainly within the program, but whether Oregon is among the nation’s elite again or just a top 20 team will largely depend on how things develop at quarterback and how the defense can stand up with its youthful secondary.
The schedule will feature Adams facing his former team in week one before a challenging road test at Michigan State in game two. The Pac-12 slate features difficult away games at Arizona State (October 29th) and Stanford (November 14th) before USC visits Autzen Stadium on November 21 in what could be a preview of the Pac-12 title game a couple weeks later.
By Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum
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