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The Sports Daily > Duck Stops Here
Emergence of downfield passing game makes 2013 Duck offense the most formidable ever

Resistance is futile.

It isn’t the last test of the season or grounds for complacency, but yesterday’s dismantling of Washington’s most promising team of the last decade pretty much establishes that the 2013 Oregon Ducks are making a bid for greatness.

This team has a special blend of talent, humility, resolve and devotion to each other. They stay on mission. And they have a dazzling array of weapons as an offense. The defense just has to be good, because the offense will bury you.

Band of brothers: Teammates Tyler Johnstone and Mana Greig comfort Josh Huff on the sidelines after his injury during the second quarter in Husky Stadium. Contemplating a second half without three principal weapons in the offense, Duck fans got a Willis Reed-like lift when Huff came running out of the tunnel, an even bigger one when he burned the Husky secondary for a 65-yard touchdown and 28-14 lead. Huff went over 100 yards for the fourth time this season (Nate Barrett/Oregon Daily Emerald photo).

Oregon’s been potent all through the Chip Kelly years, but this season Frost and Helfrich have unleashed new dimensions of indomitability. Marcus Mariota has emerged as college football’s ultimate weapon, smart, fast, humble and calm, able to dissect defenses running or throwing, punishing them for whatever they cover least. Play-callling is flexible and inventive. The Ducks stick to basics, then switch it up. They can grind physically or strike deep, both fundamentally sound and explosively fast.

Before the season speculation focused on the downfield passing game. New receivers coach Matt Lubick might improve the technique and productivity of the Oregon wideouts, the thinking went. Offensive coordinator Scott Frost and new head coach Mark Helfrich were both former quarterbacks. They had a returning starter who could make all the throws, his six top targets returning with him. With some question at running back after Kenjon Barner left for the NFL, it seemed logical to think the aerial game would play a bigger role.

It all came together beautifully. Byron Marshall emerged as a capable lead back, 90 carries for 554 yards, 6.2 yards a carry and 6 tds. And the passing attack has blossomed. Last year Marcus Mariota averaged 7.97 yards per attempt. This year, it’s 10.45. His passer rating for the year is an astounding 182.4, aided mightily by the fact that he’s thrown 17 touchdowns without an interception. His escapability and resourcefulness in the pocket have helped also. The sensational sophomore has added 426 yards on the ground, and only been sacked five times. Several of the touchdowns and big gains have come after he evaded trouble in the pocket.

Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sports Northwest noted yesterday that Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have emerged as Oregon’s best wide receiver duo since Keenan Howry and Samie Parker. Indeed, the two keep getting deep and making clutch plays. Through six games, Huff has 27 catches for 552 yards and 5 tds, a dazzling 20.4 yards a catch, while Addison’s hauled in a deft 27 balls for 502 yards and 6 more scores, 18.6 a completion. The Texas twosome has given the Oregon offense a versatility that spreads opponents to the breaking point.

What a moment Huff provided yesterday. After he was carted off the field in the first half with what looked like a possible season-ending injury, medical staff working feverishly on his leg, he emerged running out of the tunnel in the second half, putting Oregon out in front 28-14 with a 65-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown grab, shaking off a defender inside the five.

Duck fans had to love what he said after the game. In an unguarded moment he told reporters “it pissed me off” when Bishop Sankey scored on a 60-yard run to bring the game within a touchdown to make the score 21-14.

Huff and the Ducks have a knack for getting pissed off in the right way, and responding with calculated vengeance. Together they are the most formidable force in sports, nice guys with a killer instinct.

After everything Huff’s endured and overcome in his personal story, it’s remarkable to witness the purpose and inner strength he brings to the football field. It’s no wonder he’s become a fan favorite in his senior year.