It’s hard enough saying good bye to Josh Huff, Brian Jackson, Taylor Hart and the rest of the 2013 seniors, but Oregon fans probably saw the last game from two or three underclassmen who will be sorely missed and long remembered.
IF Mariota returns for his third year starting, the Ducks are conference championship contenders. Ifo is probably gone, and De’ Anthony Thomas is as well.
Season-saving stop: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu hurdles a blocker and drives Terron Ward out of bounds at the four in the third quarter of the 2013 Civil War. On the next play Ward would slip in the backfield, giving the Ducks a crucial 4th-down stop on a night they weren’t stopping anything. Ifo is likely to declare for the NFL draft after the season, an almost certain first-round selection (Ryan Kang, Oregon Daily Emerald photo).
Thomas will be the easiest to replace, not because he isn’t a great player, but because the Ducks have a lot of playmakers who are fast and dangerous with the ball in their hands, and they’ll sign three or four more in the 2014 recruiting class.
In Marshall, Addison, Tyner, and Lowe, Mariota would have a great array of weapons for next season, with some great offensive talent coming up, notably Chance Allen, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington, Jalen Brown, and Royce Freeman. November probably showed that Grasu, Johnstone and Fisher should stay in school, giving the Ducks a good foundation on the offensive line.
It also suggests that Mariota needs another year of college football to complete his development. His post game response to a question from Comcast Sports Network’s Aaron Fentress hints he’ll be weighing his options carefully:
Whether he stays or goes, Mariota has been a wonderful player at Oregon, among the school’s best quarterbacks ever. In two years he’s thrown for 5800 yards and 62 touchdowns, with a bowl game yet to play. He’s 22-3 as a starter. He’s rushed for 1333 yards and 14 more scores.
In terms of getting paid, the sophomore from Hawaii could declare in January and sign for big money next summer. But he isn’t ready for the league. He needs to fill out. He needs more work throwing into tighter windows and leading his team under pressure. He’s a wonderful college quarterback and will eventually succeed regardless, but his prospects are far brighter with another season to mature and grow, a further opportunity to improve his footwork, mechanics, ball security and pocket presence.
He also needs more seasoning getting more comfortable in the glare of the limelight, another year being the man in the locker room before he has to face the imposing challenge of dealing with a locker room of skeptical gladiators with ambitions and reputations of their own.
But if he decides to go all Oregon fans can do is say thank you and wish him success.
Should he do so, it becomes even more important for the coaching staff to reevaluate schemes, personnel and the direction of the program this off season. With a new starter at quarterback, the Ducks must rediscover their identity as a running football team and develop a comprehensive plan for how to get the most out of all the weapons in the offense. They’ll have three feature backs in Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman, each with the ability to both drive the pile and break big runs.
Defensively, Torrodney Prevot and Tyrell Robinson both made a couple of key plays tonight. Along with Danny Mattingly, they should help next year’s defense, which is serious need of retooling, especially with Ifo likely to leave.
DeForest Buckner, Tony Washington, and Alex Balducci are the foundation of the defensive line for next year, but it gets sketchy after that. Among the 2014 recruits, Tua Talia is probably the one most ready to contribute immediately. He had a dominating year at the Juco level, very strong and quick.
Erick Dargan and Troy Hill would be a key part of the picture in the secondary, but they were suspended for tonight’s game for “a violation of team rules.” It remains to be seen what their status is for the bowl game and going forward.
Given the courageous effort Huff had tonight, it’s time to let the Rose Bowl thing go. The whole comment string was blown out of proportion and out of context from the beginning.
But absolutely, next year’s team has to have a return to the Win the Day focus, or a new energizing, unifying commitment to one approach and one voice. The coaches need a to reevaluate the whole operation from the ground up after Signing Day.