Oregon Football: Reevaluating Ducks Running Backs

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 31: Darrian Felix #22 of the Oregon Ducks runs for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers in the third quarter during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium on August 31, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 31: Darrian Felix #22 of the Oregon Ducks runs for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers in the third quarter during the Advocare Classic at AT&T Stadium on August 31, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Oregon football is moving in the right direction as a program, but do they need to reconsider the running back position in order to become a real contender?

This past Saturday, Oregon football beat Stanford for the first time in 4 years, but a lot of fans and pundits came away from the Farm feeling a little dirty about the whole thing. The post-Stanford feeling of uncertainty can be best attributed to the offense only scoring 21 points in a game where—based on how Stanford was playing—it felt like the Ducks could have scored a billion.

The passing game was outstanding. Herbie completed 80% of his passes for 249 yds and 3 touchdowns, so it’s clear that he’s just as fully loaded as ever. But the one big question mark from Saturday is the running game.

Jake Hanson, was hurt for the Stanford game, and so the Ducks shuffled their offensive line pretty heavily. Throckmorton stepped into the Center role, and he did okay, but there was clearly some confusion for the whole unit.

Mario Cristobal announced today that Jake Hanson is going to be a “full-go,” for practice during the bye week and heading into the official “Battle for the North” against a (currently) undefeated Cal. Any questions about the personnel on the line should probably disappear upon his return.

Cristobal also admitted that the whole offensive staff is going to be trying new things schematically, but he also admitted that the holes were there, and the ball carrier (read: CJ Verdell) didn’t quite cut it up effectively.

Am I convinced that injuries up front and/or running back mistakes are the main reason the run game doesn’t look like the Oregon run game we know and love? No, I’m not.

I feel like the buzz word within the Oregon community is “play calling” and I’m honestly sick of hearing every armchair offensive coordinator bad mouth Arroyo like they’re the second-coming of Chip Kelly.

The plays that are being called are more than likely the plays that will be called all year long, and the Ducks are 3-1, (1-0), so nobody is getting fired any time soon. These plays can be—and have been—explosive, so let’s just focus on the two things that are likely more maleable: personnel and execution.

Consider for a moment, if you will, that Mario Cristobal might actually know what he’s talking about when he says that the ball carriers really need to step things up and execute better. If that’s the case, let’s look at alternative personnel, and our confidence in their ability to execute.

If CJ isn’t the RB1 I thought he was, should the Ducks consider making a change on the Organizational Chart?

Let’s party like it’s 1995, and put some running backs on trial.

To Dye Would Be An Awfully Big Adventure

I know I’ve said it many times before, but Travis Dye is a human cannonball. When running out of the pistol, he is willing to hit holes—or anything closely resembling a hole—in a decisive and effective way. His speed also feels a lot more flexible than CJ, as evidenced by Dye’s ability to catch dump passes and take off down the field.

Travis is also the Ducks’ second-most experienced back, and going into the year some projections had him and CJ as 1A & 1B. Maybe Travis should be the guy? Or should it be—

Fix-It Felix

Darrian Felix has nearly half (2/5) of Oregon’s rushing touchdowns, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice. His TD run against Auburn, and a lot of the reps he got in the Nevada game showed a serious amount of discipline and patience. In contrast to Dye, Darrian doesn’t just take off the second he gets the ball. He waits for plays to develop and has tremendous trust in the o-line (when fully healthy) to do their jobs and set him up for success.

He also has great top end speed once he finds a hole he likes. He showed off his wheels on a 62-yard touchdown scamper to cap off the Nevada game. Even though it was garbage time against a garbage team, it proved once again that that man is Fast, with a capital F.

Strength of the Dollars

When Felix scores a 62-yarder in garbage time against Nevada, nobody bats an eye. But when the true freshman from Mater Dei breaks for 63-yards in garbage time against Montana, everyone loses their minds.

It’s obvious that Sean Dollars is an electric talent. He has speed, he has youth, and an argument to see more of him in the backfield is a pretty valid argument for the unknown/semi-unknown.

Dollars could end up checkering the record books at Oregon. I want to see more of him, for sure, but I don’t think there’s any convincing argument to be made for him being the starter right now.

Cristobal has said that Cyrus Habibi-Likio is getting healthier again, so I hate to ignore him in this argument, but I’m going to do that, anyway.

In Conclusion

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While we have a ton of talent in the running back room, there’s only one verdict to the Case of the Starting Running Back, and that verdict is Verdell.

CJ Verdell is the starting running back, and that makes the Ducks a better, more complete team. He is spending this bye week watching film with his coaches, and getting back on the same page with a full strength o-line, and he’s going to come back stronger, smarter, and more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

Everybody crucified the guy last year when he fumbled against Stanford, and then he was everyone’s hero again when he beat Washington. Maybe he’s a resilient and talented player that can get the job done?

I’ll admit, the offense could probably afford to platoon and rotate some of the backs. They could keep everyone fresh, and diversify the rushing attack by throwing different styles at defenses.

Dye is the fastball. Felix is the off-speed stuff. Dollars might be everything that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s gyroball was supposed to be. But CJ is RB1, and that puts us in the best position to win football games.

Go Ducks.