What you see is what you get when it comes to Oregon Ducks' football, but you might have to take a closer look. The Ducks have made a living out of destroying teams with a fast-paced attack, which is based on getting their playmaking backs to the second level with a simple blocking scheme up front.
The big plays come for Ducks RBs when Oregon's other skill-position players pave the way with their downfield blocking, helping turn what would be more modest gains into the home-run plays for which the Ducks are famous.
The Ducks have put every starting running back since 1994 into the NFL, and once Chip Kelly arrived as an assistant coach in 2007, the Ducks' rushing attack improved even more. When Kelly took over as head coach in 2009 and hired Scott Frost to coach the wide receivers, the running game went on to become one of the nation's best.
When Kelly was the offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti, the Ducks had a wealth of big wideouts who were much more physical than the defensive backs opposing them. Since Frost took over, the Ducks haven't had receivers of the same physical prowess, but these wideouts have learned to use their hands and their heads to help the Ducks lead the country in explosion plays—plays of 20 yards or more—over the past five seasons.
We can see this pattern starting to emerge upon Kelly's arrival in Eugene.
Let's go back to the last game of the 2007 season, when Jonathan Stewart came back from an injury and rushed for 253 yards against South Florida in the Sun Bowl. Here is a clip of Stewart's long run that seemed to set the tone for the future of Oregon football.
Oregon WR Jaison Williams (No.4) didn't necessarily have a direct impact on the play, but even though Stewart was likely headed to the house regardless of what Williams did, you can see the 6'5", 240-pound Williams turn and sprint all the way downfield in an effort to get in the way of any potential South Florida tackler.
The following year, Jeremiah Johnson exploded in the "Civil War" game against Oregon State for 203 yards in the first half, including this 83-yard run on a 3rd-and-19 that was aided by some downfield blocks.
After their 65-38 blowout of Oregon State, the Ducks faced No. 13 Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl. It was there that Johnson once again broke off a long touchdown run. This time, after reversing field, the Ducks RB had a convoy of teammates to escort him down the sideline. In the still frame, you can see the wideouts at the bottom of the screen, lying in wait for defenders pursuing Johnson to their side of the field.
Two years later, as the Ducks traveled to face the Tennessee Volunteers, LaMichael James recreated a play that was very reminiscent of the aforementioned Holiday Bowl play pulled off by Johnson and company. This time, James and his escort of blockers, including wide receivers Lavasier Tuinei and Drew Davis, showed that extra effort and determination pays off in a big way.
Even the Ducks' leading receivers have gotten into the act. Once Frost arrived, the idea of "no block, no rock" became even more prevalent in Eugene. Jeff Maehl, Drew Davis and Lavasier Tuinei were all standout wide receivers for the Ducks and each of them set an example as leaders with their dedication to blocking.
Frost helped take the Ducks wide receiver recruiting to another level by landing three ESPN150 receivers in the 2010 class. Two of them, Tacoi Sumler (Appalachian State) and Devon Blackmon (Washington) are no longer with the program, due in part to their nonchalant attitude when it came to downfield blocking.
The Ducks' current crop of wideouts were all highly touted coming out of high school, and they have all embraced the culture of the program. They understand the team aspect of the game and that they can have a direct impact even if they don't record a single catch. Josh Huff, Keanon Lowe, Dwayne Stanford and Bralon Addison are all solid blockers and understand the overarching objectives of the offense.
Next time you see the Ducks breaking off a long run on your favorite highlight show, keep an eye on the Ducks' pass-catchers. Despite the fact they might not be getting the ball as much as they would like, they have clearly bought into the system and do anything and everything they can to help out the team.
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