The Oregon Ducks: Running Strong

David HedlindAnalyst IISeptember 20, 2008

The 2008 season started with a major question for the Oregon Ducks, can they replace playmakers Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart? In my opinion, only half of the question has been answered.

No one quarterback looks like they can replace Dixon, but Oregon hasn’t been relying on just one quarterback.

Roper is a passer who has a little mobility. Harper is a runner who can pass but needs development. Masoli is a good mix of pass and run. Roper is out right now with a knee injury.

While quarterback injuries were the downfall last season, Oregon’s options and depth looks like a strength this year. Masoli and Harper stepped in against Washington to lead Oregon to 30 points and a win in the second half.

Harper led the winning overtime drive against Purdue. More experience will lead to more confidence and better production. Oregon having a strong run game helps ease the initiation for the young quarterbacks.

Oregon has gone with the 1-2 punch of Johnson and Blount to replace Stewart. The two have very comparable stats. Blount has 34 carries for 285 yards at 8.4 ypc. Johnson has 33 caries for 257 yards at 7.8 ypc. Throw in the other running backs, receivers and quarterbacks on runs and you have the nation's fourth-leading rushing attack.

You can’t mention running production without mentioning the offensive line. For the running backs to move the ball like that, the line has to be opening holes and pushing people around, back, and down to spring these guys free. Led by seniors Unger and Tupou, the backs should feel safe while looking for that gap.

On the other side of the ball, everyone talked about the strong secondary where rover Chung, and corners Thurmond and Byrd were all named to the Thorpe Award watch list. Oregon is the only school in the nation to have three players named to that list.

The ends were also highly regarded. Defensive end Reed came in as the Pac-10 returning leader in sacks. Reed has 3 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss and 11 solo tackles. On the other end is Tukuafu. So far Tukuafu has 6 solo tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Either way you go, you got a very capable player defending the ends.

That brings us to the middle. The defensive line and linebackers were viewed as the weak spot on the defense. That may still be the case, but the players here have shown they can play too. Linebacker Paysinger is the team's leading tackler with 16. Not too far down the list is linebacker Matthews with nine tackles.

Oregon still has to travel to USC, Arizona State, Cal, and rival Oregon State. Oregon should be able to win all the home games, though. As long as they can go on the road and win a couple, they could finish around 10 wins and in contention for the Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl.