Oregon Football: Winners and Losers from Ducks' First Month
The season is four games down, and we know as much about this Ducks football team as we did before Sept. 3. The Ducks are 3-1 (1-0) with their one loss coming at the hands of No. 1 LSU on opening weekend.
Oregon has cruised to three convincing wins over far inferior competition, so it’s hard to truly gauge the capabilities of this team. Can the Ducks challenge the Stanford Cardinal for the conference’s first ever Pac-12 championship?
The offense ranks first in FBS football in yardage, averaging 613 yards per game. The defense still has a lot of work to do, especially the defensive line which is one of the most inconsistent in all of college football.
Here are the winners and losers from the Ducks after a month of football.
Winner: LaMichael James
No Duck has been as impressive in 2011 as LaMichael James. So far, James ranks fifth in the nation in rushing yards (613) averaging 153.3 yards per game.
Despite a less-than-stellar performance against the LSU Tigers (not James’ fault), King James finds himself still in many Heisman talks.
The Ducks have had to rely on James to perform returning duties, and James has shown his abilities of catching balls out of the backfield as well. Oregon needs to give James some breaks before they literally run him into the ground.
There’s only so much you can put on the shoulder of one player.
Loser: Cliff Harris
Since being suspended this offseason, Cliff Harris has seen minimal playing time and has yet to start a game. It is clear that he is still in Chip Kelly’s doghouse, and there is no timetable when Harris will start again.
Harris only has four tackles while he’s been on the field, and he has yet to be put back to return punts or kicks. Some have claimed that Harris single-handedly cost the Ducks a victor against LSU.
Both Kenjon Barner’s and De’Anthony Thomas’ fumbles occurred when Harris would be in returning, and redshirt freshman Terrence Mitchell gave up LSU’s only touchdown through the air. I want go as far as to say that Harris single-handedly cost the Ducks a win, but he definitely is a key reason they lost.
Winner: Anthony Gildon
Corner Anthony Gildon has silently been the most dominating player on defense for the Oregon Ducks. The stats won’t show his production, but Gildon has stepped up in a huge way to replace one of Oregon’s best defensive players from last season, Talmadge Jackson III.
Gildon has been the shutdown corner the Ducks have needed, and Oregon’s pass defense issues are not Gildon’s fault. Both safeties, John Boyett and Eddie Pleasant, have failed to cover over top and the rotation of Cliff Harris/Terrence Mitchell/Ifo Ekpr-Olomu/Troy Hill has been the real issue of the secondary.
Gildon deserves as much praise as any player on this team.
Loser: Michael Clay
I still don’t know why Oregon’s best linebacker was playing late in the fourth quarter of the Ducks’ blowout victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack.
Clay has been injured ever since and has missed both of the Ducks’ last two games.
The linebacking group was already one of the Ducks’ thinnest positions, and Clays’ absence has been a huge blow to the team.
It makes me wonder why Kelly left him in so late in the game…
Winner: Darron Thomas
I feel like LaMichael James’ extreme success has put DT in an unfair position. Looking at the numbers alone, Darron Thomas should be right up there with James in Heisman conversations.
Thomas has completed 66-of-108 passes for 842 yards with 12 touchdowns, plus 99 yards rushing and two TDs on the ground. In Thomas’ second year in the system, he has greatly improved in his ability to run the zone-read, Oregon’s primary offensive play.
Since the loss to LSU, Thomas has improved each week in not overthrowing receivers and finding the open man. I see DT continuing his production and working his way into Maxwell award conversations by season’s end.
Loser: Kenjon Barner
The fact that Kenjon Barner is on here isn’t his fault. Early in the loss to LSU, Barner suffered some sort of leg injury that prevented him from playing effectively for the remainder of the game.
Barner has seen limited playing time since the injury, and only played against the Arizona Wildcats last week. Considering that Barner is one of the best backup running backs in all of college football, his 79 yards rushing is hardly reflective of that.
Hopefully now that Barner is back and healthy, he can continue the success that he found his first two seasons in Eugene. Oregon could definitely use him in the return game, so LaMichael James can focus solely on running and catching the ball.
Somewhere in Between: De’Anthony Thomas
I wanted to get De’Anthony Thomas on here, but I wasn’t sure to put him as a “winner” or “loser.” He really is somewhere in between the two.
It’s hard to call the second leading rusher (173 yards) and receiver (172 yards) a “loser,” but I still remember those two fumbles in Week 1 like they were yesterday. Thomas has been a beacon of what the future holds, having one of the best freshman seasons through four weeks in Oregon history. He has shown the capability to take a dead play and turn it into a huge gain, reminiscent of one LaMichael James.
Thomas has had serious issues with returns, fumbling one and muffing two punts. What do you think Ducks fans… has Thomas been a “winner,” “loser,” or “somewhere in between”?