The Oregon Ducks have earned a reputation as one of the most explosive offenses in the Pac 12 and all of college football with their up-tempo, no huddle offense designed to put up points in bunches. Under Chip Kelly, they did it with the running game. In fact, the Ducks have had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last six seasons. That will change under Mark Helfrich, but the Ducks’ offense will be even better in 2013 even without a 1,000-yard rusher headlining the running game.
For years, the Ducks have run Kelly’s up-tempo read option with a dynamic running back who could carry the rushing load. LaMichael James broke just about every offensive record while he was in Eugene and then Kenjon Barner followed him up by breaking some of his own. But that dynamic is difficult to maintain and the Ducks’ 2013 roster doesn’t have a true No. 1 guy on it.
What the Ducks do have, however, is a trio of talented backs that will be able to complement each other to form one of the best running back depth charts in the country. De’Anthony Thomas will be the headliner, but he hasn’t shown the ability to be a 20-carry, between the tackle type of runner. He is most dangerous when used in space when can get the ball in the open field and Helfrich is going to use him all over the field, including in the slot, to make sure he gets his opportunities.
Beside him he will have Byron Marshall who made solid contributions as a freshman in 2012 and has the skill set to develop into an every-down back, but doesn’t seem to quite be there yet. Incoming freshman Thomas Tyner is all speed, all the time and will be a valuable weapon in short bursts, much like DAT was when he joined the team in 2011.
The three of them are all excellent athletes, but haven’t proven to be able to handle the full load of a major college rushing game. That likely means a running back by committee approach in 2013 as Helfrich shuffles them in and out to get the best matchups possible. As a consequence, none of them will likely get enough touches to hit that 1,000-yard mark.
On top of that, the running game as a whole will likely have a smaller role in Helfrich’s offense than it has in recent years under Kelly. That’s because the Ducks have one of their best pure passers under center in Marcus Mariota since Joey Harrington was getting his face put on billboards in Times Square. Mariota is a leader and a playmaker who will get the reins of this offense turned over to him in 2013 which means a bigger role for the passing game, further stealing carries away from the running game.
While the talent of the running back corps might be as deep as it ever has at Oregon, the ball will get spread around too much in 2013, whether it is between themselves or in the passing game, for anyone to break the 1,000-yard mark. Don’t let that fool you, though. The Ducks offense is going to fly higher than ever.