The Oregon Ducks are favorites to win the Pac-12 in 2014 and contend for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff this postseason. They were strengthened by the return of Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota at quarterback and all five starters along the offensive line. That won’t be the case, however, after starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone re-tore his ACL in practice and will miss the entire 2014 season, striking a major blow to the Oregon offense this fall.
Johnstone has been a three-year starter for the Ducks, developing into the anchor of one of the top offensive lines in the Pac-12. He first injured his ACL last December in Oregon’s 30-7 Alamo Bowl win over the Texas Longhorns, but was on track to possibly be ready to play for the season opener against FCS South Dakota. Johnstone was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 last season and had bulked up over the offseason to improve his overall play.
In his place, the Ducks will lean on redshirt junior Andre Yruretagoyena to step into the starting lineup. The childhood friend of Johnstone has played in 11 games during his collegiate career as a backup guard and tackle. Oregon coaches have been very high on Yruretagoyena during the spring and summer workouts as he has stepped up in Johnstone’s absence. But time will tell if he’ll be able to fill the shoes of Johnstone on Saturdays this fall when the reps really matter.
The Oregon offense is predicated on a power-running game the pushes the tempo on defensive fronts while protecting their field-general at quarterback. Losing a veteran of Johnstone’s caliber will be a major hiccup for a team with national title aspirations in 2014. Will the loss of their starting left tackle derail the Ducks this season?