No. 2 Oregon looks to eclectic receiver corps
ANNE M. PETERSON
Sep. 19, 2014
From hybrid running back Byron Marshall, to track champion Devon Allen and former point guard Johnathan Loyd, Oregon's got a varied cast of targets for the quarterback.
Marcus Mariota has thrown for 806 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season for the No. 2 Ducks. He's had just 21 incompletions.
The early Heisman front-runner has spread his attention around, hitting 13 different teammates with passes, including six different Ducks for touchdowns. Five have collected at least 100 yards in receptions through the first three games of the season.
Normally known for a dynamic ground game, Oregon is ranked 18th among FBS programs with an average of 330.3 yards passing per game.
"They're very dynamic, they're explosive, we just gotta continue to find ways to get those guys the ball," Mariota said.
The Ducks travel to Washington State on Saturday where they'll see the nation's top-ranked passing attack. The Air Raid Cougars are averaging an eye-popping 517 yards a game.
There were questions about Oregon's receivers going into this season following the graduation of Josh Huff and an injury to Bralon Addison, the team's top performers last season. Perhaps Marshall has emerged as the biggest surprise.
The junior running back leads the Ducks with 12 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns — already passing his total receiving yards from last season. As part of Oregon's so-called "Three-headed Monster" backfield with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman, he's been spending more time in the slot.
Marshall also tops his fellow Ducks with 369 all-purpose yards, while ranking second in rushing yards with 179.
"I always could catch, I've always had good hands, I've just never really been a receiver before until now," Marshall said last week before the Ducks defeated Wyoming 48-14 on Saturday to move to 3-0.
Loyd scored his first career touchdown against the Cowboys, grabbing a 5-yard scoring pass from Mariota in the third quarter.
"I can't even describe it," he said. "Once I realized where I was on the field emotions just took over and I started screaming. It felt good."
After four years as a point guard on Oregon's basketball team, Loyd took advantage of an NCAA rule that allows a player a fifth year of eligibility — in a different sport.
Since the spring, he has impressed Oregon's coaches with his attitude in practice.
"It was great for Johnny to score there. Just like on the hoops court, you can see his smiling face every day at practice, and it's great to see that result in a touchdown for him," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said following the game.
Loyd hadn't played football since high school in Las Vegas. The touchdown quieted critics who thought the move was just a stunt.
"I've hit a good amount of shots, a good amount of and-one's, but this is my first touchdown in five years," he said. "This is a whole different type of feeling."
Allen also pulled down a 16-yard scoring pass from Mariota late in the second quarter against Wyoming.
Allen was hurt in camp as a freshman last year so he redshirted, but that didn't preclude him from grabbing attention on the Ducks' track team.
In June, he won the NCAA championship in the 110-meter hurdles with a meet-record time of 13.16 seconds. He became the first freshman to win the national title in the event in 38 years.
With the football team, Allen has caught seven passes for 157 yards and a team-leading three touchdowns. He had a pair of TDs in Oregon's 46-27 victory over Michigan State in the second game of the season.
Other players who have caught TD passes for the Ducks this season include senior starter Keanon Lowe, the leader of the group, as well as Pharaoh Brown and Dwayne Stanford.
"In this offense, we never know who is going to be the guy to have a good week," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "We're going to take what the defenses give us and we feel like we got a lot of guys that can make a play when they get a chance."