As offensive leaders emerge, Ducks tell fans to keep faith
When Oregon trailed Purdue 20-6 going into halftime last season, the Ducks managed to rally behind running back LeGarrette Blount to pick up the come-from-behind 32-26 victory in double overtime.
This year, Oregon will have no such luxury now that Blount has been suspended for the remainder of the season. But the mood around practice this week has looked as though the Ducks will have no trouble moving forward without Blount on the field.
“We’ve had some time as a football team to put it behind us,” first-year head coach Chip Kelly said. “That’s what we do here as a football team. Every week is a season and the season this week is Purdue.”
While it will undoubtedly be tough for the Ducks to replace their 1,000-yard rusher from last season, the three running backs who will look to help fulfill the rushing duties — senior Andre Crenshaw and redshirt freshmen LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner — are ready and eager to move on and have big seasons.
“Right now we’re just focused on taking it one day at a time,” Crenshaw said. “We’re looking forward to Purdue, and I think everybody is just ready to play again.”
In last year’s showdown against the Boilermakers, Blount, place kicker Matt Evensen and return man Jairus Byrd accounted for all 32 points for Oregon in a game where no touchdown passes were thrown by either team. With none of those three now on the Oregon roster, the Duck offense will have to find a way to put more points up on the scoreboard — something they didn’t quite accomplish in Boise.
“I think all this offense needs is one first down, then things start to click,” said Kelly. “I think we pressed a little bit in the first half and tried to take too much, but that’s our job as coaches, to put them in a position to make plays and we’re confident that will happen this week.”
Junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli reiterated that last week’s loss to Boise State served as a positive wake-up call that has shown throughout practice this week.
“It’s not like we weren’t practicing with intensity before, but now we’re kind of practicing with a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We’ve moved on but we haven’t forgotten.”
With that in mind, the Ducks will look to extend their winning streak in home openers to five straight seasons. And while Masoli did not play in the Purdue game last season because of a concussion, he still feels he has a pretty good idea of what’s in store.
“We’ve watched a lot of film on them and they look like a solid defense already,” Masoli said. “They’ve got a solid D-line and we’ll just be looking to attack it.”
The Oregon passing game should have a more productive night against a weary Purdue secondary that allowed 423 passing yards and three touchdowns to Toledo.
On the other hand, Purdue had an outstanding offensive first game as it pummeled Toledo 52-31 last Saturday. Sophomore running back Ralph Bolden ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns en route to the third-best single-game rushing total in school history in his first career start. He also was honored as the Big Ten offensive player of the week for his performance. Redshirt senior quarterback Joey Elliott had a solid beginning to his first year in the starting spot, throwing for 220 yards and three touchdowns despite throwing three interceptions.
Both teams will feature two outstanding young kickers who were impressive in their season-openers. Purdue sophomore Carson Wiggs set the school record for the longest field goal with his 59-yard completion, while Oregon true freshman punter Jackson Rice averaged 43.9 yards on seven punts, ranking him 22nd in the nation. Special teams played a vital role in the 2008 matchup when Jairus Byrd returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown, which sparked the Ducks to a 26-point run to end the game.
Now, the Ducks will try to move on from last week’s loss, and senior defensive end Will Tukuafu says fans shouldn’t lose faith. Things might have been rough after the game, but this Duck team is resilient.
“I would tell fans to not give up. Believe,” he said. “We have great players in the locker room and great coaches. We have all the ingredients to make things happen, and we are going to. That’s the good thing about us. Everyone is upbeat and ready to move on.”
“Our team is hungry. We’re always going to be hungry,” Crenshaw said. “We just want to play and come out with that first victory, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
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