Gameday: Jake Fisher proves his worth, has offensive line “clicking”
As the temperature rose to 80 degrees in Pasadena, California last Saturday, just prior to kickoff against UCLA, the Ducks’ offensive line was finally hearing good news. Senior left tackle Jake Fisher, one of the focal points of the the unit as the season was beginning, would be assuming his position on Marcus Mariota’s blindside.
In the two games Fisher missed, Oregon, to put it simply, just didn’t look like Oregon. Giving up 12 sacks and only amounting 158 yards per game on the ground, the loss of Fisher put into perspective how much was missing during this season for the injury-savaged unit.
The questions began to pile on, especially after Oregon’s 31-24 home loss to Arizona and with the UCLA game looming ahead, the Ducks were on the heels of losing two consecutive games for the first time since 2007.
Yet, those fears were quickly put to rest with the presence of Fisher on Saturday. Marching down the field in its methodical and high-paced fashion for much of the day, Oregon thoroughly dominated what, on paper, appeared to be an evenly matched Bruins defense. By the end of the game, Royce Freeman had eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time this season and altogether the offense had rushed for 258. As for Mariota, the signal caller was not sacked a single time.
“He anchored those guys,” Mariota, who passed for 210 yards and added 75 more on the ground, said after the game. “To have that guy back is huge for us.”
Providing what offensive line coach Steve Greatwood called a “calming” factor, Fisher proved how valuable he was to the Ducks’ offense. Sure, mostly everything is credited to Mariota’s brilliance, Devon Allen’s flash or Freeman’s sustainability, but without Fisher those descriptions were few and far between.
In addition, the absence had a direct effect on the communication between Oregon’s offensive line. Although true freshman Tyrell Crosby and senior walk-on Matt Pierson attempted to seamlessly gel with the rest of the group, there was still no doubt that seniors like Hamani Stevens and Hroniss Grasu weren’t experiencing a level of trust like they had been used to.
With Fisher back, the communication rose back to its old height and the direct results were evident.
“Jake, he’s the type of guy that there’s not a lot of communication that needs to be said,” Grasu said. “Not a lot of verbal communication needs to be done. We know what’s going to happen next. We always anticipate the next call and we’re always on the same page.”
The 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman’s return suddenly flooded the news stream like none of his other 26 starts did. His worth was realized and even now has influenced the conversation of Oregon’s case to test the College Football Playoff Committee’s evaluation on the impacts injuries might have.
For the Traverse City, Michigan native as well as the rest of the offensive line, the attitude, despite the added attention, never changed.
“From an offensive lineman’s standpoint, we’re here for reckless abandonment and we’re going to play together,” Fisher said Saturday.
With that, it seems that as long as Fisher and company stay healthy and the line continues to control the tempo like it did last week, Oregon will be headed in a much brighter direction.
Follow Justin Wise on Twitter @JustinFWise