Darren Carrington, Royce Freeman take back seat in 45-20 loss to USC
LOS ANGELES — Moments before throwing his hands in the air, grabbing his belongings and briskly exiting the LA Coliseum, a Ducks fan in the sixth row yelled, “Come on, Oregon! Just wake up!”
It was a little late for the Ducks to “wake up” down 25 points with less than six minutes to play in the fourth quarter. But the 45-20 loss to USC was a frustrating game for Oregon fans, coaches and players alike to watch. The Ducks (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12) fell behind 17-0 within 10 minutes after kickoff and never closed the deficit to fewer than double-digits.
Perhaps no one, however, left the game more frustrated than running back Royce Freeman and wide receiver Darren Carrington. Both sat on the sidelines during Oregon’s first two drives while running back Tony Brooks-James and wide receiver Jalen Brown took the field in their places.
Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said Brooks-James started over Freeman because Brooks-James has “just been playing really well.” When asked whether Freeman wasn’t playing well or if he was injured — he missed time earlier this season due to injuries — Lubick said, “It’s hard to say.” Freeman insisted he was not injured.
Freeman, who entered the season in the Heisman conversation and with a legitimate chance to break the Oregon all-time rushing record, finished the night with just 10 rushes for 38 yards and 2 catches for 9 yards.
Brooks-James didn’t fare much better. He finished with 8 carries for 25 yards and 4 catches for 26 yards.
Freeman said it’s difficult for him not to be able to produce on offense the way he’s used to.
“I’m taking what I can, and trying to make the best of it,” he said. “You can’t say it’s not difficult, but you’ve just got to stay the course.”
Head coach Mark Helfrich was asked after the game if there was a reason why Carrington also didn’t see the field during Oregon’s first two drives. Helfrich said simply, “No.”
Lubick provided a different response. He said it was “because [Carrington] got outplayed in the last game.” The decision to start Brown instead, he said, was “hard.”
“We’ve got three good guys,” Lubick said, alluding to Carrington, Brown and Charles Nelson. “After last week, we just thought Jalen Brown deserved a start — and Charles. And we wanted to start two tight ends.”
The two-tight-end set, Lubick said, enables Oregon to do more in both the pass and run games because the tight ends can both run receiver routes and block at the point of attack. It also allows them to rest their receivers.
Carrington, who considered forgoing his final two years of eligibility to declare for the NFL draft at the end of last season, caught just 1 pass for 7 yards.
Quarterback Justin Herbert targeted Carrington only four times. The first play Carrington saw the field, he broke free from a USC defensive back on a deep post route downfield. Herbert delivered him a perfect ball in stride that slipped through his fingers. Had he caught the pass, Carrington almost surely would have scored a 75-yard touchdown, which would have put Oregon down 10-7. Instead the Ducks punted and the Trojans scored on the ensuing drive to go up by 17.
“That hurts,” Lubick said. “When you’re playing a good team, you just can’t miss opportunities like that.”
On Oregon’s final drive in garbage time, quarterback Dakota Prukop entered the game and threw a jump-ball to Carrington in the end zone. Carrington out-leaped the defensive back and got his hands on the ball but couldn’t bring it down.
Carrington, who routinely denies post-game interview requests, did so again tonight.
Both Carrington’s and Freeman’s production have declined since last season.
Carrington has totaled as many receptions (32) in nine games this year as he did through seven last year and has 155 fewer yards and 3 fewer touchdowns. A deep-threat receiver, his yards-per-catch average is down 34 percent, from 19.0 to 14.4. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Sept. 24 against Colorado, and his only 100-yard game came in week one against UC Davis.
Freeman broke the 100-yard mark in 11 out of 13 games last year, but has done so only twice this season. In his past four games, he has averaged just 2.6 yards per carry and scored one touchdown. His yards-per-carry average on the season is 5.5 compared to 6.5 last year.
Freeman said the offense generally needs to “get back to basics and get back to what we do correctly.” Perhaps that means getting him and Carrington more involved.
Maybe then Oregon would “wake up.”
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