Oregon is putting its faith in veteran quarterback Marcus Mariota to make the adjustment after the loss of another receiver.
Darren Carrington was ruled ineligible for the championship game by the NCAA, reportedly because of a positive drug test. The Ducks are also without Devon Allen, who hurt his knee in the Rose Bowl semifinal victory against Florida State.
“We have a bunch of highly skilled guys who are very confident in what they’re doing,” coach Mark Helfrich said. “Marcus is confident in those guys, and we’re confident in those guys.”
Dwayne Stanford, who also missed games this year because of injury, said, “Darren was a big-time player for us, and he did some big things, but we definitely have the mentality of ‘next guy up.’ Whoever Marcus finds, we’re going to be ready.”
Tight end Evan Baylis said one of Mariota’s strengths is keeping the spirits of other players high.
“I feel like we’ll still be fine,” Baylis said. “Marcus is great at that, just keeping our confidence up, getting the ball where it needs to be, guiding our offense. Everyone on this team can go out there and play. That’s kind of what we’re built on.”
Backup running back Ayele Forde is also ineligible, and reportedly failed a drug test.
Helfrich said Oregon frequently receives inquiries from potential transfers, but did not directly say whether Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has contacted the school.
Miller could decide to leave the Buckeyes because there is no guarantee he will be the starter next season after the performances of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones in his place. And, having graduated, he would be eligible immediately.
“We get inquiries from guys all the time,” Helfrich said. “Not daily, but probably every other day, guys will send a release or somebody’s friend’s cousin’s uncle or something, and until we have a release, those kind of things don’t happen.”
Without speficially talking about Miller, Helfrich said some quarterbacks don’t necessarily need spring practice to step in and play immediately in the Oregon offense.
“Depends on the guy. Depends on the guy,” he said. “Marcus could have come in the day before the first game. His feel for things, his natural affinity for our system — don’t tell him that, but he could have shown up on Friday and played on Saturday.”
Helfrich called the Carrington situation a distraction, but said the Ducks are good with distractions.
“Distractions are distractions, if you let them be,” he said. “Having a loss is a distraction, getting guys injured is a distraction, media is a distraction, winning big is a distraction. How you manage them is what matters the most, and our guys have managed all those situations very, very well.”
Helfrich said the Ducks have also gotten used to having players miss time.
“We’ve been tested with guys not being available, for whatever reason, all season long,” he said. “And our guys have stepped up.”
Defensive end Arik Armstead said one of the reasons he chose Oregon is because of how the team handles losing.
“On my official visit, they played USC and lost,” he said. “Seeing how they reacted to the loss, it wasn’t people yelling at each other. They came together and regrouped, ended up going to the Rose Bowl that year. That’s how we’ve handled losses. We’ve regrouped. We knew we still had things to accomplish.”
Armstead said the Oct. 2 loss to Arizona was a turning point, too.
“We started playing a lot better after that game,” he said. “It brought us closer together. A loss like that might separate your team — people arguing with each other. Instead, it got people closer. We came together and got it done.”
Nose tackle Alex Balducci doesn’t remember when Oregon was a struggling program. But he knows people who do.
“I’ve always seen Oregon as a good team, but my parents talk about when it wasn’t — what the program used to be,” he said. “I’m glad to be a part of it now.”
Oregon has had a winning record every season since 1994. Before that, the Ducks had only seven winning seasons in the previous 29 years.
“I was born in ’94, so I think they’ve been pretty good year after year,” Balducci said. “I watched them in middle school when they had Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760