Last year on offense, 12 Ducks combined to score 35 touchdowns by way of reception. This year, Oregon returns nine players who caught scoring passes that accounted for 88 percent of Oregon’s receiving touchdowns.
Oregon’s receiving corps is led by junior De’Anthony Thomas and senior Josh Huff. Thomas led the team with 45 receptions and 445 yards, but finished third with five touchdowns behind Huff and tight end Colt Lyerla. Huff was the big play receiver for the Ducks, catching 32 passes for 493 yards and seven touchdowns. Although he only averaged 44.4 yards per game receiving, he averaged 15.4 yards per catch and a touchdown once every 4.5 catches.
“The first thing a receiver needs to be for us is tough,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “At a lot of places, receivers just get to run routes and catch the ball and here we ask them to do both those things but also block, carry the ball and play at a tempo that most people would give up.”
Led by Huff, junior Keanon Lowe and sophomore Bralon Addison, the Ducks are in prime position to make their group of wide receivers the best in the Pac-12.
Huff, Lowe and Addison are backed by a number of receivers, but none with the proven skill set of senior Daryle Hawkins. Hawkins, a converted quarterback, was tied for third on the team last year with 25 receptions and accounted for 202 yards and three touchdowns.
“We have a bunch of experience there – when Josh Huff is healthy, he’s a real playmaker for us,” Frost said. “Bralon, Daryle and Keanon have all had a great camp so we know we can count on them.”
Huff gave fans a taste of what he’s like when he was healthy last year. Huff caught 20 passes for 346 yards and five out of his seven total touchdowns at the end of the regular season in the final four games against USC, Cal, Stanford and Oregon State.
The depth after Thomas, Huff, Addison, Lowe and Hawkins is high for Oregon. Junior Eric Dungy, redshirt sophomore B.J. Kelley and redshirt freshman Chance Allen are Vying for the sixth and seventh spot in the rotation.
As a junior, Dungy has the most experience for the Ducks. He caught five passes for 41 yards last year while having coaches rave about his pass-catching abilities. Kelley is the speedster of the group. He ran on Oregon’s track, clocking in times of 16.65 in the 100-meter dash and 21.37 in the 200-meter dash this past spring. He caught six passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns last year, leading Oregon with 17.2 yards per catch.
Allen is the wildcard of the group, having never played a game for the Ducks but has showed great promise throughout fall camp.
“Chance has come a long way. Even in the last week we’ve seen a bunch of improvement from Chance,” Frost said. “He’s started to step up, but we’re waiting for somebody to really reach out and take it.”
But opposing defenses won’t only have to prepare for the depth at wide receiver — they’ll have to prepare for Lyerla, who was second on the team with a 15.7 yards per catch and six touchdowns in 25 receptions. Since he arrived at Oregon, Lyerla has scored more than a third of the time he has touched the ball while producing almost 550 receiving yards.
While impressive, the Ducks still fall short in yards per game to Washington State, a team led by Brett Bartolone who caught 53 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns last year. Bartolone is backed by a group of receivers who caught 13 combined touchdowns, but playing for a team that throws the ball 70 percent of the time doesn’t require receivers to do much beside run routes. While WSU holds one of the lowest completion rates in the Pac-12, blocking for the running game, which averages 29 yards per game, ranking the Cougars last in NCAA Division I football may be appropriate.
By comparison, Oregon runs a dominating rushing offense, but the Ducks have a group of receivers returning who caught a total 31 touchdown passes, far outweighing WSU’s 17 touchdowns on 251 more passes, making the Ducks the more productive group.
While only three Ducks — Huff, Thomas and Lyerla — rank in the top 35 of receiving yards per game in the Pac-12, that stat can be deceiving when determining a top wide receiver for Oregon. One reason the Ducks don’t have the eye- popping stats of USC’s Marqise Lee, who put up 118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, is because of the pace on the offense. The speed of Oregon’s offense requires receivers to flow in and out of the game. Although the receiving corps may be ranked 73rd nationally in yards per game, it deserves its fair share of credit for Oregon’s third-ranked rushing game, which put up 48 touchdowns and more than 315 yards per game.
“Blocking is a big part of our game from the receiver standpoint,” Frost said. “We ask our receivers to be football players, not just glorified pass catchers – they have to be in better shape than almost anybody in the entire country.”
After Lee, the Trojans have no one with more than 20 catches returning. In fact, listed on their depth chart for two starters and two backups, Nelson Agholor is the only player to catch more than two balls in his career. This inexperience points out a major flaw in the Trojans’ passing attack, which could neutralize Lee’s effectiveness.
Oregon returns its top six leading receivers from last year in terms of receptions and touchdowns, and with potential emphasis on throwing the ball, look for this group to emerge as the best in the Pac-12.