In the days leading up to the 2013 Alamo Bowl, the Emerald will take a unit-by-unit look at Oregon and Texas, determining which team has the edge going into the showdown on Dec. 30 in San Antonio. Today, we’ll look at each team’s running backs, with thoughts on Texas from Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation.
The Ducks own the ninth-best rushing attack in the country this season at 278.3 yards per game … their worst output since 2009.
That stat sure seems to fit into this season’s narrative, both running the ball and in general – Oregon’s still elite, just not as much as the 2010-12 seasons.
But that stat is deceiving. Oregon averages 6.35 yards per carry this season, ranking fifth in the nation. Compared to the dominant recent Oregon teams, that per carry figure is second only to the 2011 team’s 6.66 (that team featured current NFL running backs LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and then-freshman De’Anthony Thomas).
That squad, combined with the 2010 and 2012 teams, averaged 648.3 carries per season. The 2013 Ducks currently sit at 526 carries.
Oregon has passed the ball about the same amount of times as recent Ducks teams, too. As a whole, the Ducks have run significantly less plays this year (905) than the previous three (1,032.7 per season from 2010-12).
Many factors explain that low number of total plays and rushes. For one, the 2013 total doesn’t include the bowl game. But none of those factors mean much from the running backs perspective. The 2013 group of backs have been just as good as Oregon’s recent units that dominated college football.
It’s very easy to think Oregon’s running backs have struggled this season. For the first time since 2006, not a single player eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in the regular season. Byron Marshall – currently at 995 rushing yards – will likely reach that figure if he plays in the Alamo Bowl but he’d have to put up a never-before-seen performance to reach the high rushing totals from James and Barner.
Despite the low overall total, Marshall still averaged 6.42 yards per carry. Freshman Thomas Tyner rushed for just 689 yards but on 6.32 yards per carry. Thomas averaged 6.25 ypc and compiled 581 rushing yards.
The Ducks averaged more than six yards every time they handed off to one of those three main running backs. They might not have that one dominant rusher like in years past, but as a whole, Oregon’s backs have been as good as ever.
The Longhorns aren’t on the same level as the Ducks this season, averaging 197.6 rushing yards per game and 4.47 yards per carry. But those are still above average national rates, and Texas features several solid running backs.
However, their top running back Jonathan Gray suffered a season-ending Achilles injury three games ago versus West Virginia. The sophomore still leads the team with 780 rushing yards and averaged 4.91 yards per carry.
Junior Malcolm Brown has been the main fill-in for Gray, and while Eberts said Brown’s improved this year, he’d had issues with his performance thus far.
“He has good vision and he’s run really hard this year,” Eberts said. “He’s done a lot better job of finishing runs and picking up yards after contact. But he’s not a really dynamic runner. He’s had a lot of trouble producing explosive runs.”
Brown has averaged a mediocre 4.12 yards per carry this season, more than a yard less than junior Joe Bergeron. Eberts said Bergeron is the most talented back on the team.
“He’s not the fastest guy but he has the best combination of power (on the team) and has really good hips,” Eberts said. “He’s bigger, about 220 or 230, but he’s the guy who can really make people miss and break arm tackles.”
Texas has also used sophomore Daje Johnson and freshman Jalen Overstreet but they’ve only received 44 combined carries. (Update: Johnson and Overstreet have been ruled academically ineligible for the Alamo Bowl.)
Advantage – Oregon. Even with a healthy Gray, Texas’ running backs aren’t nearly as consistent or explosive as Oregon’s Marshall-Tyner-Thomas combo.
Monday: Offensive line
Tuesday: Tight ends
Thursday: Defensive line
Saturday: Wide receivers
Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415