Youth Movement Fuels the Ducks

Eugene, OR- Starting middle linebacker John Bacon is the latest Duck to go down in an injury riddled 2007 season. A win over #4 Arizona State and a collapse by #2 Boston College should move Oregon up at least two spots on the BCS chart, but the loss of Bacon is a heavy price to pay for the victory.

Bryan Paysinger, Cameron Colvin, A.J. Tuitele, Jeremiah Johnson, and now Bacon are all done for the rest of the regular season. With gaping holes all over the depth chart, Oregon has plugged its freshmen and sophomore Ducklings into the lineup with remarkable success.

Dennis Dixon's Heisman campaign is now in full swing after a win over previously undefeated Arizona State in front of a captivated national audience. As long as the Ducks keep winning games and Dixon stays healthy, he should be the player to beat for college football's most coveted individual accolade. But Dixon is not alone in his quest for victory, and his supporting cast is getting younger and greener.

John Bacon led the Ducks with seven early tackles before tearing his ACL in the second quarter. Oregon plugged Casey Matthews, a true freshman, into the line up to secure the defensive front. Matthews accounted for three tackles, including one sack as the Ducks held Arizona State to only 110 yards on 41 attempts (2.7 yards/carry).

Sophomore running back Andre Crenshaw started in place of Jeremiah Johnson for the third week in a row—adding 33 yards on only five carries to his season total. Two weeks ago against the University of Washington he amassed 113 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns in the first start of his Oregon career (Oregon tends to start two tailbacks). Crenshaw is a fantastic blocker, and is a viable receiving threat for the Oregon offense.

The loss of two key senior receivers, Paysinger and Colvin, has had the biggest impact on the Oregon depth chart. Freshman Aaron Pflugrad is starting in their place, while fellow freshman Drew Davis and first-year Duck Terence Scott have also been forced into early playing time. One year ago, Pflugrad was an undersized wide receiver that many believed had limited collegiate potential. Pflugrad's size is still a question mark, but his ability to run crisp routes and hold on to the ball has made him an invaluable member of the 2007 duck receiving corps.

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti confessed, "Our depth has hit the bottom. We don't have many more linebackers and wide receivers." Many young Ducks at the bottom of the pre-season depth chart now find themselves on the field amongst the increasingly important Oregon veterans. Starting junior defensive end Nick Reed has stepped up his production from last year at a time when the Ducks need it the most. Reed added three and a half sacks on Saturday to bring his season total to eleven. He and some other key upperclassmen such as Patrick Chung must continue to produce at a high level while the Ducklings gain some much needed experience in the final few games of the season. Reed said, "The thing that's impressive is our team has gotten better and better every game." Oregon has a bye week next week to make sure the trend of improvement continues.

Oregon has proven it is capable of starting young players at key positions in the past. Sophomore cornerbacks Walter Thurmond III and Jairus Byrd are veterans in the Oregon secondary after starting last season during their freshman campaigns. Byrd earned second-team freshman All-America acclaim while Thurmond garnered third-team freshman All-America honors of his own. Oregon now has to rely on its youth to help carry the team down the final stretch of the season and maybe even farther… perhaps all the way to New Orleans.

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