At some point we should probably have a discussion about the NCAA’s antiquated policy on recreational drug use. I mean, it’s 2015 already and across the country laws are slackening, yet if a student-athlete in a place like Oregon where marijuana use is a generally accepted part of the culture fails an NCAA-administered drug test they risk forfeiture of up to half of a regular season and, worse, a chance at a national title.
Oregon Ducks wide receiver Darren Carrington took a drug test prior to a 165-yard, two touchdown performance in a Rose Bowl throttling of Florida State. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Carrington was being suspended for the College Football Playoff National Championship game due to a violation of NCAA policy. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reports that Carrington’s suspension was because he failed that drug test, most likely because of marijuana.
Now, an already depleted Oregon receiving corps is without their most effective big-play threat. And because of that, we should probably take a long, hard look at the NCAA drug policy, but it will have to wait. Oregon has more pressing issues.
Carrington is just the latest in a string of bad news for the Oregon passing game, as they’ve been forced to piecemeal together lineups around their megastar quarterback Marcus Mariota offensively all season. Early in the year, it was the offensive line that couldn’t seem to get healthy, and that ultimately cost them a loss against Arizona in October. Now, it’s the receiving corp that’s been decimated.
In addition to losing Carrington, they lost their second-leading receiver from 2013, Bralon Addison, to an ACL in the spring. Third-leading receiver Devon Allen was injured on the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl and one of Mariota’s favorite redzone threats, tight end Pharoah Brown, has been out since November with a knee injury of his own.
If not for Byron Marshall, who ran for over 1,000 yards in 2013, making the move to WR to make room for bruising freshman tailback Royce Freeman, the Ducks would essentially have four wide receivers in their rotation. Marshall’s move certainly helps ease those concerns, and he’s been their leading receiver in 2014, but losing Carrington, Allen and Brown give Oregon some size concerns on the outside.
Keanon Lowe, Charles Nelson and Johnathan Loyd, three options that the Ducks figure to lean on in lieu of Allen’s injury and Carrington’s suspension are all 5-9 or smaller. Marshall is listed at 5-10.
Now, the Ducks are relegated to 6-5 Dwayne Stanford as the lone target at wide receiver over 6 feet tall.
Stanford was an Army All-American coming out of high school and he was one of Mariota’s favorite targets throughout PAC-12 play, making five of his six touchdowns catches on the season during conference play. In a shootout victory over Cal, Stanford had six catches for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and if he can give Oregon that kind of production on Monday night, they probably won’t feel the sting of Darren Carrington and Devon Allen’s absence.
However, those are pretty lofty expectations for a redshirt sophomore who played sparingly as a true freshman and then took a redshirt after a preseason injury in 2013. Of course, fifth-year senior Keanon Lowe has 65 career receptions to his name, but he’s been largely a non-factor since the Arizona loss with just eight catches in the team’s last eight outings.
Lowe will have to reestablish himself early on Monday night to help alleviate the pressure on Stanford and Marshall. Meanwhile, Nelson has been an excellent option out of the slot with five touchdown receptions on the season, and any production he gives them will undoubtedly be welcomed. However, beyond that, there hasn’t been much production.
Loyd, a highly-recruited point guard out of high school, had just four catches this season. And, while Evan Baylis filled in admirably for Brown against FSU with six catches for 73 yards at tight end, he had just four catches of his own in the first 13 games of the season. As a matter of fact, behind the Marshall, Stanford, Lowe and Nelson quartet of active receivers and the three inactive receiving threats (Carrington, Allen and Brown), quarterback Marcus Mariota has as many receiving touchdowns this year as any other option on the roster.
Needless to say, the depth will be tested against Ohio State. It’s something Oregon–and Ohio State, for that matter–has been dealing with all season, but if the Ducks have designs on becoming the national powerhouse they appear destined to be, these are the obstacles you have to overcome. Oregon has been a major player nationally in recruiting, and this is when your ability to evaluate talent and recruit shines through.
There’s a reason why you throw your efforts into stealing a guy like Dwayne Stanford out from under the noses of programs like Ohio State, and there’s a reason why you pluck a speedy 5-9 wideout who fits your system perfectly like Charles Nelson from Daytona Beach, FL.
Monday night in the CFP National Championship game, you need those recruiting efforts and that talent evaluation to shine through. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about the Darren Carringtons of the world after.