Oregon Football announced its return to, well, Oregon Football on Saturday with a dominant 41-20 win over 12th ranked BYU, extending their Autzen Stadium winning streak to 21 games, certifying that they are a conference title contender, and solidifying the transfer of quarterback Bo Nix as a very positive thing for the Ducks.
But what may have gone slightly under the radar was the performance Oregon turned in on the ground. The Ducks out-rushed the Cougars 212 yards to 61. This was against a team considered to be very physical and also occurred with Oregon missing its primary running back as Byron Cardwell missed the game with what is being described as a fairly minor injury.
Taking on the majority of the carries were sophomore running backs Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington, who ran for 97 and 66 yards respectively. Freshman running back Jordan James also saw some action on the field as Oregon almost perfectly balanced its rushing and passing attacks.
It’s a welcome sight to see considering the departures of CJ Verdell and Travis Dye this past offseason, who together were responsible for almost the entirety of Oregon’s rushing attack for the better part of the last four seasons. Each had turned in a 1,000 + yard season for the Ducks.
Without them, the mantle fell on Cardwell, who showed flashes of great things to come in 2021 after Verdell was lost for the year halfway through the season. Now the fact that Oregon has reliability behind Cardwell ensures that their identity as a run-first team, something that Chip Kelly emphasized with speed and getting to the outside and Mario Cristobal enforced with strong runs up the middle behind behemoth linemen, remains.
There’s still a lot of season left to be played, but one essential key to offensive success (or overall success for that matter) in football is establishing a ground game. In the first game, they were unable to do so, in the second, they were, albeit against a weaker opponent. Saturday they did so against a strong opponent, and now hope to continue that momentum heading into conference play. Here’s to hitting the ground running.