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ASU Football: Oregon Players to Watch

A 2-5 record won’t scare anyone, but the Oregon rushing attack should. 

Virginia v Oregon
#20 Tony Brooks-James of the Oregon Ducks
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

In this year’s Pac-12 preseason media poll, the Ducks were predicted to finish third in the Pac-12 North. For the ninth straight season, Oregon found themselves in the preseason AP top-25 rankings slotted at No. 24.

Oregon, whose football brand name was once as superlative as its sponsor, Nike, has now fallen to a 2-5, unranked, and winless in the Pac-12.

The running game is what carried the Ducks to four conference championships, qualify for two national championships and appear in three Rose Bowl’s since 2009.

As crazy as it sounds, the Ducks still have the best rush attack in the Pac-12. Their 1,739 yards on the ground, 248.6 rush yards per game and 21 rush touchdowns all rank first in the Pac-12.

If the Ducks can run the ball so well, then how have the Ducks lost five game straight?

Oregon’s total defense ranks dead last in the Pac-12. Giving up a conference worst 538.6 total yards per game 6.2 yards per play simply does not win games.

After a struggling 2-3 start, the Ducks swapped starting quarterbacks, but haven’t won a game since. Oregon did show improvement in a 52-49 double overtime road loss to California.

The Ducks have beaten ASU nine games straight since 2004 and desperately need a home win to revive any hopes at possible bowl eligibility.

Players to Watch

QB Justin Herbert (6-foot-6, 215 pounds)

The true freshman burned his redshirt after senior Dakota Prukop was booted from the starting quarterback position following a 41-38 home loss to Colorado. Herbert struggled in his first game with just a touchdown and 179 passing yards, but blew up last Saturday against California. He managed 258 yards for six touchdowns. After showing his capabilities on the field, Herbert earned himself a spot at fourth on ESPN’s Pac-12 quarterback rankings. Herbert has shined as of late, but faces a difficult task against a Sun Devil defense that sacked Washington State’s junior quarterback Luke Falk seven times.

RB Tony Brooks-James (5-foot-9, 185 pounds)

With junior Royce Freeman battling an injury, the sophomore Brooks-James has rose to the occasion. He served to second all season to Freeman, but now averages more yards per run (7.1) and has just as many TD’s (7) as Freeman and unlike his predecessor he won’t take the sideline for an answer. Last game Brooks-James was hit so hard it messed up a nerve in his arm and left it numb, but he still rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown. He kept on running and won’t stop against Arizona State.

KR & WR Charles Nelson (5-foot-8, 170 pounds)

It may take time for a new starting quarterback to get used to his receivers, but the junior and his freshman QB have already connected 14 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns. He holds the Oregon all-time record for the most kickoff return yards (1,929) and leads the nation with 635 yards this season. He’s small, but wicked fast, and serves as a threat on special teams and offense.

LB Troy Dye (6-foot-4, 225 pounds)

If there is one bright spot in Oregon’s atrocious defense, it must be this true freshman linebacker. Dye leads the team in tackles (44), tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (3). He was the first Oregon freshman to have double-digit tackles in his debut since 1996, and then had a career high 14 tackles last game against California. His high school 40-yard dash was 4.61 seconds, which is just .16 seconds less than the best in the nation for the class of 2016.

RB Royce Freeman (5-foot-11, 230 pounds)

Though the junior’s abilities have been limited due to recent injury, Freeman is still one of the most elite running backs in the nation. Last season, he ranked fourth in the nation in rushing yards with 1,836 and 17 touchdowns. Freeman’s speed and power is what makes him an obvious first rounder in this year’s NFL draft. He’s rated No. 4 of 212 running backs in his draft class. He struggled last game carrying the ball 15 times for just 10 yards, but he’ll still be on the field, and still has the potential to dominate like he has in the past.