Pac-12: Darren Carrington

Saturday's showdown between UCLA and Oregon will feature playmakers galore. From Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley to Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Eric Kendricks (and Hroniss Grasu and Myles Jack and Arik Armstead and Eddie Vanderdoes, etc., etc.) there won’t be a lack of future NFL talent at the Rose Bowl.

They say big players make big plays in big games. OK, but football games are rarely won by one player. Sometimes it’s the under-the-radar guys who make the biggest impact. Here are three players from each team who might not be as well known, but could end up making a big difference in the outcome.

OREGON

WR Darren Carrington: With just nine catches for 172 yards, the speedy Carrington is yet to have a breakout game. This could be it. Devon Allen has drawn plenty of attention. And with Byron Marshall listed as a wide receiver this week, it could open the door for Carrington to have some one-on-one coverage. Remember, we’re looking at someone under the radar, and that’s exactly where Carrington is flying right now. He has a ton of explosive potential and if he’s not accounted for, he could bite the Bruins.

WR/Splt: Charles Nelson: We’re tapping Nelson not for what he does in the receiving game (just three catches for 27 yards), but for what he does on special teams. He leads the Ducks with an average of 15 yards per return … including a 50-yard touchdown in the win over South Dakota. But he’s also one of Oregon’s best gunners in coverage -- and that’s going to be of note against a dangerous return team like UCLA. Nelson is one of those guys who could quietly help dictate the field position battle, having already posted a team-high 10 special-teams tackles.

S Tyree Robinson: He stepped up big in the Michigan State win with five solo tackles. And it looks like he’s the new option ahead of Dior Mathis when Oregon goes into its nickel package. Erick Dargan moves over to corner and Robinson steps in at safety alongside Reggie Daniels. He’s already seen significant playing time and is being rewarded with more by the coaching staff. UCLA isn’t shy about spreading things out offensively, so the Ducks will likely be in nickel several times throughout the game. Look for Robinson to make an impact in both ground and air defense.

UCLA

NT Kenny Clark: Already with 27 tackles on the year, including two for loss, the sophomore is emerging as one of the top defensive linemen in the country. But nose tackles don’t always get the ink. At 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, he has the size and power to command multiple blockers in UCLA’s odd-front scheme. Given the state of Oregon’s offensive line, he could be the difference-maker in the trenches. Fun sidebar to this game will also be watching Clark and Grasu when it’s straight up, one-on-one. One will be playing on Sundays next year, the other won’t be too far behind.

WR Thomas Duarte: He’s officially listed as a receiver, though he’s a hybrid tight end, which is why he’s on the Mackey Award watch list. There are more explosive receivers, but few as reliable. Duarte has been targeted 15 times this year and hauled in 13 of those – including a pair of touchdowns. And of his 265 receiving yards, 110 have come after the catch. The Ducks will certainly be keeping an eye on him. He caught the only touchdown against Oregon in their meeting last year. Look for him on third downs and in the red zone.

DB Anthony Jefferson: Ishmael Adams gets plenty of recognition for what he does in the secondary. But Jefferson, the old man of the group, is the guy who keeps the youngsters in line. So far he’s posted 20 tackles on the year, including an interception in the ASU game. Oregon ranks first in the conference in pass efficiency, with Marcus Mariota completing 71.1 percent of his throws for 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. His accuracy will put a strain on UCLA’s defensive backfield, so the Bruins will look to Jefferson to hold things together.
Over the past few weeks we examined the Ducks, position-by-position, evaluating the talent. But since I was in Eugene last week for the NCAA Track & Field Championships, I figured I'd stop by the football offices to check in with one of the guys who knows that information best, offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Wednesday, we went through quarterback and running back highlights. Today, we're on to wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line.

WIDE RECEIVER
  • On Devon Allen: He was actually a late offer for the Ducks who was offered after Chip Kelly left for the NFL. There were a few spots open (initially there had only been one spot for a receiver). "It all kind of worked out that we offered him, and this is where he wanted to be. I knew he could be fast. I had no idea he could go 13.1 in the high hurdles."
  • Frost actually was at Allen's race last Saturday when Allen won the 110-meter hurdle national title. Frost said that he doesn't think Allen "looks like he'd be a track guy, he's built more like a football guy, he's thick."
  • On his mindset on the receivers: "We felt good about receiver even losing the guys we did, with Bralon [Addison] back and some young guys we think are really talented. We're just going to have to have some of those young guys step up quicker than they would've had to otherwise."
  • The first receiver that Frost brought up after Allen was redshirt freshman Darren Carrington. "He has to grow up quick, but he has it in him to be that guy." The next three receivers he mentioned were redshirt sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt sophomore Chance Allen and early enrollee Jalen Brown. Frost said that he thought Brown was "in over his head a bit" from a conditioning standpoint this spring, which limited his reps, but he's up to speed now, and Frost could see him being a contributor in the fall. So it sounds like after Keanon Lowe and D. Allen, there's certainly a pecking order of things, but the competition is still very much open.
  • It's the youngest crop of receivers Frost has ever had, so I was curious if there were any way he could speed up the learning curve or provide a catalyst (other than just more and more live reps). "Sometimes there's just no replacing experience. But all those guys are competitors. … They're going to get their shots early. You see it all the time in sports, when people get their opportunities some of them reach out and take it with both hands and others struggle a little bit. We're just hoping we have a bunch of guys where the former happens."
  • Frost said something interesting about indicators regarding whether a young guy can play early -- it's typically more based on mental and emotional maturity than talent.
TIGHT ENDS
  • Look for these guys, like the running backs, to be more involved in the pass game. "We have three, which is more than we've had going into a year that I can remember. … We have three guys that we trust to go out there and do it, and there's probably going to be times that a couple of them -- if they're playing well -- deserve to be on the field, and we can play with two tight ends."
  • Pharaoh Brown's injury isn't going to limit him through the fall. Frost said it's just a matter of keeping him healthy through the season. "He's really talented."
  • Frost called John Mundt’s freshman year a "roller coaster" but said that when he was on, "he did some exceptional things."
  • Frost thought Mundt and Evan Baylis' biggest areas of growth over the past year has just been confidence. No surprise there.
OFFENSIVE LINE
  • I asked Frost about senior Hroniss Grasu taking the blame (for the line as a whole) for the losses last season. Grasu had said in the spring that he thought the group lacked toughness and got outmuscled in those games, and that's why the Ducks lost. "I wouldn't necessarily agree with that. I think we had two losses against teams that played really good games against us." Frost though the turnovers were a bigger problem in the Stanford and Arizona games. "If you play a team that does things right and you give them the ball that many times, that's a recipe for losing."
  • He wasn't surprised that Grasu said that, because he's that kind of a guy. He said it speaks to Grasu's leadership that he's willing to shoulder that kind of blame.
  • The line returns all five starters and considering the weight gain, the general consensus with everyone is that the Ducks should be just fine. But, I wanted to make sure to ask about a few backups who were getting significant reps during the spring season. Frost's thoughts: Redshirt junior Andre Yruretagoyena had his best spring season yet. He said the staff has high hopes for redshirt freshman Jake Pisarcik. He was impressed with redshirt junior walk-on Matt Pierson at right tackle.
On Wednesday, Ted linked to a story from ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman about recruiting and the "no-visit" policy for players who have already given a verbal commitment to a school. Of course, this was the policy at Oregon when Chip Kelly was around.

But Kelly is now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and when he left, new coach Mark Helfrich loosened the strings on the policy. In the end, the Ducks kept three of the four A-listers who opened up their recruitment, holding on to San Diego products Tyree and Tyrell Robinson and Darren Carrington.

SportsNation

Do you like the idea of a 'no-visit' policy once a player has given the school a verbal commitment?

  •  
    56%
  •  
    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,955)

The issue of "no visit" commitments can be a sticky one. It's the only time a high school player truly has some leverage and having the ability to explore other options while considering one of the biggest decisions of a lifetime seems reasonable.

The schools that hold these policies, however, like to know they have a player wrapped up when counting scholarships. If a player is completely sold on going to a team -- that's fine. Everyone is happy.

But these are high school kids -- and many rush to make a decision before considering all options. That was the case with Arizona signee Derek Babiash -- a four-star defensive back who committed to Washington after his first visit. He told me last week that he got caught up in the excitement of his first visit and made a rush decision. It happens. And a potential mistake was rectified.

Naturally, this isn't for every school. Brady Hoke might be asking, as Sherman points out in the article, "This is Michigan, why wouldn't you (commit)?" But that's because Michigan is a brand name. I can promise you when I was covering him with the Aztecs, he wasn't proclaiming "This is San Diego State!" Just ask Tyler Bray -- once an SDSU commit.

Of course, with coaches coming and going frequently (as Ted noted in yesterday's video, there were 30 coaching changes in FBS football this year) it seems hypocritical to hold a commit to a verbal when the coach might be gone.

What's your take? Do you like the idea of a "no-visit" policy once a player has given the school a verbal commitment?

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

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