Tony Brooks-James got the start as expected in Oregon’s opening game, but the senior watched three running backs get more carries than him during a 58-24 win over Bowling Green.
UO coach Mario Cristobal said the five rushes for Brooks-James was not an indication of his expected workload this season.
“He will be a guy who will tote the ball more than that,” Cristobal said Monday. “We do feel good that we have a lot of guys who will touch the ball because those guys earned playing time. We want to keep doing that as much as we can as it relates to winning. How can we be most the productive and most successful on Saturdays? We do believe that it will entail Tony touching the ball more.”
Brooks-James had five carries for 27 yards, one catch for 53 yards, and three kick returns for 60 yards in the first half as Oregon built a 37-17 lead. He did not touch the ball in the second half.
“TBJ started the game and made some nice plays,” Cristobal said. “We were trying to get the ball to everyone and make sure a lot of guys had the opportunity to be part of the game plan. We built a comfortable lead and tried to hold certain guys out before we felt that we had to finish the game strong. When we did not score (in the third quarter) and they did, we activated the first offensive line and Justin Herbert and we held Tony out there figuring the game was in good hands.”
Redshirt freshman CJ Verdell led the Ducks with 13 carries for 51 yards while sophomore Darrian Felix had eight carries for 38 yards. True freshman Travis Dye ran seven times for 37 yards.
All three of Oregon’s leading backs in the game missed significant portions of fall camp due to injury.
“The rotation is dictated by productivity in camp,” Cristobal said. “Some of the injuries factored into it because some guys made it all the way through camp and some didn’t, but bounced back enough to play. There is nothing complex about it. If you’re productive and proving it in practice, then you are going to play. It doesn’t discriminate based on your year here or how you played in high school. If you are doing a good job at your position, we will find ways to get you on the field. That position, more than any other, is one that has shown a significant amount of guys who can help us win football games so we have to get ready to play. None of them are big guys, 225- or 235-pound guys that can go 45 or 50 carries a game, so that being the case, we are going to get them all ready.”
The biggest of the backs is 6-1, 207-pound redshirt freshman Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who scored from five yards out on his lone carry of the game.
“Cyrus is proving to be a versatile back,” Cristobal said. “We want to use him in short-yardage and goal-line stuff, but what you saw there was him making the linebacker miss. He has good hips and instincts and vision so he is more than just a short-yardage guy.”
Senior Taj Griffin had one carry for four yards, but took a screen pass 83 yards for a touchdown.
“Taj does a lot of things real well,” Cristobal said. “He’s better off in open-space stuff where you can create some air and mismatches. One-on-one stuff like the screen pass he hit.”
FIRST LOOK AT FRESHMEN
Oregon played 11 true freshmen against the Falcons, but left tackle Penei Sewell was the only one in the starting lineup. He became the first true freshman to start an opener on the line for Oregon since 1997.
“Penei had never played left tackle before,” Cristobal noted. “During camp, we flopped him and (Calvin) Throckmorton and George Moore and Brady Aiello out there, but he stood out as the guy. He flashes tremendous potential, but he is more than potential. He is doing it now and playing beyond his years with physicality that is hard to match.”
The other debuts from the Class of 2018 came from defensive backs Jevon Holland, Steve Stephens, Damon Hickok, Kahlef Hallassie and Verone McKinley III, linebacker Adrian Jackson, punter Tom Snee, long snapper Karsten Battles, wide receiver Bryan Addison, and Dye.
Oregon linebacker La'Mar Winston was not practicing on Tuesday after going through concussion protocol following a collision against Bowling Green. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who was also in concussion protocol, was practicing with a red jersey indicating he would not participate in practice drills.
Defensive lineman Gus Cumberlander, kicker Adam Stack, offensive lineman Cody Shear, and receiver JJ Tucker all sat out practice.
Oregon moved up one spot in the AP poll to No. 23 on Tuesday. The Ducks went up when former coach Willie Taggart and Florida State fell out of the Top 25 following a 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech.