Redshirt freshman has a team-high four touchdown runs on five carries this season
Over the previous four seasons there was never a doubt who was going to carry the load for Oregon in important Pac-12 games.
In four starts against Stanford from 2014-17, Royce Freeman averaged 114.3 yards rushing and 6.3 yards per carry.
But the current Denver Broncos rookie only crossed the goal line twice against the Cardinal.
Even though the Ducks rotated six running backs during nonconference play, it’s pretty clear who will be getting the ball if No. 20 Oregon has goal-line opportunities against No. 7 Stanford on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (5 p.m., ABC).
Cyrus Habibi-Likio has four touchdowns runs on only five carries this season. The redshirt freshman’s longest score has been from 5 yards out.
“Cyrus has earned that spot,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “We saw some things in camp that he did in short-yardage situations. He displayed really good vision in a muddy area. When you get in those situations it gets real tight, and it’s proven that what you see in practice is showing up in games. He’s done a really nice job.”
Oregon only averaged 2.7 yards per carry last week during a 35-22 victory over San Jose State. Habibi-Likio scored on both of his attempts, a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“Just get in, honestly. Just cross that line and hold on to that ball,” Habibi-Likio said of his approach to the situational role. “I’m definitely not going to just run in there and stick my head in there. I’ll make the right reads like we’re taught in meetings and practice. I have the job to score and that’s all that’s on my mind is scoring, keeping my guys safe and holding on to that ball.”
Tony Brooks-James is second on the team with two touchdown runs. Running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye and quarterback Justin Herbert have rushed for one touchdown apiece.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Habibi-Likio has proven to be the reliable replacement for Freeman in the red zone.
“It’s funny. Every time I’m on the goal line, they put me in. I call Tony’s name, and he comes out,” Habibi-Likio said of being a college fantasy football gem. “He always smiles. We laugh about it. He always messes with me and says, ‘You’re taking my touchdowns’ and stuff like that.”
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said Brooks-James, a fifth-year senior, will get the start against Stanford opposite counterpart Bryce Love, last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up.
The Ducks have allowed one rushing touchdown all season and rank ninth nationally in rushing defense (77.0 ypg). The Cardinal have also allowed only one rushing touchdown and is No. 1 in scoring defense (7.7 ppg).
Habibi-Likio, who grew up near the Stanford campus in Mountain View, Calif., is looking forward to what is expected to be a physical game against a North Division rival on the national stage.
“I’ve always disliked Stanford,” Habibi-Likio said. “I’ve always kind of had that, I won’t say hate, but that competitiveness. I’ve always been an Oregon fan and watching their games and I’m excited to feel that whole atmosphere. Of course (ESPN’s) College GameDay is coming. We’re not trying to make it a distraction, just play it like another game, but I’m excited to feel it.”