The sophomore had a career-high 81 yards in second half of 35-31 win at Washington
Faster than a streaking spectator, more powerful than a goal-line defense, able to leap a Husky defender in a single bound.
The mild-mannered Cyrus Habibi-Likio has seemingly emerged from the phone booth to play superhero off the bench for the Ducks.
Over the last three games, the bruising running back from Mountain View, Calif., has 36 carries for 165 yards (4.6 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns.
Habibi-Likio rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown in the second half of Oregon’s 35-31 comeback win at Washington. It was the third consecutive game he reset his career high for rushing yards.
“I really just trusted everyone,” Habibi-Likio said when asked about earning more significant playing time. “Every coach on the staff, I trusted their word and just did as much as I can, everything that they told me they told me to do. I took the weight program seriously, the conditioning and all that, and really just got in my playbook.
“For me this year, it’s just being more comfortable out there.”
Entering No. 11 Oregon’s game against Washington State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (7:30 p.m., ESPN), Habibi-Likio is one of four running backs listed on the depth chart as the potential starter.
CJ Verdell leads the team with 89 carries for 496 yards (5.6 yards per attempt). The sophomore with six starts this season was “nicked up” against the Huskies, which allowed Habibi-Likio to step into the spotlight in the second half.
Travis Dye is averaging 6.1 yards on 56 attempts (339 yards) but lost two fumbles against California. Habibi-Likio tackled a rogue fan on the field for the security guards and then scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter against the Bears.
Darrian Felix has 135 yards and two touchdowns in limited action (21 carries).
“I think he's gotten an opportunity and is taking advantage of it,” quarterback Justin Herbert said of Habibi-Likio. “He’s stepped in from day one, and I knew that he was going to make some big plays. He was a smart guy and developed and was mature for a freshman. I knew that he was going to step into the offense a little bit more.”
Oregon’s offense was balanced in Seattle. Herbert passed for 280 yards and four touchdowns. Habibi-Likio, Dye and Verdell combined for 180 yards on 33 attempts (5.5 yards per attempt).
The Ducks (6-1, 4-0) are 26th in the FBS in scoring (35.9 points per game), 59th in rushing (173.6 yards per game) and 23rd in passing (283.6 yards per game).
The Cougars’ (4-3, 1-3) defense is 79th in points allowed (28.7 per game), 85th in rushing yards allowed (177.3 per game) and 104th in passing yards allowed (261.9 per game).
Habibi-Likio, whose defined role was goal-line back as a freshman, only had 12 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown through the first four weeks of this season.
“We’re in the world of instantaneous everything, and football is still a developmental sport, always will be. Guys get better over time,” coach Mario Cristobal said when asked about Habibi-Likio’s improvement. “He’s a true craftsman. He truly just takes a deep dive into the technique and the fundamentals, the eye discipline that is required to be a great running back.”
Now Habibi-Likio, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound redshirt sophomore, is tied for fourth in the Pac-12 with six rushing touchdowns and has scored eight rushing touchdowns in his 11 career games at Autzen Stadium.
“We’ve developed a trust in Cyrus to do his job. He’s done an awesome job,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. “We can see that Cyrus is a guy who has continued to stay the course and develop in the time he has been with us.”
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