Injuries Level the Field in the Pac-12 Race
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 11, 2012
U.S.C. had the quarterback, the wide receivers, the confidence and the hype. But if nothing else, Oregon had one crucial factor in its corner: depth. And not just normal, everyday depth but experienced depth, and even the Trojans’ fiercest backers had to admit that their team – due entirely to sanctions – was lacking in this key category. Knee injuries suffered by free safety John Boyett and offensive guard Carson York go a long way towards evening the score between the Ducks and Trojans, leveling the playing field in a Pac-12 dominated by two teams, U.S.C. and Oregon – and in this competition this close, every player counts.
Let’s begin with Boyett, a senior, who was diagnosed with partial tears of both patellar tendons shortly after Saturday’s win over Fresno State. Having already taken a redshirt season, back in 2008, and without any past injury history to help his case with the N.C.A.A. should he push for a sixth year, this setback effectively ends Boyett’s career in Eugene.
What a career it’s been: Boyett was an immediate hit in 2009, when he became the first freshman defender to lead the Ducks in tackles since the university began tracking the statistic in 1969.
He followed that up with an all-American-caliber sophomore season, though Sports Illustrated was the only publication to hand him that honor, and earned all-conference accolades a season ago. Boyett was viewed almost universally as a full-blooded all-American heading into his final season.
If losing York doesn’t carry the same sting, it’s because Oregon had been prepared for life without its senior left guard – while not for the entire year, at least for the first few weeks of September. York tore his patellar tendon in January’s Rose Bowl over Wisconsin, keeping him out of meaningful on-field activities during the spring, summer and fall camp.
He wasn’t on Oregon’s depth chart for the Ducks’ opener against Arkansas State or for this past Saturday’s win, though York did see time against the Red Wolves, stepping in for a series or two, and was injured during the third series of the game against the Bulldogs.
Prior to the injury, Chip Kelly and his staff were hopeful that York would make a full-time return for Pac-12 play, but contingency plans had been in place for non-conference action. In a way, and not to diminish the impact of York’s newest injury, a broken kneecap that seems unrelated to his earlier injury, the Ducks are in a better place up front than in the secondary.
Now, the nuts and bolts. For Oregon, it’s to put one of Kelly’s theories into action: “We’re going next man in,” Kelly told Rob Moseley of The Register Guard. “That’s how we’ve been, I think it’s helped us as a team, and we’ll always continue to do that.”
The next man in at free safety is junior Avery Patterson, last week’s backup – or the Ducks can shift Brian Jackson out of his starting spot at strong safety into Boyett’s old role at free safety. The latter scenario would have Jackson and sophomore Erick Dargan starting and Patterson serving as the team’s third safety. It’s more likely that Patterson simply takes a step up the depth chart.
The worries along the offensive line extend beyond York to another trio dealing with injuries – right tackle Jake Fisher, left guard Ryan Clanton and left tackle Kyle Long – though none are season-threatening. The first step to replacing York is battening down the hatches, getting these three back into the lineup and helping the Ducks seal up a potential trouble spot at left guard.
The immediate takeaway: Clanton’s not moving back to left tackle, as some expected he’d do once York returned from injury. Can Long move ahead of redshirt freshman Tyler Johnstone on the blind side? For Long, the former Florida State signee and JUCO transfer, it might just be a matter of getting – and staying – healthy.
Beyond the production Oregon will lose without York and Boyett is the issue mentioned earlier: how, in addition to hurting the Ducks, losing two game-tested seniors helps the Trojans. How will U.S.C. weather Oregon’s storm with its depth issues along the defensive line?
How can the Ducks hope to slow down Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and the Trojans’ passing game without Boyett solidifying the back end of the defense? Will Oregon be able to wear down U.S.C.’s front without York, a 36-game starter, playing at an all-conference level at left guard?
Oregon won’t be left for dead, not with Marcus Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner, this defensive line, these linebackers and more at its disposal, but to say that losing Boyett and York doesn’t even the Pac-12’s playing field discounts the roles both were pegged to hold as seniors. Now, with both out, it’s a brand-new ballgame.
Tags: Avery Patterson, Carson York, Chip Kelly, John Boyett, Kyle Long, Matt Barkley, Oregon, Pac-12, Ryan Clanton, U.S.C.
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