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Injuries Level the Field in the Pac-12 Race

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.

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Comments

  1. YeahNo says:

    Correction: Boyett did not play against Fresno St., and in all reports I’ve read, he says he was playing in pain on bad knees last year; and he declined off-season surgery.

  2. WashingtonDCduck says:

    There is no doubt losing Boyett burns, big time. I do have to imagine though that those close to the program, i.e. the coaching staff (John Neal the DB coach and Coach Kelly) and the players – they all knew Boyett was not a sure thing to make it the whole year. See, in most programs it would have been discussed but since Oregon does not discuss injuries we the fans and the reporting media have been in the dark.

    I think a guy like Brian Jackson and a kid I really, really like – Eric Dargan, will not fill Boyett’s void but they’ll be serviceable replacements. The defensive backfield will be ok, they’ll have ample time to get valuable game reps when the bullets are live before Nov. 3rd and USC in Los Angeles. Great passing attacks (well, coaches that love to throw the ball a lot) in Washington St and Arizona are on the slate in the next three weeks. That right there is great experience in preparation for the magnificent USC air attack.

    Carson York stings, but not as much as Boyett. The o-line is nicked up, but they’ve held guys out to make sure come 9/22 (Arizona) these guys are healthy. This Saturday with Tenn. Tech the starters and even their backups should not have to play more than a full half (well, if Oregon doesn’t take a page out of Arkansas’ playbook). The o-line is a deep group, about ten deep, and many of those guys can play guard or tackle.

    Carson York can still be a valued leader in the locker-room and on the sideline.

  3. Jake says:

    Best of luck to both John and Carson in the NFL! You will be missed.

  4. Canard says:

    The tone of this article makes it sound as if Avery Patterson has never seen the field before at FS, which is most certainly not the case. Patterson is a junior and was going to start next year regardless. His move from understudy to lead has merely been accelerated. The coaching staff already knew that Boyett’s knees were a time bomb and Patterson got lots of practice reps while Boyett was saving most of his capacity for games.

    While we’re on injuries, I’d note that the USC starting center has a possibly severe lower leg injury and the back up center is banged up too.

  5. Andrew says:

    This could tip the razor edge difference between UO and USC. If USC comes into the november game healthy it may be Rosebowl for the ducks. I DO think that the Rosebowl would take a 2 loss Oregon team if USC is in the National championship, if not some other BCS bowl would gladly pick them up.

    Paul: Yeah, there’s little doubt in my mind that both are going to a B.C.S. bowl. One to the Rose Bowl, of course.

  6. BobJ says:

    These are serious injuries, but Oregon can still rely on depth that USC lacks. If Oregon can run an up-tempo game November 8, the Trojan starters might not have enough gas left in their tank come the fourth quarter.

    We should also be aware that UCLA is better than we thought they would be, and so is Arizona State. This Saturday will tell us if the Pac-12 is the two-team conference that it looked like on August 31, or if it won’t be that simple.

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