In fact, the Oregon offense was inconsistent for most of the football game, giving up sloppy turnovers and great field position to Rich Rodriguez’s squad. Marcus Mariota committed two turnovers and De’Anthony Thomas had one as well to give the Ducks (4-0) three turnovers on the night, plus a turnover on downs to start the contest.
“We were really just hurting ourselves, with penalties and especially turnovers,” Mariota said.
But, amidst the sloppiness emerged a new weapon in the backfield: Colt Lyerla. The sophomore, who is used as a tight end in the Ducks system, saw significant time as a running back, being paired with backup quarterback Bryan Bennett in the backfield.
The package is something that head coach Chip Kelly said they have been working on in practice and decided to unveil this weekend. It paid off, as Lyerla rushed for 63 yards on seven carries with a touchdown, averaging a team high nine yards a carry.
Lyerla hadn’t played running back since high school before Saturday and admitted that he didn’t know if the coaching staff would actually go ahead with the unique package in a game.
“It had definitely been a while but I was excited,” Lyerla said. “I got a little bit of extra adrenaline back there so I was pretty pumped.”
And what did Coach Kelly think of his stat line?
“I was jacked up,” Kelly said.
Lyerla’s touchdown in the third quarter helped jumpstart a scoring spree for Oregon as the offense began to find it’s groove. Mariota connected with freshman wide receiver Bralon Addison on a 55-yard touchdown shortly afterward for the second of his two touchdown passes, and the defense added the icing with two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Bennett also benefitted from the new package with a few quarterback keepers, even taking one into the end zone near the end of the fourth quarter, giving him three touchdowns in the last two games.
“We’ve got depth on the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “It’s an opportunity to get Bryan Bennett in the game, it’s an opportunity to get Colt at a different position that he can use.”
While it threw something different at the Wildcats (3-1), Kelly said that the package will continue to be used and expanded upon, giving Oregon even more versatility in the backfield. Ducks cornerback Troy Hill didn't envy the Wildcats dilemma of how to stop him.
“He’s a beast,” Hill said. “He’s scary coming at you.”
Lyerla's performance, coupled with productive days from freshmen receivers Dwayne Stanford and Addison, gave Kelly something to be happy about depth-wise heading into their first road game next weekend in Seattle against Washington State.
“We knew those guys, just because of the way they were in preseason camp, they don’t get flustered,” Kelly said of the receivers. “Nothing’s too big for them and they came up big today.”