Despite losing arguably it’s most important players on offense and defense -- quarterback Marcus Mariota and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- few peoplewere predicting Oregon getting off to a 2-2 start by allowing 163 points through four games -- including 23 plays of 20 or more yards -- and by being unable to find sustained rhythm at the quarterback position.
But a look back at previous recruiting classes gives a glimpse at why the Ducks are struggling at quarterback and defensive back -- and also why there might be some hope of some help arriving at both positions.
The 2011 recruiting class brought Marcus Mariota to Oregon, and while he is arguably the most successful two-star “find” of the Internet recruiting age, the Ducks simply haven’t been as successful recruiting quarterbacks since striking gold with Mariota.
Oregon signed two quarterbacks in the 2012 class, in Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie. Rodrigues was a major recruiting win, as he held offers from Arizona State, Michigan, UCLA and received a very strong push from USC. But Rodrigues transferred from Oregon to San Diego State following the 2013 season, leaving Lockie as the frontrunner to back up Mariota in 2014.
Not long after Rodrigues left, the Ducks lost their only 2013 quarterback signee, when Damion Hobbs elected to transfer to Utah State. Hobbs was a late addition to Oregon’s class after the Ducks missed out on top target Cody Thomas, who signed with Oklahoma, and also missed out on Anthony Jennings, who signed with LSU. Hobbs flipped to Oregon late in the process as the Ducks were forced to go after targets farther down their board.
In 2014, Oregon again couldn’t reel in their top target, as Deshaun Watson committed very early to Clemson after an offer from the Ducks -- as well as plenty of other programs -- couldn’t sway him. Instead, Oregon targeted Morgan Mahalak early on and grabbed a quick commitment.
The 2015 class presented several options that would have had an opportunity to start as true freshmen for the Ducks, but Oregon couldn’t quite finish things off with Kyler Murray (Texas A&M), Jarrett Stidham (Baylor) or Blake Barnett (Alabama). Instead, the Ducks moved well down their quarterback recruiting board and took a commitment from Travis Jonsen, then went all-in on graduate transfer Vernon Adams Jr. Oregon’s decision to chase a potential one-year fix so hard was an immediate red flag, sending signals that the Ducks coaches weren’t prepared to head into the 2015 season with their quarterback depth chart. Making matters worse is the broken finger Adams suffered in the season opener, as Oregon coaches have been forced to go with Plan B now with Adams less than 100 percent healthy.
Fortunately for the Ducks, they are currently in a part of their schedule that features at Colorado, home against Washington State and Washington and then a bye, which should give Adams plenty of time to heal up.
The defensive backs will need to shape up even quicker, as every team on the Ducks' schedule is capable of exploiting the Oregon secondary. The weakness at that position could simply be a numbers issue at this point -- specifically, the classes where those numbers lie.
The 2010 class brought Oregon Dior Mathis, Erick Dargan, Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill, so it was no wonder that defensive back wasn’t a priority in 2011 -- a class that only netted the Ducks one signee, in Ekpre-Olomu. After two incredibly successful years at the position, the Ducks largely swung and missed in 2012, as Reggie Daniels is now a starter, but Eric Amoako and Stephen Amoako eventually transferred, as did Oshay Dunmore, after moving to linebacker. That leaves just one scholarship defensive back on the roster from classes that could have given the Ducks fourth- and fifth-year players, as well as plenty of veteran leadership.
But the Ducks have loaded up on defensive backs the past two years, which means it could just be a matter of time before these young players gain enough experience to turn the position back into a strength. Defensive backs Arrion Springs and Mattrell McGraw were significant recruiting wins in the 2014 class, while Ugo Amadi is contributing as a true freshman after flipping from both Ole Miss and LSU.
Glen Ihenacho, Khalil Oliver, Paris Bostick, Ty Griffin Fotu Leiato, Dylan Kane and Jihree Stewart have also been added to the secondary in the past two recruiting classes, but the Ducks have obviously been caught with an untested secondary early this season, with the scoreboard providing the proof.