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Season In Review: Running Back

Jan 13, 2021

Reviewing Oregon's 2020 season and looking ahead to spring drills.

RB: CJ Verdell, Jr.; Travis Dye, Jr.; Cyrus Habibi-Likio, Jr.; Sean Dollars, RFr.; Trey Benson, Fr.; Jayvaun Wilson, RFr.; Cross Patton, RFr.; KJ Maduike, So.

Starter: It's been nearly 30 years since the Oregon football team last had a running back fail to rush for at least 500 yards in season; Sean Burwell led the 1993 Ducks with 457. But a combination of the pandemic-shortened schedule and an injury to starter CJ Verdell brought it about again in 2020, when Travis Dye was Oregon's leading rusher with 443 yards. Verdell was averaging 111.5 yards through two games, but a hand injury derailed his season, sidelining him for both the Pac-12 Championship game and the Fiesta Bowl.

Dye took over as the starter and was the Ducks' most productive skill position player this past season. He averaged 103.1 all-purpose yards per game, and an explosive 9.5 yards per touch. Dye gained 447 yards and lost just four among his 64 carries, showing an impressive ability both to create explosive plays and also limit negative ones. Cyrus Habibi-Likio started once for the Ducks in 2020 as well, running 19 times for 36 yards and four touchdowns, as he continued to get the ball in short-yardage situations.

Reserves: The crowded depth chart above him meant that, for all the raves Sean Dollars generated with his performance in practice, there just weren't very many touches in games to be had. He did get the call to help account for Verdell's absence against USC in the Pac-12 title game, rushing seven times for 52 yards. Freshman Trey Benson opened some eyes during preseason camp and in practices once the season began, with his combination of size and agility. But an injury sidelined him at midseason.

Developmental squad: Oregon's scout-team offense featured a very entertaining 1-2 punch in Cross Patton and KJ Maduike. Patton was the lightning to Maduike's thunder, and they consistently gave the defense a good look, meriting some credit for the way the Ducks' run defense grew more stout as the season progressed — if the Ducks were going to improve in games they needed to be tested in practice, and they were by Patton and Maduike. Patton was among the players who most consistently produced explosive plays in practice, and Maduike forced the defense to rally to the ball and wrap up if they wanted to bring him down. Jayvaun Wilson complemented them when available, although injuries had him in and out of the rotation.


RB: CJ Verdell, Jr.; Travis Dye, Jr.; Sean Dollars, RFr.; Trey Benson, Fr.; Cross Patton, RFr.; KJ Maduike, So.

What To Watch: The Ducks will continue to have a deep and versatile pool of backs, though it was thinned a bit when Cyrus Habibi-Likio announced his decision to transfer on Jan. 23. As he enters his second year as offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead now has an even better handle on the diversity of skill sets available at the position. So the most fun thing to watch come spring might be how he and position coach Jim Mastro experiment with ways to tap that depth and take advantage of all the talent available.