The Oregon Ducks are off to a 3-0 start and their offense has garnered national attention. Currently ranked No. 24 in the country, the Ducks are the only team to have two players in the top 10 of Heisman Trophy odds this week: quarterback Justin Herbert and running back Royce Freeman.
Oregon QB Justin Herbert and RB Royce Freeman each have 25/1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy according to Bovada. The only player in the Pac-12 with better odds to win the Heisman is USC quarterback Sam Darnold (11/2). UCLA QB Josh Rosen currently has the same odds as Herbert and Freeman.
— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) September 18, 2017
While there are legitimate questions about how the defense will hold up for Oregon heading into conference play, the strength of the Ducks offense is not in doubt – at least, not their first half offense – they have shown us they can fly.
The Ducks offense is ranked No. 2 nationally in total offense (1,827 yards), No. 3 in points per game (56), No. 1 in total points (168), and No. 1 in total offensive touchdowns (23). Royce Freeman is ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing touchdowns (9) and is now tied with LaMichael James for the University of Oregon record for total rushing touchdowns (53). Freeman also ranks No. 3 in the country in rushing yards (460).
His numbers have been spectacular three games into the season, and have propelled him back into the Heisman conversation. He was No. 4 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the top Heisman candidates of the week. No one is likely happier with Freeman’s offensive production than new Oregon head coach, Willie Taggart, who convinced Freeman to return for his senior year.
On second thought, perhaps Freeman is happiest of all.
“I’m very happy about my decision,” Freeman said, “we have a great team this year. Me coming back, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Besides Freeman, Justin Herbert has shown flashes of brilliance this season and has been steady leading the team and keeping the offense moving. He has racked up 897 passing yards and 5 touchdowns thus far, neither of which has been enough to rank in the top 20 nationally. His completion percentage (72.3), QB rating (178.13), and yards per attempt (10.8) all do, however.
Herbert was not a highly sought after recruit; in fact, he only received offers from Montana State, Northern Arizona, Portland State, and Oregon according to 247Sports. Even after receiving and accepting an offer from UO, many did not assume he was going to be their future. He joined the program in the same class as Terry Wilson, whom many had higher expectations for. After Wilson left for Nebraska, however, Herbert progressed and earned his way to the starting job during last year’s catastrophic season and proved to be one of the few bright spots on the offense.
While Justin Herbert is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback, he has shown he is more comfortable in the pocket this year, and he has clearly made progress in his passing ability. He has undeniable arm-talent and he has outshined opposing quarterbacks with national profiles.
Nebraska’s Tanner Lee was a popular name among analysts leading up to their game against the Ducks on September 9th. More hyped than Lee, was Wyoming’s Josh Allen heading into last Saturday’s game against Oregon. Allen’s name – for reasons that don’t seem very obvious – had been floated as a possible first round draft pick, and in Matt Miller’s mock draft, he was even the first overall pick.
16 scouts from the NFL were reportedly in Laramie to watch Allen play, hoping to be impressed. While there was some striking quarterback play on the field, it didn’t come from Allen. Justin Herbert was the overwhelmingly better player, both against Nebraska’s Tanner Lee and Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Herbert led Oregon to victories in both games and combined to complete 43-of-62 passes for 616 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Allen and Lee combined to go a paltry 28-for-65 passes for 316 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions (yes, five).
The Ducks defense deserves credit for their improvement under new DC Jim Leavitt, especially for putting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than they did last season. Nothing should be taken away from Herbert’s play, however, and he has shown his name deserves the attention that others are getting.
The Ducks will try to maintain their undefeated record as they begin their Pac-12 schedule on Saturday. The Ducks will be in Tempe to take on Arizona State, and Justin Herbert and Royce Freeman will look to continue their Heisman campaigns.