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Ducks Will Have Battle On Its Hands With Carey

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Running back Byron Marshall of the Oregon Ducks has had a good season after a slow start, but is he ready for LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner-type production? Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.
Running back Byron Marshall of the Oregon Ducks has had a good season after a slow start, but is he ready for LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner-type production? Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images.

When the Oregon defense looks across the line of scrimmage Saturday night, something will seem familiar to it — something it had for years, but now is just out of its grasp.

Ducks defenders will be faced with the task of stopping the league's top running back, one who arguably is top three in the nation, when Ka'Deem Carey gets his hands on the ball. Carey is a intriguingly dynamic combination of power and speed that Oregon should remember well after its run of tremendous running backs.

Carey is second in the nation with 150.3 yards per game and sits just 118 yards away from the all-time Arizona rushing record. In 242 rushing attempts this season, he's only lost 23 total yards and has scored 12 rushing touchdowns.

Believe the NFL is keeping a close eye on the junior, who likely will enter the draft after this season.

There's plenty of incentive on the part of Wildcats coaches, fans and players to get Carey the record against Oregon's often-accommodating run defense. If they can do that and spring the upset, so much the better.

Stopping a top national running back is something Oregon has been able to lay at the doorstep of opponent's defenses for a few years now. Kenyon Barner proved to be a capable replacement for LaMichael James, who much like Carey offered between-the-tackles strength and breakaway speed. 

As the Ducks prepare for their showdown in the desert and the potential damage a back like Carey can inflict, Oregon fans wonder when the next James will appear as the linchpin of a rushing offense. While Oregon is averaging 285 yards a game on the ground, good enough for 10th nationally, it represents a bit of step down from the current standard for the Ducks on the ground.

Oregon fans wonder if the team can recapture glory days of James and Barner — and if that player is on the Oregon roster now.

The De'Anthony Thomas-as-lead-back experiment ended with a thud when DAT hurt his ankle and missed nearly five games and Byron Marshall has stepped into the void and will become a 1,000-yard rusher against Arizona. There were plenty of questions about Marshall. He's answered most of them, but there's still something missing, something that just doesn't feel like James, who rushed for 1,731 yards in 2010 and 1,805 in 2011, or Barner, who tallied 1,767 a year ago.

Marshall is more of a LeGarrette Blount type, a guy who can grind and take it 40 yards, but lacks the sizzle Oregon fans grew used to with James and Barner — the ability to turn a 3-yard gain between the tackles into a footrace to the end zone 70 yards away. Marshall's long run of 49 yards doesn't quite do it for fans used to a little more lightning with the thunder.

So, who? It's hard to talk Oregon running backs without Oregon fans using various forms of "Yeah, Marshall's done well, but this Thomas Tyner kid could be something else." Ah, Tyner, the Oregon high school product who walked into the Ducks program as a freshman this fall with a trailer-load of statistics, big plays and expectations from fans.

The "golden child" of locally-grown running backs, Tyner's name makes people's eyes light up. The stories to flow. A 10.3-second sprinter in the 100-meter dash at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, Tyner most resembles James and Barner in terms of size and big-play ability. (It's only slightly ironic that Arizona's Carey carries virtually the same dimensions and came to the Wildcats with a big track-and-field reputation as well.)

Tyner barely saw the field early, but has earned more meaningful playing time as the season has gone on, gaining nearly 500 yards, averaging nearly 7 yards a carry and getting to the end zone eight times. His long of 66 yards is more in keeping with what Oregon fans have come to expect. "See," say the passionate Ducks faithful with eyebrows raised, "Tyner can take it to the house on any carry."

Marshall's work should not go unappreciated this season as he's been asked to step into some big shoes. After a slow start, the wheels started to turn and he's been a big part of what the Ducks have wanted to do on the ground this season. But he's not the kind of back Carey is for Arizona, nor what Barner and James were for the Ducks only minutes ago, it seemed. Tyner, though, offers that glimpse of the past you can feel Oregon fans yearning for and, perhaps, what the Ducks offense has been lacking.

As the Oregon defense chases one of the nation's best around the field at Arizona on Saturday afternoon, they can take solace that Oregon's offense has delivered that kind of pain to opponents for several years now. And given time, they just might do it again.

As the saying goes, Tyner will tell.