The Oregon Ducks offense was not at its best last week against Fresno State, but they have plenty of talent and speed at the skill positions, as well as a tight-knit group upfront. Their potential was on display at times against the Bulldogs, but it does not currently strike fear into opponents the way a Jeremiah Masoli or Marcus Mariotta-led offense did in the past. No, I’m not forgetting about Justin Herbert, but the Chargers QB is not a great comp for this week’s Offensive Player to Watch.
Graduate transfer Anthony Brown is leading the way for Oregon this season, and he is a true dual-threat quarterback. While not the most prolific passer in the world, Brown adds another dimension with his legs — and we have seen Ohio State struggle with mobile QB’s in the past. This is a different group, and the linebackers are no longer coached by Bill Davis, but the front six or seven will have a spotlight on them come Saturday.
Before really breaking down the Ducks quarterback, it should be pointed out that Oregon is not a one-man show. They have a solid tandem of running backs in C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye. Both backs were moderately effective in their opener, but they have a track record of success. Dye has primarily been the handcuff or 1B to Verdell, but has nearly 2,000 career rushing yards. Verdell is the alpha of the group, and should be another player the Buckeyes focus on. He had back-to-back 1,000 yards seasons in 2018 and 2019, and could be an All Pac-12 performer this year. The Ducks split up nearly 50 carries between Brown and the running backs Week 1, and they form a dangerous trio of ball carriers.
On the outside, Brown will have experience to throw to — but his best weapons are hiding in plain sight. Oregon returns most, if not all, of their receiving production from the shortened 2020 season. Johnny Johnson III and Mycah Pittman lead the way, however, they have failed to break out thus far in their careers. Freshmen Troy Franklin and Dont’e Thornton are the guys to keep an eye on, despite the fact that neither registered a catch against Fresno State. Both were top-100 recruits nationally, and ranked among the top-15 at their position. Franklin is listed as a starter, and was the higher of the two recruits, but I am more intrigued by Thornton. At 6’5”, he has the ability to go up and highpoint the ball over any defensive back. If the Ducks are going to have a strong passing attack, I believe it will eventually be led by these talented young wideouts.
Lastly, Brown will be protected by a young, but improving offensive line. Oregon had one of the best lines in the country in 2019… and proceeded to lose almost every ounce of experience from that unit. With the opt-out of Penei Sewell, the Ducks were forced to break in five new starters during the pandemic season, and ended up with the youngest offensive line in college football. Fortunately for them, all five starters return and will provide some cohesion up front. Talented or not, Ohio State will have an opportunity to make some noise against that offensive line. They will be looking to not only disrupt the timing of Oregon’s handoffs and option reads, but also get to Brown before he is able to hurt the Buckeyes with his scrambling. And speaking of…
Anthony Brown is now in his 14th season of college football. In reality, he is a sixth-year super duper senior who began his career at Boston College and is entering his first season as the Ducks’ starter. Interestingly enough, Ryan Day helped recruit Brown when the now-OSU coach worked at BC. Brown started 28 games in three seasons at BC, and seemed to be rounding into form as a passer before suffering a season-ending injury in 2019. He was a hot commodity in the transfer portal, and ended up choosing Oregon over schools such as Georgia, Mississippi State, and Michigan State. He played sparingly as a backup in 2020, but played a majority of the 2021 Fiesta Bowl and rushed for two touchdowns in a 34-17 loss.
Brown will not be confused with Pat Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, or even Lamar Jackson. He has completed 55.4 percent of his career passing attempts — and that is up from his time at BC. Until midway through his junior year, he owned less than a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio… not great. However, while those previous numbers are less than optimal, and the more current sample size is relatively small, Brown has completed more than 60 percent of his passes and thrown 12 TD to only three picks during his last nine games played. His junior season (4th year) seemed to be a bit of a turning point, and he may finally be a quarterback who is taken seriously for his ability to pass the ball accurately.
The Lamar Jackson comparison into play – or fails to land – depending on how you view Brown’s running ability. Prior to Oregon’s opener, the “seasoned” quarterback had run for less than 500 yards across parts of four seasons. Even worse, his current career average is 3.4 YPC. That being said, his usage (or lack thereof) may have been part of the gameplan. Against Fresno St, he ran the ball 16 times for 56 yards. Those carries make up roughly ten percent of his career total. Oregon likes to use the quarterback as a running threat, and they clearly feel as if Brown can get the job done. For what it’s worth, he was a running specialist during his brief appearances last year and looked plenty mobile in their 2021 opener. His 30-yard juke-and-run late in the game essentially sealed the victory for Oregon.
ANTHONY BROWN SHIFTY— PointsBet Sportsbook (@PointsBetUSA) September 4, 2021
Oregon (-1200) regains the lead!pic.twitter.com/UNAe8MviHi
Even at his advanced age, Brown still possesses plenty of upside. His accuracy as a passer has improved over time, and he is now a legitimate running threat… oh, by the way, he also has three career receiving touchdowns on four receptions. Maybe he’s a triple threat? However you want to define Brown or his skillset, he is a great athlete. Athletic quarterbacks have given the Buckeyes fits in the past, and Brown may to the same on Saturday. It will be of the utmost importance for Ohio State to preach containment and fight the urge to go right after the Oregon QB. If they are undisciplined with their rush assignments, drop their eyes while attacking, or take poor angles on certain option plays, the Ducks will run for 200+ yards.
Ohio State will be facing a different challenge than the one presented by Tanner Morgan last Thursday. Anthony Brown is a true dual-threat, despite his less-than-gaudy rushing stats across his lengthy college career. He is surrounded by much more talent than he was early in his career, and the Oregon coaches have chosen to utilize his running skills. The Buckeyes will not be going up against the Boston College version of Brown. He has more freedom and encouragement to be a playmaker in this offense. Perhaps most importantly, his skill players and offensive linemen have gravitated to his maturity and leadership. Expect a few plays to be made on Saturday, but the Buckeyes have more than enough talent on defense to put the clamps on Brown and the Ducks.