The 2020 Oregon football team saw five new starting offensive linemen replace one of the best offensive lines in program history. Junior center Alex Forsyth said that the experience of the shortened season helps them improve in 2021, especially with a somewhat normal spring practice schedule.
Still, he knows the standard he's chasing after the 2019 group was in the running for the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation's best offensive line every year.
“That's tough to come in and strive to perform at the same level,” said Forsyth, an All-Pac-12 Second Team selection in 2020. “But we don’t like to make excuses around here.”
The five starters from 2020 are back and primed for a much-improved season in year two under Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead. One of the biggest areas for improvement is in the ground game, as the Ducks finished seventh in the conference in rushing yards per game last season (166.7). However, they still averaged more yards per carry than in 2019.
“The run game definitely wasn’t where we wanted it last year,” Forsyth said. “We take pride in the run game, and we take full ownership of the lack of production.
“We know we got to be better, and we will be better.”
Forsyth returns alongside George Moore, TJ Bass, Ryan Walk, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu, and Steven Jones. Mario Cristobal and Alex Mirabal have also started to develop the next wave in a solid freshman group of offensive linemen, in early-enrollees Jackson Powers-Johnson, Jonah Miller, Bram Walden, and Kingsley Suamataia.
Forsyth said the young linemen have played well and quickly “attacked" the playbook since arriving on campus.
“Those guys are doing really well, especially the guys that came in a little bit earlier,” he said. “They really should be high school seniors.”
The Ducks also return their two leading rushers from a season ago in CJ Verdell and Travis Dye, who combined for more than 60% of the team’s rushing offense in 2020. Returning the six offensive linemen who saw the most snaps as well as the two most experienced running backs should give the coaching staff more confidence as the Ducks play fearsome defenses such as Ohio State.
The offense got off to a hot start last season, especially the rushing offense-- but the run blocking struggled after the first two weeks. The Ducks rushed for 538 yards in the first two games combined, but totaled just 629 yards on the ground in the remaining five games.
“We didn’t get it done,” Forsyth said. “I think there’s still so much to improve on, but I think one thing we all learn is you got to play together. We always say five men one mind.”
In a season that saw Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell opt out for the NFL Draft, the inexperienced Oregon offensive line held its own against talented defensive fronts like UCLA and USC. Ducks' quarterbacks were only sacked 11 times all season.
With a more hands-on spring practice and a full 12-game schedule, the Ducks offensive line could have a dominant season in 2021. If anything is certain in a year of uncertainty, it's that Cristobal knows how to produce pro-ready offensive linemen and emphasize the battle in the trenches.
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