Oregon senior offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby has some pretty good insight into what makes a great college quarterback. He saw it his freshman season with Marcus Mariota, and he is starting to see it in the Ducks’ current starter, Justin Herbert.
“When (Herbert) was a true freshman, last year during fall camp, I came up to him one day and said, ‘Playing beside Marcus, you have a lot of the same traits and ability as him — I can see you winning a Heisman one day,’ ” Crosby said.
Now, if that isn’t about the highest praise possible in Eugene, it would be tough to think of anything bigger.
But Herbert (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) has shown in his sophomore season why he is going to be not only on the Heisman Trophy radar, but also a focus of plenty of NFL scouts.
A fractured collarbone sidelined him for half the season, but when Herbert has played, the Ducks are 6-1 going into the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday against Boise State. He’s thrown for 1,750 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, completing 66.5 percent of his attempts. He also has five rushing touchdowns.
“There’s not many people in the country that can do what Justin can do at that size. He has one of the best arms I’ve ever seen, and he’s deceptively fast,” Crosby said.
In the seven games with Herbert on the field, Oregon has averaged 52.1 points per game. The Ducks averaged 15 ppg without him.
“You notice there’s a big difference their offense plays with when their starting quarterback is in,” Boise State sophomore safety Kekoa Nawahine said. “... They (seem) to play with more confidence, and he’s a playmaker.”
Herbert became the first true freshman to start a game for the Ducks since 1983 last season, and the Eugene native was a bright spot in a disappointing 4-8 season with 1,936 yards, 19 TDs and four INTs through the air in seven starts.
“He looks like he prepares well and looks like he has a really good idea of the game plan,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I’ve been very impressed. I don’t know about his future, but I’m sure with the talent he has, it’s going to be bright.”
Harsin, who knows a thing or two about coaching quarterbacks, was dead-on, said Oregon’s recently hired coach, Mario Cristobal.
“He’s a sponge. His football IQ is incredible,” Cristobal said. “We’re going to be able to do a lot of things going into this game, not to mention going forward.”
As the Ducks go forward, expect Herbert’s name to be on the tips of tongues among the nation’s college football analysts with his smarts, accuracy, size and mobility. Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, The Associated Press and NFL.com have pegged him as a possibility to win Oregon’s second Heisman, joining Mariota’s win in 2014.
“I haven’t seen too much of it, but if that’s the case, it’s pretty cool,” Herbert said Wednesday.
Boise State handled another big-armed, potential first-round NFL Draft pick in Wyoming’s Josh Allen this season, holding him to 131 yards passing and intercepting him twice. When teams have been able to get a little balance going, the Broncos have had some struggles. They hope disrupting Herbert’s timing, or clamping down on the run, can make the offense one-dimensional.
“You can tell he’s a general, he’s like the point guard,” Boise State junior cornerback Tyler Horton said. “He’s got a good connection with those guys, he has control of that offense, and it’s up to us to get them out of their rhythm.”
OREGON AT A GLANCE
Location: Eugene, Ore.
Head coach: Mario Cristobal (0-0, first game; 27-47 at FIU from 2007 to 2012)
This year: 7-5 overall, 4-5 Pac-12; won 69-10 against Oregon State on Nov. 25
Oregon, as usual, has an offense full of playmakers who can provide balance to frustrate a defense. QB Justin Herbert is 6-1 when he’s played, though only two of those games were against bowl teams. The Ducks are No. 8 in the FBS with 268 rushing yards per game, with three backs posting at least 485 yards rushing. WR Charles Nelson is the leading receiver with 392 yards. Four of the five starters on the offensive line, which has allowed 21 sacks, are sophomores.
Jim Leavitt, who led a turnaround as Colorado’s defensive coordinator, has done the same his first season at Oregon. The Ducks are yielding 28.3 points per game after being gashed for 41.4 in 2016. They’re allowing 129.9 yards per game rushing and 229.9 ypg passing, 26th and 75th, respectively, in the FBS. Oregon is 20th in third-down defense, but 115th in the red zone, allowing points 89.7 percent of the time. In a 3-4 style, DE Jalen Jelks has 15 tackles for loss and LB Troy Dye has 13.5.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Royce Freeman, RB: Somehow, Oregon finds big, athletic backs like no one else. Freeman, a 6-foot, 238-pound senior, has rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. His 5,621 career yards rushing are No. 6 in FBS history. Freeman is pondering skipping the bowl game but has been practicing.
“He’s a showcase back, obviously, a big-time guy,” Boise State junior defensive end Durrant Miles said. “We’re planning on him playing, but if he doesn’t, they have people that will step up.”
Las Vegas Bowl
Who: Boise State (10-3) vs. Oregon (7-5)
When: 1:30 p.m. MT Saturday
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
TV: ABC (Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Molly McGrath)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Vegas line: Oregon by 7 1/2
Tickets: $81.75 apiece at BroncoSports.com/tickets, the Athletic Ticket Office or via phone at 208-426-4737.