Oregon has a Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Marcus Mariota, but left tackle Jake Fisher might be the team’s most valuable player. That’s right, an offensive lineman might be the key to the Ducks’ playoff hopes and position in the national title picture over the next two months.
As an offensive lineman, Fisher doesn’t get much recognition playing a less-than-glamorous position.
However, just take a look at the stat sheet for the last three games and it’s apparent just how valuable Fisher is to Oregon.
After the offensive line allowed five sacks to Arizona last Thursday and gave up seven sacks to Washington State on Sept. 20, the Ducks did not give up a sack to UCLA on Saturday.
The result: Oregon won 42-30 and Mariota threw for 210 yards and two scores in a key rebound game for the Ducks. Oregon also averaged 6.9 yards per play - almost a full yard improvement from the 6.0 mark posted against Arizona.
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After last week’s loss to Arizona, Oregon had little margin for error. A loss to UCLA likely would have ended the Ducks’ playoff chances. And it’s not outlandish to think a poor performance from Oregon on Saturday would have ended Mariota’s Heisman hopes.
But Fisher’s return brought stability and a much-needed anchor to the offensive line.
Fisher earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in back-to-back seasons (2012-13) and was picked by Athlon Sports to be one of the top linemen in the conference for 2014.
With Fisher back in the lineup, Oregon has more stability and a chance to develop chemistry at a critical time.
Next week, the Ducks host Washington and play Stanford on Nov. 1. The Huskies and Cardinal own two of the best front sevens in the nation, so it’s critical for Oregon to have Fisher back and operating at full strength to protect the blindside of Mariota.
Despite a setback to Arizona, the Ducks are still in the mix for a playoff spot. After an injured line limited the offense against Washington State and Arizona, the return of Fisher is a good sign for Oregon as it hopes to climb back in the playoff discussion.
There’s no doubt Mariota is one of the nation’s best players. But don’t forget about how valuable offensive linemen – especially a standout tackle like Fisher – are to a high-powered offense.