ost running backs can never be fast enough, but Ricky Whittle was too fast for his own good.
The Oregon junior tailback had a tendency to reach the offensive line too soon after the snap of the ball, before his blocks had a chance to be set up, so the coaches moved him back an additional yard and a half from the line of scrimmage.
"I understood that I had a lot more explosiveness than the other backs," Whittle said, "so I had to start farther back because I got to the line too quickly. Now I can see the lines and the holes better."
OK, Whittle is not that fast. The coaches factored Whittle's lack of field vision in their decision to place him farther back.
"We moved him back, but Ricky has a kind of skewed opinion of why," said Duck offensive backs coach Gary Campbell with a laugh. "When we ran the counter, he did beat the pulling guards and tackles to their spots, but he doesn't have great field vision Ä he has all the physical qualities, quickness and acceleration, but he had trouble seeing the holes. Moving him deeper gives him time to see the blocks and the lanes."
Whittle has been doing a lot of seeing the holes lately. He is second on the Oregon team this season in rushing with 310 yards and has six touchdowns. Included in those totals are a 177-yard effort against California, and a touchdown against Washington last week in Oregon's upset win over the Huskies.
He shares time at tailback with Dino Philyaw, and the two have combined for 862 yards and 13 touchdowns this year.
"It doesn't bother me," Whittle said about the time-sharing. "It would bother me if neither one of us was getting the job done. I don't sweat who's starting, it just matters who's getting the job done. We have bigger things to worry about."
Whittle is also a kickoff returner, and his 86-yard return set up Oregon's first touchdown last week. Returning kicks is something he excels at because it satisfies his need for space to see the whole field.
"It allows me room to observe the field on kickoff returns," Whittle said. "I'm a lot further back and I can see the wedge like the offensive line. With the guys flying down on the ends, I have a good vision of the field."
Whittle almost brought his talents to Tucson. He was recruited by the Wildcats after a standout career at Edison High School in Fresno, Calif.
"I was trying to recruit him," said Arizona running backs coach Marc Lunsford. "He's a heck of a running back, and we would have liked to have had him down here, although we're happy with the one we got."
The one "we got" turned out to be Ontiwaun Carter.
"I really enjoyed my visit down to Tucson," Whittle said. "The coaches were great and Keshon Johnson (ex-UA cornerback) is also from Fresno. But they were just switching from a wishbone offense and I didn't know what they were going to do. Oregon had the same offense as my high school."
hittle's choice came down to Oregon and Arizona, but the one certainty was that he wanted to play for a Pacific 10 Conference school.
"I grew up watching the big games in the Pac-10," Whittle said. "I always watched those games because I grew up in the Trojan zone. I grew up wanting to play in those big games."
For the first time in a long time, the Ducks get the chance to play in a big game for the second week in a row that means something to them.. A win over the UA would go a long way to securing Oregon's first Rose Bowl appearance since 1958.
Whittle said that those who expect Oregon to fold now are mistaken.
"I really don't worry about it," he said about those who still do not think the Ducks are for real. "It's funny who they pump up based on what they do last year, that's kind of sad."
Even with the stunning upset of Washington, the uncertain nature of the game has caused Whittle not to take anything for granted, and he is certainly enjoying his team's current walk on the edge of prominence.
"I was praying that he would kneel and run the clock out, to just be safe," Whittle said about what he was thinking during Kenny Wheaton's 98-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Ducks the final 31-20 margin over the Huskies with two minutes to go last week. "Then when he got free down the sideline, I was running down the field with him. I knew the game was over and I just looked around and let it all soak in."
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