DALLAS - The deep threat has been removed from Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's substantial arsenal with the suspension of wide receiver Darren Carrington for Monday night's College Football Playoff championship game.
Ducks coach Mark Helfrich confirmed Saturday that Carrington, who leads Oregon with an average of 19.0 yards per catch, violated an NCAA policy.
"It will not be a distraction," Helfrich said. "He's ineligible for this game, and we'll ride."
The Associated Press and Comcast Sports Net Northwest, citing sources with direct knowledge, reported Carrington failed an NCAA-administered drug test for marijuana. Although Carring- ton started only one game this season, he was a major factor in the Ducks' past two games, catching seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl win over Florida State and making another seven catches for 126 yards and a TD in the Pac-12 title win over Arizona.
"I think it's a big-time loss that he won't be here," starting wide receiver Dwayne Stanford said. "But the offense has been dealing with losses all year, and each time we took a body blow, we've been able to counterpunch and come out on top."
The Ducks now are without injured wideout Devon Allen and tight end Pharaoh Brown in addition to Carrington. But they have the same trio of wide receivers that started against Florida State in converted running back Byron Marshall (66 catches, 5 TDs), Keanon Lowe (25-4) and Stanford (39-6). Backup Charles Nelson (21-5) joins the rotation.
Commenting on Carrington's loss, Mariota said, "He's a huge playmaker for us, but at the same time, that receiving corps has had so many players step up."
Helfrich said the offense isn't designed to feature one receiver more than another, which is why they go through "spurts of productivity." Carrington's spurt was notable for its timing, but Marshall said it's a function of Mariota's reads.
"Marcus just goes through his progressions," Marshall said. "He doesn't try to force anything. In this game, he'll take what's out there and make good plays and smart decisions."
No one will be more motivated to fill the receiving void than Stanford, who came to Oregon out of Cincinnati's Taft High School and will be facing his best friend and former Taft teammate in Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington.
"It's a sense of pride to be from Taft, and to have two players playing for the national championship and know that one will be able to go back to our high school with a ring is really a blessing," Stanford said.
The Buckeyes' Washington said he and Stanford became best friends in the third or fourth grade. "We're more like brothers than friends," Washington said. "Our parents worked at a community rec center, and we used to always see each other there."
They've been texting back and forth all season, and it has only intensified this week. "There will definitely be some trash talk between us," Stanford said.
As a defensive tackle, Washington obviously can't cover his buddy, but he had a warning: "When he comes back for those screen passes, he better watch out because he knows I'm coming."