At the moment, it’s technically unclear whether or not Oregon Ducks wide receiver Chase Cota will be taking the field on Saturday as the team lines up against the Colorado Buffaloes for a 12:30 p.m. PT kick-off on ESPN.
As someone who covers the team, though, if I were to read the room and give you my opinion on the matter, Cota will not be playing, and likely will not be traveling to Boulder either. The veteran transfer WR from UCLA went down with an apparent knee injury last week against California in the first half and returned to the sideline after halftime in street clothes. He has missed both practices that were open to media members this week. When asked about Cota’s status on Monday night, head coach Dan Lanning said that the injury was still “to be determined,” without an accurate timeline for return.
With all of that being said, it looks like the Ducks are going to have to prepare for a game without their No. 2 WR on the roster. All that means is that the guys lower on the depth chart will have a chance to shine with the greater opportunity.
Paging Dont’e Thornton. Dont’e Thornton, please pick up.
Last week, Thornton saw more of the field than he has in a while, recording 36 total snaps. Not much opportunity came of it though, with Thornton catching one of his two targets for 7 yards. On the year, Thornton — who was billed as a potential breakout candidate before the season started — has just 8 catches for 129 yards and has fallen down the depth chart behind guys like Troy Franklin, Kris Hutson, and the aforementioned Chota.
There’s now a chance to turn things around, though. We can expect that the Ducks are going to try and air it out a little bit against a suspect Colorado defense, and with more targets up for grabs, Thornton has been identified as a player who step into the spotlight. Lanning also highlighted the depth at the position for Oregon, pointing out that any number of guys could be in line for an increased workload.
“We’ll see. I think it will be some of the same receivers that we saw last week,” Lanning said on Wednesday. “We got to see more Delgado, we got to see more Thornton. We have a good group there, a group that works really hard, and I think we’ll be able to see a lot of those guys make a good contribution to us.”
With the multipleness of Oregon’s offense, it’s hard to pinpoint which players are going to step up. Selfishly, I led with Thornton as my candidate because I propped him up coming into the year, buying into the narrative that was being pumped out regarding his commitment and his growth over the offseason. In reality, there’s a good chance that we see a heavy dose of Hutson alongside Franklin, rather than a new WR enter the mix. After Cota went down last weekend, it was Hutson who stepped up, catching 4 of his 5 targets for 64 yards after moving from spread out wide into the slot.
“Hutson got to move positions a little bit. I thought that was really positive to see him be able to change positions within a game and have some success and not have a lot of mental errors,” Lanning said earlier this week. “He was able to go out there and do something he hadn’t really practiced as much during the week and execute at a high level.”
So with Colorado scheming up for Oregon and likely presuming that Cota will be unavailable, though no official determination has been made, it will be hard to know where to look to try and slow the Ducks down. According to QB Bo Nix, that’s the beauty of the Kenny Dillingham offense.
“I think we’ve done a good job of rotating guys in this year,” Nix said on Wednesday. “Coach (Junior) Adams does a really good job of getting those guys ready to roll. We’ve got guys out there like Troy and Kris who are going to continue to play well. Tight ends, running backs, we use a lot of those by committee. We throw the kitchen table at defenses, so there’s a lot that they’ve got to prepare for.”