EUGENE, Ore. – Tight end Colt Lyerla can be excused for momentary lapses because he’s still getting used to playing a role in Oregon’s backfield.
The sophomore laughed that he wasn’t supposed to hold onto the ball when quarterback Bryan Bennett handed off to him in the third quarter Saturday night against Arizona. Neither Lyerla nor Bennett would let go, so both scored together from a yard out.
There was confusion about who to give the touchdown to, but in the end it was determined that Lyerla crossed the plane first.
“He was supposed to keep it. I messed it up,” Lyerla said with a smile. “I held on to it a little bit too long.”
The Ducks defeated the then-No. 22 Wildcats, 49-0, and in the process jumped a spot in the AP rankings to No. 2. Oregon visits Washington State this Saturday in a 7:30 p.m. game at CenturyLink Field.
In the week before the game against Arizona, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Lyerla found himself working out more with the Ducks’ running backs. Oregon used a formation with Lyerla and Bennett, the backup quarterback behind Marcus Mariota, several times during the game.
Lyerla, who has earned the nickname “Bane” after photo-shopped pictures of him wearing the mask of the supervillain from Batman circulated on the Internet, finished the game with 63 yards rushing on seven carries with the touchdown. He also had two catches for 53 yards.
“It meant the world, especially to go in there and be successful with it,” said Lyerla, whose affable nature belies his imposing appearance. “I just went out there and played as hard as I could.”
Coach Chip Kelly said that using Lyerla at tailback really wasn’t anything new. He’s been lined up in a two-back set earlier this season, but he was mostly blocking. It was time to take it to the next level.
“It’s an opportunity to get Bryan Bennett in the game and Colt in a new position. It’s nice, as a coach, to have those weapons to bring in. It’s nice to have that kind of depth,” Kelly said.
Lyerla played in 12 games as a true freshman last season behind starter David Paulson, who graduated and now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Lyerla finished the season with seven catches for 147 yards and five touchdowns.
Lyerla missed the first several days of fall camp after attending to personal issues and it almost seemed as if he was in the doghouse. He didn’t speak to the media, and Kelly wouldn’t name him the starter at tight end, instead listing four players at the position on the depth chart: Lyerla, true freshmen Pharaoh Brown, T.J. Daniel and redshirt freshman Koa Ka’ai.
Lyerla said he’d been hoping for a chance at tailback.
“I was probably lobbying in the back of my head, but I don’t have the guts to make any suggestions like that,” he said. “I just lucked out.”
A homegrown prospect out of Hillsboro High School just west of Portland, Lyerla was considered a four-star recruit when he decided on Oregon after interest from a slew of other schools, including Oklahoma, USC and Stanford. He said he chose the Ducks because they were one of the only teams that told him they’d let him play on offense.
As a high school senior, he rushed for 1,519 yards, had 352 yards receiving and scored 25 touchdowns. He grabbed national attention his junior year when he caught a 61-yard Hail Mary pass against Glencoe High School that showed up on ESPN and later became a hit on YouTube.
The Ducks could use some help at running back. Oregon’s only two scholarship running backs with experience heading into fall camp were senior Kenjon Barner and versatile sophomore De’Anthony Thomas, who also plays at receiver.
“Chip’s a smart guy. Whatever he wants to do, I’ve got to trust him,” Lyerla said. “Whatever he puts on my shoulders I’ll do.”