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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. flips into the end zone for a touchdown against Cal.Let’s see, Darren Carrington returns and makes hugely impactful first-half receptions from QB Vernon Adams Jr. in his first three games, goes on to top the 100-yard receiving mark — and the Ducks win all three games.


Coincidence? Hardly.

Carrington’s return has been a huge boost for the Oregon Ducks, as he opens up the field for Royce Freeman, Bralon Addison and others to do damage, and serves as Adams’ primary deep threat.

But Carrington, who sat out as Oregon went 3-3, serving a six-game NCAA suspension for testing positive for marijuana and other legal trouble, downplays his role in Oregon righting its season. He points to the guy who plays quarterback.

“Vernon is the difference-maker,” Carrington says. “I’m out there trying to do whatever I can to help us win. He brings an asset to our team. We’ve got swag, we’ve got confidence whenever we’re out there. It’s just fun to play with him.”

Yeah, but Carrington continues to break loose for huge plays. He went deep for a 36-yard TD reception on the opening drive in his season debut against Washington, broke loose for a 46-yarder on the first drive against Arizona State, and then caught a 46-yard pass against California that led to a tying touchdown, and the Ducks never looked back on Saturday.

Going back to the 2014 Pac-12 title game and the national semifinal against Florida State (before his NCAA suspension), he has a streak of five consecutive 100-yard games.

“Darren is a guy we missed,” Addison says. “He adds another playmaker to our offense. For the (six weeks) he was out, (no opponent) was thinking about him and, boom, he comes back and he’s one of the best playmakers on our team. ... He’s a big-time weapon, he can stretch the field, go up and get the ball and make plays. We love having him back. Sometimes when Vernon’s in trouble, he can scramble around and find Darren. He’s a security blanket.”

We’ll see what kind of impact Carrington can make against Stanford, 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

n You have Adams (four passing TDs, one rushing/jumping TD vs. Cal), Carrington (four catches for 112 yards vs. Cal) and Addison (two TDs vs. Cal), and then you have Royce Freeman, who might be the most important offensive player of them all. He’s been a rock, and he had another impressive game against Cal, going for 180 yards on 29 carries, increasing his Pac-12 best total to 1,289 yards (6.6 per carry) to go with 11 rushing TDs.

“It’s incredible watching Royce,” says Kani Benoit, the backup running back. “He’s a man child, a year younger than me and twice my size. And his work ethic is incredible. He’s hungry, always trying to get better. He doesn’t care what he did in his last game. And, he’s not a person who talks about (success). He’s an action person. I love that.”

Benoit, Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin, as support runners to Freeman, are giving Oregon a lethal backfield combination. Against Cal, Brooks-James had 101 yards on seven carries, Benoit had 94 yards on eight carries, and Taj Griffin eight carries for 59 yards (and two receptions for 32 yards). Add Adams’ 43 yards on eight carries and Kirk Merritt’s two yards, and the Ducks rushed for 477 yards (7.6 per carry), also thanks in part to offensive line play and poor Cal defense/tackling.

Says Benoit: “It’s incredible. I don’t know too many programs that can run four backs at a time and do what we did (vs. Cal). That’s huge. That’s a lot of trust that our coaching staff has in every one of our running backs.”

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