DALLAS — Oregon was forced to bench two players because of failed drug tests days before the team competes in the first College Football Playoff title game, coach Mark Helfrich said Saturday, detailing the latest hit to a roster already depleted by injuries.
Wide receiver Darren Carrington and running back Ayele Forde did not travel with Oregon for Monday’s national championship game against Ohio State after each failed NCAA-mandated drug tests. Carrington tested positive for marijuana; the results of Forde’s test weren’t disclosed.
Helfrich insisted the team remained focused.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been tested in the realm of guys not being available for whatever reason all season long,” Helfrich said. “And our guys have stepped up.”
The loss of Carrington is particularly difficult for the Ducks, who are already short at receiver for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The players were tested before the team’s Rose Bowl appearance, a person with direct knowledge of the tests told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of student privacy rules.
The NCAA conducts random drug testing for championship events and bowl games. Those tests can be done before or after an event and the school is given no notice about how many players will be tested.
A failed test for recreational drugs results in the NCAA requiring the school to declare the player ineligible. The penalty for a failed test is 50 percent of a season, which means Carrington could miss up to five games next year. The national championship would have been Forde’s last game.
Oregon can appeal the NCAA ruling. But on Saturday, Oregon coaches and players said they were moving forward without Carrington and Forde.
“I think anytime you put something in your body that doesn’t belong there it’s a bad decision,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said.
Not having Carrington leaves the Ducks down two key wide receivers against Ohio State. Carrington, a 6-foot-2, 191-pound redshirt freshman, had seven catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s Rose Bowl victory over Florida State.
Mariota said the team was disappointed.
“I think a lot of guys feel guilty like they should have helped, including myself,” Mariota said. “It’s tough.”
Last week, Oregon lost redshirt freshman receiver Devon Allen on the opening kickoff with a knee injury. Allen had 41 catches for 684 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Ducks have also been playing for the last four games without star tight end Pharoah Brown, who went down with a season-ending leg injury against Utah.
And before the season started, junior receiver Bralon Addison tore a ligament in his left knee. Although Addison said Saturday at the team’s media availability in Dallas that he could play in the championship game, Oregon’s coaches don’t want to burn his redshirt year.
The Ducks weren’t only hit by injuries to receivers. They also were able to overcome a spate of injuries to their offensive line.
“We have a bunch of highly skilled guys that are very confident in what they’re doing,” Helfrich said. “Marcus is confident in those guys and we’re confident in those guys.”
Carrington’s absence leaves Oregon, which regularly uses three- and four-receiver formations, with Byron Marshall (66 catches for 834 yards), Dwayne Stafford (39 for 578), Keanon Lowe (25 for 359) and freshman Charles Nelson (11 for 101) to rely on.
“We all know as receivers that we’re going to have to step up. It’s the last game of the season. We’re going to have to make plays and play basically our best game ever,” Nelson said.
Forde, a senior running back who is a contributor on special teams, played in all 14 games this season, with three carries for 17 yards. He had a carry for five yards in the Pac-12 championship against Arizona.
It is not the first time players at Oregon have faced allegations of marijuana use. Back in 2012, a report in ESPN The Magazine estimated that between 40 and 60 percent of Oregon players used marijuana — which was blasted by then-coach Chip Kelly as inaccurate.
The state approved a measure last fall that legalizes certain amounts of the drug for recreational use. However, that law does not take effect until July 1, and Oregon maintains an aggressive drug policy for its student athletes, which includes random testing. The program has not indicated that would change with legalization.
“I think the biggest thing, from our standpoint, is there’s no study from a student athlete-type perspective that (marijuana) is a positive in any way,” Helfrich said at a news conference the day the measure passed.
Though legalization efforts also have succeeded in Washington state and Colorado, the NCAA maintains its policy against positive tests for drugs, including marijuana, at championship events. Schools in those states have also maintained drug policies for athletes.