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Early moves by Ducks kept O-line humming

Lineup changes put right mix up front with emerging Grasu
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Senior Mark Asper, celebrating this season’s victory at Husky Stadium, settled in at right guard after playing tackle in the Oregon Ducks’ season-opening loss to LSU.

Rewind to Oregon’s season-opening loss to LSU, when Oregon senior offensive lineman Ramsen Golpashin was whistled for penalties, beaten by defenders and generally played less than stellar. Enter Nick Cody at right tackle the next game, as senior Mark Asper moved to right guard — where Golpashin had played — to be alongside redshirt freshman center Hroniss Grasu. The Ducks haven’t looked back since those changes. Oregon led the Pac-12 in rushing at 295.7 yards per game. Opponents sacked UO quarterback Darron Thomas and backup Bryan Bennett only 12 times. And, the offensive line hasn’t been an issue since the unit was abused by LSU’s big and fast defensive players. Golpashin’s season ended with an injury, apparently suffered in practice —he was limping around on crutches in the ensuing weeks. Coach Chip Kelly never talked about Golpashin’s injury — a surprise, considering the walk-on’s influence on his teammates. Golpashin was named one of Oregon’s most inspirational players. But it can’t be overstated how moving Asper to right guard and having the experienced Cody at right tackle helped Oregon secure its third consecutive league championship and Jan. 2 Rose Bowl date with Wisconsin. “Asper is a great player, very versatile, and gives us a lot of push on the inside,” says Cody, a 6-5, 300-pound junior from Brush Prairie, Wash. “He can move bodies around, make some damage. I’m knowledgeable enough to go out there and work with him. “We all help Hroniss. The best part of this year was having those four guys with game experience” playing next to Grasu —Cody, Asper, left guard Carson York and left tackle Darrion Weems. “He stepped up the challenge. Every day he shows up ready to learn. He works really hard. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.” The 6-3, 290 Grasu has been one of the most pleasant surprises on Oregon’s team. He, Karrington Armstrong and Hamani Stevens waged a battle in training camp to be the starting center. Grasu won the spot with his consistent play, knowledge of UO’s spread offense and toughness. He has not disappointed. “I always want to get better,” says Grasu, a high school teammate of Bennett from Encino, Calif. “Having Mark and Carson next to me, it’s been very helpful. People talk about my success this season, and it’s really those guys.” Last year’s offensive line drew rave reviews, as it led the Ducks to the BCS championship game. But some seniors departed, including mainstay center Jordan Holmes, although the big man has been front and center in helping Grasu’s development. After the loss to Auburn in the BCS title game, Holmes took Grasu aside. “Three or four times a week, he’d grab me for work in the film room, took me into the ‘Mo,’ “ Grasu says, of the Moshofsky Center practice facility. “I got a lot of help from Jordan Holmes. He’s going to be a great coach.” Grasu’s season has been mostly clean, save for a personal-foul penalty against Arizona State (“I didn’t keep my cool,” he says) and a penalty against UCLA. He can’t think of any grievous bad snaps. “The guys on the offensive line helped me keep my cool,” says Grasu, who had the pleasure of snapping to Bennett in some UO games, while Thomas was injured at midseason. Grasu and Bennett live together along with another high school teammate, receiver Blake Stanton, and defensive tackle Ricky Heimuli. Working with Thomas has been enjoyable, Grasu says. “He kept me cool and calm, helped me get the calls and checks out,” Grasu adds. “It’s tough being a freshman, making calls. I tried to be comfortable making the calls.” Cody also has played at right guard, left guard and left guard in his career — and has started the past 12 games at right tackle. “It’s been every spot but center, and I’ve even taken some snaps (in practice),” he says. “I feel comfortable everywhere.” During his senior year at Hockinson High, Cody would commute to UO games. He was a rabid Duck fan, and was firmly committed to Oregon. “More than being a starter, just being part of the cultural change (with UO) is a huge deal —helping take this program from where it was to where it is now,” he says. “It’s something we have a lot of pride in.”