Oregon has a growing tradition of multi-year starters at center. Enoka Lucas snapped the ball for three years. Max Unger took over for the next two after starting at tackle his freshman and sophomore seasons. Then Jordan Holmes manned the post for the last two BCS-Bowl seasons. Now the torch has passed to redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu, who saw his first career action against LSU in Arlington on Saturday.
This was no easy task for anybody let alone a freshman in his first start. LSU entered the game ranked #4 in the country and boasted one the nations' top defensive lines. The 6-foot-3, 290 pound former Crespi high school standout assessed their SEC opponent following the 40-27 loss.
"That whole team was a very good team," said Grasu. "They are very physical up front. They are some pretty big boys but we shot ourselves in the foot with fumbles and a few off sides. We can't do that. We can't give the ball away like that. The team that gives the ball away most is pretty much going to lose the game. We've got to come back tomorrow, watch film, and get better from it."
Grasu was reluctant to assess his own performance, preferring to let the coaches answer the question. "I thought I did all right, could have done a lot better. I thought we did communication well."
Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood had praise for the youngsters' effort. "I was fairly pleased with Hroniss. We have got to get more physical inside but from an assignment standpoint I thought he carried himself pretty well. Protection was good. Generally for his first start I thought he played pretty well."
While only able to generate 95 yards rushing, much of that was due to the fact the Ducks got behind and threw the ball 54 times. Grasu agreed with his coach about what the Ducks need to improve in the interior.
"We have got to get more physical and play with a lower pad level," assessed Grasu. "But they are a very good team, a very talented team. I thought we protected pretty well."
Grasu was neither surprised nor impressed by the speed of the LSU defense. "We went up against our defense and our defense is faster," said Grasu. "I think our defense is way faster than their defense"
Greatwood seemed to agree that his unit did not appear physically overwhelmed by the LSU defense. "I felt like in the first half we were running the ball effectively," Greatwood said. "They are a good defense but I felt like we were controlling things pretty well. But, starting out the third quarter, for whatever reason, we did not. We did not really recapture it because we got behind and started throwing the ball. We didn't really have a chance to really seat our pads in the second half.
Grasu is ready to move on to next week's opponent. "It's a long season. We have a big game next week against Nevada. They had a great season last season."
But will the team still have fire in their bellies, Hroniss Grasu?
"We're hungry. This humbled us."