SALT LAKE CITY — Utah receiver Darren Carrington said all the right things this week as the Utes prepared to play his former team, Oregon.
The graduate transfer predictably said it’s just another game and that he holds no hard feelings against the team that dismissed him in July.
But Carrington acknowledged he wasn’t happy with how he was characterized by those outside of the program.
“Maybe a little motivation just to leave my stamp over there,” he said about Saturday’s game. “But there’s no hostility or nothing. I played there for four years, I still love those fans.”
Carrington was dismissed from the Ducks after he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence in Eugene, Oregon. Police said he hit a pole at a McDonald’s restaurant early on July 1. He was also cited for careless driving and making an improper turn.
That wasn’t the first behavioral issue for Carrington at Oregon — he was suspended from the 2015 national championship game for a failed drug test — but it was the last after new coach Willie Taggart told the team there would be little tolerance for wrongdoing.
After Taggart’s arrival at Oregon in December, his co-offensive coordinator David Reaves was arrested on charges connected to driving under the influence and resigned. Wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, a passenger in Reaves’ car, left in early February for UCLA.
Taggart said the team understood the Carrington decision.
“Darren and our team knew and everyone knew the situation going in and we had to be clean and do things the right way,” Taggart said. “Unfortunately, he had a mishap that caused him to no longer be on our football team. It’s unfortunate for us and for him. But it seems like he’s bounced back and our team kept on moving.
“We wished him nothing but the best and it’s good to see that he’s having some success and we just hope he doesn’t have success this week.”
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior has been the perfect fit for the first year of Utah’s new fast-paced, pass-first spread scheme. The Utes (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) offense hit a rough patch the last three weeks, but Carrington still leads the Pac-12 with 92.7 receiving yards per game. He’s currently on pace to post the third-most receptions and receiving yards in a single season in school history.
“He’s been a huge plus for us,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Carrington remains close to many of those on the Oregon roster and calls safety Tyree Robinson his best friend. There’s been some back-and-forth that Carrington wouldn’t qualify as trash talk, but more to “hype the game up.”
“It’s kind of like a high school game,” Carrington said. “Your boys (from) right down the street or you hung out with them for so long, but they just went to a different school than you. It’s just going back to play them.
“Definitely anticipating (the atmosphere). I like playing away games as it is. … It’s going to be loud. I just think it’s going to be fun playing against those guys in a real game instead of practice.”
The Utes will face a pass defense ranked No. 95 in the country by allowing 248.8 yards per game. The Ducks (4-4, 1-4) have lost three in a row and four of their last five after a 3-0 start. Opponents are averaging 30.4 points (No. 92 in the nation) and California is the only conference team that has scored less than 31 points against Oregon.
Carrington may be excited to line up against former teammates, but Taggart doesn’t expect that familiarity will play much of a role.
“What’s going to help is for us to do our jobs really well,” Taggart said, “and being good in our preparation and understanding what we’re trying to get out of our defense and playing very well. That’s about the only thing that’s going to help. We know Darren’s a good football player and he’s done a good job for Utah. So we have to make sure we’re on top of our game.”