It was great to see some football at Autzen Stadium in the desert that is known as the college football offseason, which is the longest offseason in sports. First, Pharaoh Brown is back in the Oregon lineup and he looked good. He's got some confidence back in his leg and by the fall I'd like to think he'll be one of the go-to guys on the offense, just like he was two years ago. People used to say that an ACL injury was two-year setback. One year for the ACL to be fixed and healed with the second year for the athlete to have faith that his ACL has been fixed and healed. We'll see how soon Brown really trusts his leg when the Ducks kickoff against UC-Davis in 125 days.
To preface all the commentary here, I recognize that the spring game is a glorified practice and we have an extremely small sample size to work with when making these points.
The quarterback race is going to be more heated than we thought it was going to be. On the brightest of sides, there is some quality depth at the quarterback position, something that was lacking last year. Dakota Prukop's final stats read 20/29 for 190 yards and two touchdown passes, both to Dillon Mitchell. The high completion rate is slightly misleading because of Prukop threw so many checkdown passes. There were also multiple passes where receivers were wide open but lazy footwork resulted in an incomplete pass. It's a spring game and he played it safe but it was a little frustrating to not see him throw some high quality passes. Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie both got reps at wide receiver.
Travis Jonsen went 15/24 for 188 yards, a touchdown pass, and a touchdown run. Jonsen had an interception in the red zone and had a near interception that the defender simply dropped. Jonsen made some good throws and ran well. I think it is more likely than not that Prukop starts but Jonsen will be pushing him all fall camp. Incoming freshman quarterback had a few great moments running and had some nice passes downfield. He's a work in progress, as any true freshman quarterback is, but he shows a lot of promise. The biggest room for improvement amongst this whole group is accuracy. A lot of passes were pretty far off and that has to be cleaned up if this team is going to make a push for the playoffs. As is tradition, Oregon will announce a starter ten days before the opening game.
Dillon Mitchell makes the wide receiver group virtually unstoppable. Darren Carrington is always open. Charles Nelson is a threat at any point on the field and in nearly any situation. Now Dillon Mitchell arrives and he has the ability to fight off really good defensive backs for jump balls. Mitchell had two touchdown catches and over 100 yards receiving. That's all before we see the other receivers such as standout Dwayne Stanford, Jalen Brown, Alex Ofodile, and Devon Allen. Allen has not participated in spring practices as he is focusing all his energy on making the Olympics on the US Track and Field team.
With this article being such a quick recap the only real note to have for the offensive lines is that the centers snapped the ball really well. A few more watches and I could pick out specific linemen. They opened holes up well for Tony Brooks-James, Benoit, and Jarrett LaCoste. LaCoste really stood out as an improved runner. The most improved running back, again, is probably Benoit. Last year he clearly lost a ton of weight and he was much faster and stronger. This year he looks even faster and can take a lot of carries off Freeman's shoulders.
Brady Hoke's 4-3 defense made it's debut to the Oregon public and the nation on television. We've seen some outside linebackers, such as Justin Hollins, make the switch the defensive end. Hollins made a few notable plays including stopping a 2-point conversion try. I'm interested to see how the new lineup takes shape in fall camp and how players will continue to adjust this offseason.
One of the bright spots of the spring game was seeing every receiver with a defender nearby. There were no gimmes for the offense to take. Every catch was earned and the secondary was able to contest nearly every pass. There was only one defensive background that I saw from the TV cameras. The TV cameras were really bad and we could barely see outside of ten yards. Also, the defense got constant pressure with the new one-gap scheme, allowing he defensive linen to be more aggressive. There were multiple sacks on the day and the threat of a sack was always there. It was a great change to see.
Hoke has a history of turning bad defenses around quickly, most notably in his role as head coach at Michigan where he turned maybe the worst defense in FBS into one of the best in a single offseason.
Once I get the time to take a couple watches of the game I'll be able (hopefully) to get some more information about the defensive backs, linebackers, and the linemen. It was a game that showed a solid base to grow off of as the team enters the pre-fall camp. From now on, it's up to the players to determine who much they will commit to getting better before the fall camp starts.