Travis Jonsen’s one-yard run brought his Webfoots team to within 21-20 with 32 seconds left, but the two-point conversion failed, giving Mighty Oregon the one-point win.
“Good showing today. I thought for the most part we played hard in the two phases that we exposed today, played very base defensively, very base offensively,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrish said. “We have not ran many of those trick plays all spring, they were awful. But guys had fun with it and it was a competitive situation there at the end.”
Jonsen led the Webfoot team that wore dark blue and yellow jerseys and senior transfer Dakota Prukop led the Mighty Oregon team that wore white and blue jerseys. The uniform design was a replica of the 1917 Rose Bowl team and based on the state flag.
But the action didn’t even come close to what was football in 1917. It was more like 2015 with the offenses going as fast as they can and with new quarterbacks, the results were mixed as expected. But those trick plays Helfrich referred to might need some work. They tried a flea flicker, a couple of reverses and even a pass to lineman Tyrell Crosby. None of them had any good results.
While the offenses were trying new things, it happened to be the defense that stood out for most of the game. The Ducks are in the midst of implementing a new 4-3 alignment with hopes of better success than the previous season. Oregon was near the bottom of the conference in nearly every defensive category, prompting Helfrich to fire former Michigan coach Brady Hoke to run and hopefully fix the defense.
So far, so good, but Hoke couldn’t help to find some things that his unit could definitely improve upon.
“We didn’t tackle real well at times, which as a defensive coach, you want to see them do a better job of,” he said. “A lot of that is figuring out where we need to get help and where our strength is. I also think we made some pretty good physical plays from a defensive standpoint.”
Both defenses combined for four takeaways with each unit making it tough on the opposing offense to score. If it wasn’t for a 32-yard touchdown from Prukop to Dillon Mitchell on the last play of the half, the Webfoots would have pitched a first half shutout.
Oregon quickly found out that Mitchell is going to be tough to cover. The true freshman made an impression on the coaching staff with his seven receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores were impressive with the 6-1, 190-pounder from Memphis managed to leap over would-be defenders to make the touchdown grabs.
“A lot of people saw how good he can be. A great football players and even a better person,” new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said about Mitchell. “For him to be able to function in a situation like today as far as knowing our offense, he had to do a ton of work on his own.”
Kani Benoit’s 3-yard touchdown gave the Mighty Oregon team a 14-6 lead in the middle of the third quarter before the Webfoots tied the game five minutes later. Jonsen showed his ability to escape the rush, stepped up in the pocket and made a perfect throw to Darren Carrington for a 52-yard touchdown. With the two-point conversion, the game was tied up with just nine minutes remaining on the running clock.
Mighty Oregon took the lead back with 4:36 left on Mitchell’s second touchdown to take the 21-14 lead. Jonsen then led his Webfoots on an end-of-the-game type drive that took 15 plays and 64 yards. His favorite target on the last real drive of the day was Jarret LaCoste, a walk-on senior from Albany. He caught two passes for 14 yards and set up his quarterback to score from the one-yard line with a rush. Jonsen then executed a perfect fake and strolled into the end zone.
When the spring practices started, it was naturally assumed the senior Prukop would be the starter come September, but Jonsen has shown the capability to run this offense. He was 15-of-24 for 188 yards and a score, while rushing for 51 yards (21 net) and another score. Jonsen would have had a lot more yards on the ground if this was a real game, but the quarterbacks had a no contact jersey, so once a defender touched them, the play was called dead no matter what.
But Prukop is going to do his best to make sure he’s not holding a clipboard in his last season of college football. The former Montana State star was 20-of-29 for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
All of the yards, touchdowns, big plays and interceptions the Ducks made, the loudest ovation from the 35,116 came in the first quarter when tight end Pharaoh Brown made a catch. It was first action since severely injuring his leg in 2014 at Utah.
“I was blessed, kind of a walking miracle some would say,” Brown said. “I am not the guru that made this happen. It’s thanks to the doctors and my faith and everyone who had been praying for me.”
Brown was able to catch three passes for 43 yards, including a 26-yard reception. Oregon sorely missed his production and the Ducks will look forward to seeing the big tight end wreck havoc on other teams when the 2016 season gets underway Sept. 3 against UC Davis.
~ Don Smalley
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