Robby Ashford converted a two-point try on the final play of Oregon’s annual Spring Game on Saturday to give the offense a win over the defense, 35-34 at Autzen Stadium.
With numbers thin at running back and cornerback, the Ducks opted not to split into two teams for the day, and instead devised a scoring system that rewarded the defense for stops and big plays. Ashford hit freshman receiver Dont’e Thornton for a touchdown that set up the game-winning two-point try, before running it in himself to end the scrimmage.
Here are some impressions from the two-hour scrimmage, which was played with a standard game clock in the first half and a running clock for most of the second half.
1. As the Ducks enter the offseason, Anthony Brown still sits atop the depth chart at quarterback.
Brown continued to get the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 offense Saturday, while freshmen Jay Butterfield, Ty Thompson and Ashford rotated with the twos. Brown finished 20-of-29 passing for 230 yards and a touchdown, the scoring play coming on the opening drive when Travis Dye caught a ball in space and ran for a 26-yard touchdown.
“He’s the one that’s leading, but we’re not gonna let that (competition) die,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “But that battle for the two spot is really tight.”
Brown showed off his leadership qualities late in the first half, after the second of two uncharacteristic drops by receiver Mycah Pittman. After giving Pittman a pep talk, Brown went right back to him on the first play of the second half, and Pittman made a diving catch.
“Obviously ‘AB’ being a good leader and being a good vocal guy, he came up and patted me on the back and said, ‘Pitt, you got this man.’ ” Pittman said. “I’m grateful for him – and embarrassed (about the drops).”
2. There’s talent aplenty in the receiver room in 2021.
Oregon isn’t lacking for ability at wide receiver, given the return of Pittman, Johnny Johnson III, Devon Williams and Jaylon Redd, who did not participate Saturday. But wow, is there some electric talent coming up the pipeline.
Brown’s touchdown pass to Dye was followed by another scoring drive directed by Butterfield, and capped by a touchdown reception from second-year freshman Kris Hutson. Thornton caught the long touchdown pass from Ashford late in the scrimmage, and Troy Franklin nearly had a touchdown midway through, on his way to finishing as the leading receiver with 93 yards on four receptions.
“This is just the beginning – the very beginning,” Hutson said. “We’re gonna show you guys soon what we got.”
3. After a season lost to injury, Justin Flowe looks ready to realize his enormous potential.
A former elite recruit, Flowe missed most of the 2020 season and was late to join drills this spring due to injury. But he made up for lost time and was all over the field Saturday, recording one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss and five total tackles, plus a pass breakup.
“It’s awesome to see him out there,” Cristobal said. “That’s guy’s explosive – brings a ton of energy, and makes a ton of plays.”
Safeties Bennett Williams and Bryan Addison also had some look-at-me moments, with both executing open-field tackles in space. And Marko Vidackovic led the Ducks with seven tackles, in part by playing all over the place on special teams. But after waiting so long to see Flowe finally cutting it loose again, that was a highlight Saturday.
“I felt like I played pretty good,” Flowe said. “But I feel like I could do more. So that’s what I’m gonna do.”
4. Both second-year quarterbacks executed in clutch situations – as did the kickers.
With 57 seconds left before halftime, Butterfield was given a chance to run a 2-minute drill. A long pass that Terrance Ferguson turned back and hauled in got the offense past midfield, and Butterfield ran for nine yards on the next play. A completion to Aaron Smith got the ball inside the 10-yard line, and though the drive stalled, Camden Lewis made a field goal.
That made kick followed two by Henry Katleman, one of those a 52-yard bomb. And the Ducks got another clutch performance to close out the scrimmage when Ashford completed the long TD pass to Thornton before running in the two-point conversion.
“They all got a chance to move the ball, and they all did – and made big plays,” Cristobal said of the quarterbacks.
Ashford and Butterfield finished a combined 13-of-17 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Thompson was 5-of-9 for 757 yards, and Bradley Yaffe came on late and completed a pass of 15 yards.
The quarterbacks all played a clean game as well. The only interception was thrown by Pittman on one of two trick plays the Ducks ran, the other being a throwback pass to left tackle Kingsley Suamataia on which the freshmen showed off his athleticism. The other turnover was a fumble on a muffed exchange in the backfield.
5. A couple positions can’t fairly be evaluated until preseason camp in August.
With several veterans unavailable at cornerback, freshman Dontae Manning and Jaylin Davies got the start there with the No. 1 defense. Manning had the interception of Pittman, but it was a shame that guys like DJ James and Trikweze Bridges weren’t available Saturday to put a finishing touch on what had been really productive spring camps for them.
The Ducks also leaned hard on the passing game Saturday due to limited numbers at running back. Returning veterans Dye and CJ Verdell were available but combined for just eight carries, and Cross Patton did not participate; walk-on Aaron Smith led the way on 15 carries with 56 yards and a touchdown. Oregon hopes to get Sean Dollars and Trey Benson back from injury in the fall, which will provide a better sense of what the rotation might look like once games begin.