The first full week of preseason camp for the Oregon football team came to a conclusion Saturday night, when the Ducks held a scrimmage in Autzen Stadium.
Season-ticket holders were on hand to take in the team’s eighth practice of this preseason, in which the Ducks scrimmaged ones vs. ones, two vs. twos, etc. The latter stages of the scrimmage were focused on situational work, at which point the offense began to even the scales following a hot start by the defense.
Some impressions of the scrimmage, based on observations from the sidelines and comments by UO head coach Mario Cristobal afterward …
1. The defense was getting after it from the start, particularly in the front seven.
Anthony Brown began the night at quarterback with the No. 1 offense, and he didn’t always have much time to throw. The first series of the scrimmage ended in a sack by defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus, and the first play of a period dedicated to third-down situations was a sack by Bradyn Swinson, who has had a very strong start to this preseason camp.
“I thought the defense came out fast, came out really, really strong,” Cristobal said.
It wasn’t just the No. 1 defense that started well. With the No. 2 offense on the field, freshman quarterback Ty Thompson completed a nice deep ball to Tevins Jeannis. But cornerback Darren Barkins stuck with the play and punched the ball out for a fumble, and Dontae Manning jumped on it to secure the turnover.
As far as cleanliness of play, penalties were a bigger issue on the night than turnovers. But Justin Flowe jumped on a muffed exchange in the backfield during a goal-line drill and Verone McKinley III nearly had an interception two plays after Swinson’s sack in the third-down drill, though he was unable to secure the ball.
2. It’s clear that the Ducks have a wealth of young talent offensively.
Not only did Thompson excel late in the scrimmage when operating the No. 1 offense, but some of his freshman classmates stole the spotlight as well. Receiver Isaiah Brevard was the most productive skill player on the night, hauling in the first touchdown of the scrimmage – a 27-yard pass from Robby Ashford on which Brevard gained possession and then denied a cornerback who tried to wrestle the ball out as they fell into the end zone.
Seven McGee had an electric sequence early in the scrimmage. The running back juked a safety on one rep to escape the backfield, and on the very next play he stepped out of an attempted tackle by a linebacker to again avoid a tackle for loss.
Cristobal said freshman offensive tackle Kingsley Suamataia “played really well,” and the Ducks also liked what they saw from tight ends Terrance Ferguson and Moliki Matavao. The duo packs a punch at the line of scrimmage and they also showed off their skills as receiving threats, particularly when Jay Butterfield was at quarterback.
“The young guys are showing up, and they’re showing up big,” Cristobal said.
3. Nobody with more than 50 touches in the Pac-12 last season averaged more yards per play than Oregon’s Travis Dye, who racked up 9.3 yards every time he touched the ball. That average was helped by an outstanding 26.6 yards per reception by the multi-faceted back.
And it appears, based on Saturday, that Dye isn’t the only veteran running back on the roster with diverse skills. The first play of the scrimmage was a completion from Brown to CJ Verdell. Later, when a holding penalty put the offense in a first-and-20 situation, Verdell caught passes on consecutive plays, the second an explosion play to set up third-and-two.
The result of that play? Dye ran through a safety at the line to move the chains for a first down. We typically think of Dye as the all-purpose threat and Verdell as the physical runner between the tackles, but they showed Saturday they can each fill both roles.
4. From the looks of it, one of the most competitive positions on the team is at boundary cornerback.
Deommodore Lenoir started there last season but he’s now in the NFL, where he had an interception with the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday. The top competitors to replace him based on the scrimmage are Manning and Trikweze Bridges, and each had his moments Saturday.
“Those two get after it,” Cristobal said. “They’re also good friends, but when they get out to practice, they get after it.”
Early in the scrimmage, Mycah Pittman caught a pass and looked to hurdle safety Steve Stephens IV. But while he was in the air, Bridges swooped in and blasted Pittman out of bounds. Later, the 6-foot-3 Bridges used every inch of his exceptional length to lay out and break up a pass intended for equally lengthy wideout Troy Franklin.
Manning showed off his nose for the ball with the fumble recovery early in the scrimmage. Later in the evening during a “clutch” situation, Thompson escaped the pocket and his receivers did a scramble drill. But Manning stuck to Franklin like glue and broke up the pass Thompson tried to deliver.
5. All four of Oregon’s scholarship quarterbacks had their moments Saturday.
Brown began the night with the ones, and had to contend with a nasty first-string defense. Ashford had the first scoring play, completing three straight balls to Brevard including the touchdown.
The tables began to turn for the offense in the third-down period. Thompson entered with the twos and completed six straight passes to move the chains; he got some help via really athletic plays on the ball from Kris Hutson and Ferguson, but the efficiency in the drill was impressive regardless.
In a red-zone period, Thompson led the ones and completed a touchdown pass to Johnny Johnson III. Both Thompson and Butterfield led the offense to rushing and passing touchdowns in a goal-line situation, and Thompson capped the night by leading the offense to two different “clutch” victories.
First, Thompson drove the offense past midfield to set up a “game-winning” field goal of 45 yards by Henry Katleman. Then, he ended the scrimmage by completing a “game-winning” touchdown pass to tight end Cooper Shults on a fourth-down play with just 4 seconds left on the clock.