The 2015 Ducks are Jeff Lockie’s team … at least for now. The three year understudy to Marcus Mariota completed all nine of his pass attempts for 233 yards and three touchdowns to lead the “Pathway” team to a 35-29 win over “Oregon” in the 2015 spring football game Saturday at Autzen Stadiuim.
With Mariota in attendance and acknowledged with an extended ovation in the second half, Lockie’s performance indicated he might have picked up a thing or two in his time spent in the shadows of the Heisman trophy winner.
When camp reconvenes in August there will be new competition for the starting role and it is certain the arrival of Vernon Adams precludes any final decisions being made until then. But that said, Lockie made clear he has a case to state.
“I think the spring game is way overblown,” said Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich. “In terms of its value and its immediate impression. But Jeff had a great spring. He did a pretty good job today in terms of what he was asked to do … as far as what he needed to do to be ‘the guy’, he had a very good spring.”
Lockie was poised and directed the offense efficiently with Royce Freeman and Charles Nelson frequent targets. Freeman rushed for 48 yards on six carries and tacked on another 29 with three receptions. Nelson was electrifying on both sides of the ball, catching five passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns as well as picking off a Ty Griffin pass in his new defensive role.
“That’s how much he knows about our system,” Helfrich said of Nelson’s two-way effort. “He’s out there lining guys up on offense … that’s why we felt comfortable moving him in the beginning. If we need to flip him back today happens.”
Lost to a knee injury in 2014, senior receiver Bralon Addison also demonstrated multiple dimensions, passing for 71 yards and a touchdown on a pair of flea flickers as well as catching four balls for 50 yards and a score.
“He made a couple of plays with the ball in his hands, which is encouraging,” said Helfrich. “Physically everything is there … and now he just needs to totally cut it loose from a confidence stand point and a conditioning stand point.”
Led by Lockie, the “Pathway” side opened up a 28-16 lead in the first half before turning the game over to Morgan Mahalak.
“We didn’t get a chance to stretch the field as much as maybe we wanted,” said Lockie. “But that’s what happens when you throw it five yards to a guy like Charles Nelson and see him take it for 50 … we were getting in the end zone so I was happy.”
Addressing the transition of team leadership from Marcus to a new quarterback, offensive coordinator Scott Frost sees what he needs to see in Lockie. “In some respects Jeff had to earn their respect through his play on the field and his toughness,” Frost said. ‘He’s done a great job taking over. I feel really good about where he is as a leader right now.”
In Mahalak’s first public performance the redshirt freshman threw nine times, completing three but picked up 30 yards on five carries; a total that was significantly understated thanks to the “one-hand touch tackle” scrimmage rules for the quarterbacks.
Running back Thomas Tyner was limited to five carries, enough to lead the “Oregon” side with 47 yards rushing, including a 19 yard burst on the opening snap.
With an excess of offensive firepower, it was defensive coordinator Don Pellum who was left to provide some context.
“I saw some good contact, some good intensity at times,” he said. “I saw to many big plays too … but there is a lot we can build on.”
Part of that optimism is grounded in Nelson’s potential to be able remain a factor for the Ducks offensively while he assumes a role in the defensive game plan.
“This spring has been good, he’s got a lot of reps and has been getting better. I think today showed he can do both.”
And with that, spring camp comes to a close with team led workouts the daily routine until fall camp opens in August. Then there will be more for the coaches to teach and more questions to address… not the least of which will be that competition between Lockie and Adams at quarterback. For now, it’s Lockies’ team. That may change, but on Saturday Lockie let it be known that it may not.
~ Rick Morgan