One last practice. One last chance to get better before the real off-season begins. That is how Oregon Head Coach Mario Cristobal characterized today’s Spring Game. “We want to get something out of it,” he said to reporters on Thursday. This day is also one great opportunity to show top recruits around the country why he wants them to play at Oregon.
Today’s game. scrimmage, exhibition, whatever you want to call it, also provides an opportunity to show appreciation to fans and military personnel alike.
“It’s another chance to party and tailgate,” one fan said outside the stadium. The Autzen parking lot was nearly full just about two hours prior to kickoff. Whatever the reason for being here, Oregon Football has drawing power. And that draw has pulled in 35,110 fans to see if this version of the Oregon Ducks has taken a step closer to contending for the Pac 12 Championship or higher.
The squads were divided into “Mighty Oregon” in the green uniforms and “Fighting Ducks” in the yellow uniforms. Mighty Oregon is comprised of the First Team Offense and Second Team Defense. Fighting Ducks are made up of Second Team Offense and First Team Defense.
Mighty Oregon opened up on offense with Justin Herbert at Quarterback. The first series was less than spectacular, with screens for little yards, penalties, missed passes and a 3 and out.
Fighting Ducks opened their series with Tyler Shough marching the team quickly down the field. Cyrus Habibi-Likio making runs for positive yards, including a 10 yard scamper. The drive stalled for the offense inside the 15 and Freshman kicker Camden Lewis opened the scoring with 32 yard Field Goal. 3-0 Fighting Ducks.
Drive #2 for Mighty Oregon opens up with more tempo and a nice run from CJ Verdell (now wearing #7) followed by a Herbert loss of 1 on a pass attempt and a 64 yard pass out of the backfield to CJ Verdell to the 6 yard line. The drive then finished off by a Herbert pass to Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson for the score. Mighty Oregon 7, Fighting Ducks 3.
Line play on both sides of the ball will be important in the coming season and the #2 defensive line appears to be winning a lot of battles with True Freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux getting a lot of pressure on Tyler Shough.
The second drive for Fighting Ducks opened with Shough to Mycah Pittman for 7 followed by a 16 yard pass to Spence Webb. The drive is extended with a Shough scramble for a first down on 4th and 7. Shough easily moved the ball against the secondary this drive but found some resistance in the run game up the middle. Cyrus Habibi-Likio capped the drive off with a 3 yard run as The Fighting Ducks retake the lead 10-7 in the second quarter.
Travis Dye opens Mighty Oregon’s next drive with a 7 yard run, followed by an incomplete pass from Herbert to Jaylon Redd. Herbert then connects to Juwan Johnson for 6 yards and a first down. Herbert later connects with Ryan Bay for 14 yards. CJ Verdell follows with a 15 yard run to the 9 yard line. Three successive incomplete passes later, Mighty Oregon caps off the drive with a 28 yard FG from Zach Emerson. Game tied at 10 with 6:56 left in the first half.
Fighting Ducks come back out with a Shough pass to Patrick Herbert for 5 yards, followed by a pass to Pittman for another 4 yards. After avoiding Thibodeaux and a sack, Shough hooks up with Kampmoyer for a first down. A screen to Cyrus Habibi-Likio extends the drive to the Mighty Oregon 35 yard line. Pittman appears to a favorite target of Shough as he hooks up for consecutive passes of 8 and 9 yards to get the bowl down to the 19. Cyrus Habibi-Likio starts to pick up carries in the red zone, however, the drive stalls when Shough cannot avoid Thinodeaux for a 4th down sack. Mighty Oregon takes over on downs on their own 24.
Herbert opens the next drive looking for Juwan Johnson on two straight passes for two incompletions. Johnny Johnson then gets his first catch of the day for 16 yards and a first down. After an incomplete screen pass, Herbert hits Schooler for 9 yards and Tevin Jeannis for another 5 yards and a first down. Herbert hits Schooler for a 26 yard pass on 3rd down all the way to the 20. Dye gets a pas for 13 yards to the 7, followed by a missed opportunity for a score to Juwan Johnson. Dye carries 4 yards to the 3. On 3rd and goal and with 22 seconds left in the half Herbert’s Pass to Juan Johnson in the end zone was broken up by Thomas Graham Jr. Zach Emerson kicks the FG on 4th down and Mighty Oregon takes a 13-10 lead into the half.
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After a very moving ceremony honoring veterans at half time, I expected second half play to open with the 3’s. Instead, Tyler Shough came back out with the Fighting Ducks for a 3 and out.
With no kicking/punting in play for the second half’s running clock, Mighty Oregon opens the possession on their own 35. Travis Dye gets 16 yards on three carries and moves the ball to the Fighting Ducks 49. Following a Gus Cumberlander sack, Herbert hits Juwan Johnson for a 20 yard strike and a 1st down at the 36. A 13 yard reverse by Jaylon Redd takes the ball to the 13 yard line. Herbert caps off the drive with a 9 yard pass to Jaylon Redd and Mighty Oregon goes up 20-10. With the running clock, this drive took the game to the 2 minute mark in Q3.
Fighting Ducks finish the quarter off with a Shough to Kyle Buckner for 34 yards to the Mighty Oregon 25. Shough then starts the 4th with a 16 yard run to the 9. The drive stalls at the 9 and Camden Lewis kicks a 26 yard FG to bring the score to Mighty Oregon 20, Fighting Ducks 13.
With a running clock and 8:34 left in the 4th quarter, I really expected to see a significant number of backups. That didn’t happen. The ‘first team’ for each side played the entire game, working with valuable reps to head into the Summer months.
The next drive started with Herbert to Redd for 5 yards. Herbert then connected with Johnny Johnson III for 14 yards to the Fighting Ducks 47. Following an incomplete pass intended for Verdell, Herbert this time does connect with Verdell for 8 yards. On a 3rd down play, Herbert overthrows Johnny Johnson III setting up 4th down at the 39. Herbert then hits Cam McCormick for 6 yards and a 1st down on the 33. CJ Verdell carries for 2, followed by an incomplete pass to McCormick. Another incompletion to Jaylon Redd leads to a turnover on downs.
Tyler Shough and the Fighting Ducks get one last opportunity to tie or win. After missing on his first pass of the drive, Shough starts the final drive of the day by hitting Spencer Webb for 6, then Mycah Pittman for 7 and a first down. After Thibodeaux breaks up Shough’s pass on the subsequent first down, Shough tries to air it out deep and is picked off by Mykael Wright in the end zone for a touchback, ending the game at 20-13, Mighty Oregon.
After the end of the game, tradition usually had the players exchange their jerseys with visiting members of the military. This year, players and military members exchanged challenge coins at the center of the field. Service members had a special coin for the players and players had a special coin to give the military member.
If you happen to be a stats person, the final stats on the day look like this:
Justin Herbert was 17 of 32 for 219 yards, 2 TD’s and 0 INT’s
Tyler Shough was 18 of 31 for 178 yards, 0TD’s and 1 INT