Backup Battle: Braxton Burmeister and Tyler Shough compete for the important position

If the Oregon Ducks learned one thing last year, it was to always have a strong plan B.

In last season’s game against California, starting quarterback Justin Herbert fractured his collarbone in the first quarter. Soon after, redshirt senior backup Taylor Alie suffered a concussion.                                                                                                                  

Braxton Burmeister, in the midst of redshirting his freshman season, was called into action. In his college debut, he helped lead the team through the remainder of the 45-24 Oregon victory.

This season, Herbert is healthy and back in the starting position. With Alie graduated, Burmeister is back for year two and alongside him is the newest competitor for the lead backup: redshirt freshman Tyler Shough.

Offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo said planning for an incident when Oregon will need a backup is the right choice for a team historically in need of a second and even third string quarterback.

“Any time that you have a rotation in quarterback and you get another true freshman that’s potentially going to have to go in, I think we are taking the appropriate steps,” Arroyo said. “I think there is an understanding that you’re in a position that’s got to be the mentally and physically toughest guy on the field, and that’s how we preach that position.”

Burmeister went on to lead last year’s team to only one win over a five-game stretch, including a 49-7 loss to Stanford and a 38-3 loss to Washington.

“It definitely made me grow up a lot,” Burmeister said. “I feel a lot more confident now because of that though.”

Last season, Burmeister completed 57 percent of his passes for 330 yards and scored five touchdowns (two passing and three rushing) with six interceptions. As Oregon’s starting quarterback for five games, he became the team’s second true freshman to start in the position since 1983, the first being Herbert.

So far, Burmeister has played in two games this season, completing four of his eight attempted passes for 27 yards.

“Last year was kind of like a blur because it all went so fast, so I didn’t really get to enjoy it,” Burmeister said. “I feel like this year, every day I wake up and I’m super excited just to be here and to go to work. So, I feel like it’s a completely different approach.”

Shough is right behind Burmeister on the depth chart.

In high school, Shough threw 30 touchdowns and completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,071 yards. He was rated the No. 1 player in the state of Arizona by 247Sports.

“He’s a really good quarterback,” Herbert said of Shough. “He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing and has spent a lot of time this offseason. I’ve got complete trust in him. … He’s a guy you don’t really have to worry about.”

Although Herbert remains atop the depth chart, Shough said he’s learned how important it is to be ready for action despite the title of backup.

“You never know what is going to happen,” Shough said. “I’m not changing much. My preparation is still the same whether if [I’m] two, three, whatever. I still got to prepare like I would be the starter. Same as Justin, same as everybody is doing. You just got to be ready when your name is called — that’s the main goal.”

Shough has seen brief action in the past two games, only coming in during the last moments of the fourth quarter. But now that Burmeister will sit out the next two weeks, due to a small knee procedure, Shough is first in line for the lead backup position.

While the two will be competing for the spot throughout the season, off the field they remain friends.

“Between me and Tyler, it’s definitely brotherly,” Burmeister said. “With him, I’m always encouraging him and rooting for him and if he’s out there, then I’m going to be full-blown happy if he makes a play.”

Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter: @maggie_vanoni

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Maggie Vanoni

Maggie Vanoni

Maggie is a senior sports reporter for the Emerald covering football, volleyball, men's basketball, men's tennis, track and field and softball. She is a lover of adventures, the Oregon Coast, writing and Ben and Jerry's. Follow her on Twitter at @maggie_vanoni and reach her at [email protected]