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Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown (13) makes a pass to an open member of the offense. Oregon Ducks Football host annual Spring game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on May 1, 2021. (Maddie Stellingwerf)

The Oregon Ducks played their annual spring game at Autzen Stadium on Saturday, embarking on what will be a long offseason before Fresno State comes to Eugene on September 4. Team Yellow (first-team offense) squared off against Team Green (first-team defense). 

Team Yellow won, 35-34, in dramatic fashion.

On the final drive, dual-sport athlete Robby Ashford completed a 44-yard touchdown pass to freshman Dont'e Thurston, closing the gap 34-33. 

On the next play Ashford ended the game, scoring a two-point conversion by diving for the pylon; a play that would make Autzen roar if fans had been in attendance.

The 2021 spring game was played without spectators, which completely contradicted what fans, family, and the players were told back in April. 

The news that Lane County will be moving to “extreme risk” came last week.

“It was pretty brutal to hear that news,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “We haven’t seen [our fans] in a while and you know how much we love our fans and they love us. We wanted to put on a great show, live, in person. So the news was rough. It was hard to take. But like everything else in the pandemic year, you roll with it.”

The lack of fans has been the new normal over the past year, so the team was able to adapt well. Crowd noise was pumped in over the loudspeakers and the national anthem performance ended with a flyover. 

For the first few drives, Team Yellow took charge, scoring two touchdowns in as many possessions. 

Quarterback Anthony Brown was able to move the ball well all day, both in the air and on the ground. Brown, as suspected, took the bulk of the first-team reps, passing for 230 yards and a touchdown. Brown was efficient, completing 20 of his 29 attempts.

As for the rest of the quarterbacks, there wasn’t a distinct number two, although Jay Butterfield impressed. On his first drive, Butterfield was backed up on his own 17-yard line. On first-and-10, he showed off his arm strength, completing a 41-yard pass to freshman receiver Troy Franklin. Later in the drive, Butterfield displayed his ability to throw on the run as he threw a perfectly placed ball to Kris Hutson for a touchdown to put Team Yellow up 14-0.

 

“I feel like competition is huge,” Brown said of the quarterback room. “It is important for the progression of the team, and we have a lot of competition.”

Ty Thompson was the odd man out in terms of touchdowns thrown, as Ashford and Butterfield both threw for one one. 

With Oregon down four of their scholarship running backs, it was the walk-on freshman Aaron Smith who stole the show. Smith led all  running backs with 15 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. Junior CJ Verdell, who is just one of seven returning players to rush for 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons, had just 15 yards on six carries and played sparingly. 

Both defenses had their moments, and a multitude of players saw significant snaps.. Safety Marko Vidackovic led all in total tackles, with seven. 

Coach Cristobal was impressed with Justin Flowe, who posted five tackles and a sack. The second year player is looking for a strong bounceback after he suffered a torn meniscus last season. 

“We have been increasing his reps over the last six practices,” Cristobal said. “It is awesome to see him out there. That guy is explosive, brings a lot of energy and makes a ton of plays.” 

As spring football comes to an end, players and coaches enter the summer with their minds on getting better each day as they transition into the regular season.

Sports Reporter

Kai Kanzer is a sports writer from Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He enjoys all sports, but particularly football, baseball, and hockey. When he is not covering sports he raft guides and loves to travel.