The Oregon football spring season is over, and it concluded with a with a 59-34 victory for the offense (Team Thunder) against the defense (Team Lighting) at the 2018 spring game.
Nobody knows what that means, but there were some strong individual performances that opened and answered questions as the Ducks head into the summer.
“We also kept it simple so guys knew exactly what they were doing, and we got a chance to see who could actually do it,” head coach Mario Cristobal said.
Here are some of the top takeaways from the 2018 Oregon spring game:
No clarity at backup quarterback position
Justin Herbert is the starter for next season. There is no doubting that, and during the first quarter, Herbert threw a pass at the goal line that was deflected and intercepted by linebacker Kaulana Apelu. The linebacker dodged a defender and hit the open field at full sprint on his was to a 100-yard return for a touchdown.
However, in the process, Herbert did his best to try and tackle Apelu, a risky move considering that quarterbacks aren’t allowed to be touched in the spring game.
The defensive players, not allowed to block Herbert, compensated by getting in his way and “shielding” Apelu on the way to the endzone.
The Ducks know the value of a good backup quarterback. One play can change a season, and it did last year when quarterback Justin Herbert injured his collarbone. So, the last thing they want is for Herbert to get hurt in the spring game.
“I don’t even want to touch Herbert,” defensive lineman Jordon Scott said. “I don’t want to put our season in jeopardy.”
Linebacker La’Mar Winston joked: “I thought about it.”
When Herbert got hurt last season, Braxton Burmeister took over the offense and struggled. The Ducks got a reinforcement for this season with freshman Tyler Shough. They’ve been fighting for playing time since Shough arrived early for spring practice, and both posted good numbers in the spring game.
Burmeister was 7-of-12 for 64 yards and one touchdown. Burmeister can use his legs to escape when the pocket collapses, rushing to extend drives.
Shough was a more efficient 5-of-8 for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Shough, who said he was excited for the game during the week’s media sessions, didn’t show any lack of confidence. For his first pass, Shough lofted the ball deep into one-on-one coverage for wide receiver Daewood Davis, who caught the ball and carried it into the endzone.
“He is not scared to just throw it up, that’s what I like about Tyler,” Davis said. “This whole spring, [the backup quarterback battle] was kind of equal.”
Saturday’s spring game didn’t answer the question of who will be the backup quarterback. Neither showed a clear advantage during the game. Burmeister still looked shaky at times but made plays, and Shough, while efficient, was limited to only eight pass attempts.
But the decision doesn’t need to be made now, and the Ducks hope Herbert stays healthy so it doesn’t matter.
Young players in key roles
Spring games always reveal new names and new faces to the crowd. Young or inexperienced players have an opportunity to introduce themselves to the fans, and on Saturday, many young Ducks did.
Daewood Davis, a speedy redshirt freshman wide receiver, caught two long touchdown passes. Redshirt freshman CJ Verdell led the running backs with eight carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns.
“CJ Verdell continues to show why he was such a highly recruited football player,” Cristobal said. “He was very productive today.”
Defensively, sophomores Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenior started at cornerback, and all game they didn’t allow wide receivers to separate themselves.
“You can’t underestimate the advancement, the progress of guys like Deommodre and guys like Thomas Graham,” Cristobal said. “These guys have turned it up.”
Underclassmen will need to play well in big roles for Oregon this upcoming season. Of the seven running backs who got touches, five of them were underclassmen. Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin are the veterans, but Verdell, Travis Dye, Darrian Felix and Cyrus Habibi-Likio are all weapons the Ducks will have at their disposal in the 2018 season.
“Everybody is very talented, so it makes you want to work that much harder” Verdell said. “We’re a close, tight-knit group, and we all want to see each other succeed.”
Apelu and Simms pull away at open linebacker positions
The highlight from the game was Apelu’s interception-turned-touchdown, but the senior led the team in total tackles as well. The inside linebacker spot next to Troy Dye is open, and on Saturday, Apelu showed why it should be his.
He was an important part of the position group last season but suffered a season-ending leg injury. The recovery process is complete, topped off by a strong spring game performance.
“It hurts inside and it’s a long process,” Apelu said. “But it felt good to be out there.”
The other quality, but less flashy, performance was by outside linebacker Keith Simms. On the first drive, Simms shed a block and jumped in the face of Herbert, who froze right before the whistle blew, signaling a sack.
It was part of his eight tackle, one sack performance that showed he could be the mainstay at an outside linebacker position.
Wide receiver production
As good of a quarterback as Herbert is, he needs receivers that will make him look even better. If the spring game is any indication of what is to come in fall training camp, then there will be a lot of battles for playing time.
Brenden Schooler, Dillon Mitchell and Johnny Johnson III were some of the established guys entering the game, but Jaylon Redd and Davis showed why they should see the field as well.
Davis finished the game with three catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. He was tall and fast last season, but he wanted to gain weight during his redshirt season to complete his skill set.
“I waited a whole offseason to show the world what I got, and what I did today,” Davis said.
Redd’s skill set is like DeAnthony Thomas or Charles Nelson. They used him in the backfield, in the slot and out wide, and he returned kicks. The sophomore ended the game with 110 total yards, including 32 rushing and 22 receiving yards.
The Ducks need to surround Herbert with weapons, and they’ve got some young guys to choose from.
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @Butler917