Not only does Oregon’s annual spring game give the team a chance to regroup from the fall, it helps foreshadow for the upcoming season. It’s the first chance the coaches, the team and the fans get to see the new and recently developed underclassmen talent.
And in today’s spring game, those underclassmen not only stole the show — they headlined it.
“It was a good day, a productive day,” Head coach Mario Cristobal said. “I thought that what we wanted to see, was what we got to see. … We got a chance to see who can actually do it, who can actually help us win football games.”
At the end of the 44-minute game, two redshirt freshmen were at the top of Oregon’s scoring list. C.J. Verdell and Daewood Davis led the game with two touchdowns each.
Verdell made the first scoring play of the day, a five-yard run touchdown for the Thunder, Oregon’s offensive team, less than halfway into the first quarter.
To end the quarter, Davis took a 36-yard pass from true freshman quarterback Tyler Shough and scored a touchdown of his own.
“It feels great,” Davis said. “I waited a whole offseason to show the world what I got, and that was what I did today.”
Three minutes into the second quarter, Verdell mirrored his first quarter play, giving the Thunder a 21-7 lead over the Lightning, Oregon’s defensive team.
And once again to bookend the quarter, and the half, Davis secured a 28-yard pass this time from junior quarterback Justin Herbert.
“We always knew he had that track speed, and he showed it today,” Cristobal said.
Davis notched a total of 75 yards, while Verdell ended with 44.
“C.J. Verdell continues to show why he was such a highly recruited football player,” Cristobal said. “He gets down to it in a hurry, and he’s got a low-center of gravity and his vision is excellent. He was very productive today.”
In the competition for the backup quarterback spot, sophomore Braxton Burmeister and Tyler Shough also demonstrated Oregon’s young talent.
Burmeister was 7-of-12 for 64 yards, while Shough went 5-of-8 with 103 yards. Both added a touchdown pass to their game as well.
“They not only know how to manage the offense, they know how to run the offense,” Cristobal said. “They got the right mentality. They are competing, and they know that it cannot be handed to them.”
For Shough’s true Autzen debut, he threw a 36-yard pass touchdown to Davis on his first throw of the game. In the fourth quarter, he threw a 29-yard pass to redshirt freshman running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who scored Oregon’s final touchdown and broke a 16-minute scoring drought for the Thunder.
Burmeister earned his touchdown with a 25-yard pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jack Vecchi at the five minute, 14-second mark in the second quarter.
“It’s going to be an interesting competition because they both showed that they both can be real good football players for us here,” Cristobal said.
Sophomore Jaylon Redd finished on top of the offensive player pack, leading the team with 110 all-purpose yards including 56 yards on kick returns. Notable underclassmen running backs also included: freshman Jamal Elliott (third on the team with 31 rushing yards) and sophomore Darrian Felix (fifth with 23).
On the defensive side, redshirt freshman Isaac Slade-Matautia found a starting position at linebacker and tied for third on the team with four total tackles, three of which were solo.
“Isaac Slade, I mean that guy is a really good football player,” Cristobal said. “He’s gonna help us win a lot of football games around here.”
Slade was just one of four underclassmen that saw time on the starting lineup. For the Thunder, redshirt sophomore Cam McCormick started at tight end, and sophomores Thomas Graham Jr., Deommodore Lenior and Jordon Scott started as cornerbacks and nose tackle for the Lightning.
“The youngsters in my unit performed very well actually,” Redshirt senior Tony Brooks-James said. “From C.J., Felix, to Jamal, Travis [Due], Cyrus, you know they all put down what coach needed to see and displayed their talents, which we all wanted to see. I was very proud and very happy and excited for them. I just hope that they keep it up and carry it into the season.”
Follow Maggie Vanoni on Twitter: @maggie_vanoni