Ducks running back Aaron Smith (34) swerves past team Green's defensive forces. Oregon Ducks Football host annual Spring game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on May 1, 2021. (Maddie Stellingwerf)

The Oregon Ducks football team played its annual spring game on Saturday afternoon. The atmosphere was competitive, albeit quiet due to the last minute relegation of fans. The game culminated in a diving touchdown from Robby Ashford on a two-point conversion to see the game. Here are five takeaways from the game.

Jay Butterfield looked confident as the second-string Quarterback

Second year freshman quarterback Jay Butterfield earned the spot as the No. 2 quarterback in the game. He took a lead in the three way race between Butterfield, Ty Thompson and Robby Ashford that flooded headlines during spring camp.

On Saturday, Butterfield made a statement performance. On his first throw of the afternoon, he found freshman Troy Franklin streaking down the right side of the field for a 41-yard completion. Butterfield capped off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kris Hutson five plays later. 

“I love Butterfield,” Hutson said. “All our quarterbacks can sling it but his arm is terrific.”

The quarterback competition will continue into the fall and senior Anthony Brown is still the likely frontrunner, but it seems that Butterfield may be gaining an upper-hand as the backup. He completed 6-of-9 pass attempts for 118 yards and a touchdown. 

Justin Flowe didn’t miss a beat in his return

After missing the entirety of the 2020 season due to a torn meniscus, Justin Flowe was in danger of plummeting down the depth chart. Today, Flowe showed up early and often, recording four tackles and a sack.

“It’s great to see [Flowe] out there, he’s a freak,” Spencer Webb said. “He’s more motivated than ever and he’s gonna make some plays for us and I can’t wait to see that.”

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter used Flowe in three and four linebacker sets. 

The freshman displayed range as a pass-rusher, run stuffer and coverage linebacker primarily out of the strong side linebacker position.

He came up and stuffed C.J. Verdell after using a swim move to dismantle Alex Forsythe, adding his second tackle for loss of the ball game.

His performance today speaks volumes to the time he put into recovering from his injury and improving during spring camp. Flowe will likely be integral in the middle for the Ducks, bringing another physical presence alongside Noah Sewell.

Defensive schemes tailored to versatile personnel groupings

Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter used a 3-4 defensive scheme with Cal but he has talked about retooling his scheme because of the versatility of Oregon’s defensive personnel. 

“The defense is definitely different,” Jackson LaDuke said. “We play faster and [coach DeRuyter] has simplified things but we’re still adapting to our new roles.”

On Saturday, the Ducks’ first-team defense primarily rushed two down lineman and two edge rushers, while the three linebackers dropped into coverage. 

Additionally, DeRuyter used freshman cornerback Donte Manning in a multitude of positions. Manning lined up in man on the outside and came inside on third-downs to man the nickel- cornerback position. 

Walk-on Aaron Smith impressed in high-volume game

The Oregon Ducks’ backfield, led by juniors Travis Dye and Verdell, is one of the nation’s best and most experienced. However, walk-on freshman Aaron Smith made the best of his high-volume opportunity on Saturday. Smith carried the ball 15 times, tallying  56 yards and a touchdown.

“Aaron’s been a blessing to the running back room,” Verdell said. “He’s picked up the offense right away and pays attention to detail. I was very proud of what he did today.”

Smith scored a four-yard touchdown after an impressive 70-yard drive to start the second quarter. On that drive alone, he carried the ball five times for 29 yards. 

The freshman from San Jose, California took snaps behind Anthony Brown and Oregon’s starters. While Smith didn’t receive a carry in his three snaps with the starters it shows that head coach Mario Cristobal has instilled trust in him and Smith might have the chance to come in relief of the starting running backs this season. 

Henry Katleman adds to impressive kicking resume

After consecutive years of struggles in the kicking game, things are trending upwards for the Ducks. Henry Katleman boomed a 52-yarder through the uprights at the end of the first half on Saturday, building off his impressive late-season surge in 2020. He also knocked in a 37-yard field goal earlier in the day. 

Katleman and Camden Lewis took turns on kickoff duty. Each kicked one out of the back of the endzone for touchbacks, a potentially important sign for a Ducks team that regressed in both punt return and kick return defense last season.  

Teams live and die by the efficiency of their kicking game and today Katleman showed that the Ducks can rely on his steady leg to be a complimentary part of their offense. 

Aaron Heisen is a writer from Venice Beach, California. He enjoys covering Oregon sports including basketball, football, baseball and softball. When he’s not writing, he’s playing basketball, reading, watching movies, or spending time with his family.