Venue: Autzen Stadium
Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood saw signs of improvement from his group last week, after the defensive front largely overwhelmed the O line in Oregon’s first spring scrimmage, on April 8.
That improvement continued Monday, in the Ducks’ second scrimmage of this month. The offensive line better handled the defense’s pressure, and cleared the way for six rushing touchdowns over the course of the 90-minute workout.
The bulk of the offensive production in the first scrimmage came during red-zone work, with drives starting at the 20-yard line. On Monday, the offense started slowly but found some traction before too long, driving from midfield to early touchdowns by both Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin.
Both those runs came with the first unit on the field. For much of the last week, the line with that group has included Tyrell Crosby, Shane Lemieux, Jake Hanson, Doug Brenner and Calvin Throckmorton.
“We’ve been making some small strides,” Greatwood said. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s coming together, at least from an assignment standpoint.”
Brooks-James ended up rushing for three touchdowns on the day, and Griffin had two. Third-string quarterback Terry Wilson ran for another, a 50-yard sprint that ended one scenario after just one play.
The Ducks did more game-like scenarios Monday than in the first scrimmage, and the defense did hold up well in those. Danny Mattingly sacked Dakota Prukop to end the first possession of the scrimmage, an overtime drill, allowing Travis Jonsen and the No. 2 offense to “win” the drill by setting up a Matt Wogan field goal. And in some end-of-game “clutch” scenarios that followed, the offense couldn’t get much going; UO coach Mark Helfrich mentioned to media afterward that he’s looking for more leadership from the quarterbacks, and presumably the lack of offense in the clutch periods was fresh in his mind.
But momentum began to shift as the scrimmage wore on. Another overtime drill bookended the workout, and after the two sides traded field goals to start, Prukop hit tight end Taylor Stinson up the seam for a touchdown. Gary Baker sacked Jonsen when the twos were on the field, evening the score for the No. 1 offense.
“It felt good to finish strong,” Prukop said. “The last scrimmage was a different story; we started fast. It took us a while to get going today, but we finished really strong, as an entire offensive unit.”
Afterward Helfrich lamented some sloppiness, including dropped passes. Several regulars on offense were limited or held out completely; that’s not so on defense, where guys are trying to make an impression with new coordinator Brady Hoke.
The officiating crew on hand threw nine penalty flags, not counting maybe a half-dozen more that were declined due to the scenario in play when they were thrown. In an improvement from the first scrimmage, there was only one turnover, a forced fumble that provided some redemption for Mattrell McGraw.
Penalties had backed the offense up from the 35-yard line to midfield, when Jonsen had a ball come out of his hand a little funny and hang up in the air downfield. McGraw said there was busted coverage on the play, and as he sprinted back while tracking the ball, he ran smack into a receiver. A flag was thrown for pass interference, and the offense got a first down out of it.
Three plays later, however, McGraw accounted for his mistake, stripping Brooks-James and having a defensive teammate jump on the ball for a turnover.
“I basically just gave them 30 yards,” McGraw said. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to make a play, I’ve got to make a play.’ I saw an opening, so I pulled the trigger.”
Other highlights: Dillon Mitchell moved the chains twice in the clutch scenarios, spinning away from a tackler after a pass from Prukop and running 14 yards, then pulling away from the grasp of a defender who had one of his legs and running for a 16-yard completion from Jonsen. Neither drive reached the end zone, but Mitchell flashed his playmaking ability yet again. … The first touchdown of the day was set up by a 20-yard Pharaoh Brown catch-and-run on which he stiff-armed one defender while rumbling upfield before being dragged down by about three guys. …
Jonsen used his long stride to chew up ground on a 22-yard run that set up the first of Griffin’s two touchdowns. Wilson’s 50-yard TD followed on the next possession, reinforcing the raw athleticism of Oregon’s young quarterbacks. … Griffin’s second touchdown run was a 31-yard dandy. He burst into the secondary, froze a safety with a little hesitation move and then stiff-armed a linebacker on his way to the end zone.
I didn’t keep full defensive stats, but it sure seemed like De’Quan McDowell would have been the leading tackler. He also had a sack, as did Mattingly in the first overtime drill; Johnny Ragin III; Paris Bostick; and finally Baker in the last overtime drill. … Wogan and Aidan Schneider combined to miss just one placekick out of 11 attempts. … On the first rep of a kickoff drill, freshman Troy Dye raced down and made a tackle just in front of the goal line.
Other observations: After some breakdowns in the first scrimmage, punt coverage was generally better Monday. … Along with Dye, newcomers on the first kickoff coverage group included Darrian Franklin, Hunter Kampmoyer, Eric Briscoe Jr., Jonah Moi, A.J. Hotchkins and Jihree Stewart. … Franklin and Dye also were with the first kickoff return group. … True freshman Jacob Capra has primarily been a guard so far, but he played some right tackle in the scrimmage.