Mighty Weekly: What We Learned From the Oregon Spring Game

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 13: Running back CJ Verdell #34 of the Oregon Ducks scores the winning touchdown in overtime of the game against the Washington Huskies at Autzen Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks won the game 30-27. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 13: Running back CJ Verdell #34 of the Oregon Ducks scores the winning touchdown in overtime of the game against the Washington Huskies at Autzen Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks won the game 30-27. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

It’s time for the Oregon Football Spring Game wrap-up, a way-too-overlooked Doak Walker Award watch list addition, and a cherished flashback to when Lance Mitchell etched himself into Civil War history.

The Footbridge Focus

Last week, I was outwardly hesitant to declare whether I thought Oregon Football Backup QB Tyler Shough was someone I trusted with the ball if Herbert were to go down again with an injury.. Well, it’s safe to say that a lot of folks came out of the Spring Game with renewed optimism about the backup spot, and I’m right there with them.

Shough really came out slinging the ball on Saturday. He wasn’t afraid to force some tricky throws across the field and was even more eager to air it all out. Shough connected with freshmen wideouts Mycah Pittman and Josh Delgado on a couple of great tosses, but I was most impressed by his overall confidence in his arm strength. The accuracy wasn’t there 100% of the time, but the Spring Game is exactly the time and the place to get those jitters out.

Moreover, it’s clear to me that Shough has a firm grasp of the offense, a sentiment that has been echoed by him and the coaching staff. He seemed to gel in the pistol with fellow emerging star Cyrus Habibi-Likio, and— as scary as it is to say out loud— I find myself growing comfortable with the backup QB role.

More from Autzen Zoo

Sun of the Week

With all the well-deserved hype around Kayvon Thibedoux, redshirt sophomore transfer LB DJ Johnson has been ever so slightly lost in the fold. DJ transferred from Miami in 2018, and redshirted last season for the Ducks. He comes into 2019 having packed on fifteen pounds of beef and doing his best to look like something that would intimidate The Predator.

Just like 2018, Troy Dye is going to be the anchor of the linebacking core. He’ll be joined by Redbox Bowl leading tackler, La’Mar Winston Jr. and rising star Isaac Slade-Matautia. At 6’5” 270 lbs, D.J. is no spring chicken, but he consistently found himself making tackles in the run game and plugging up holes. If Avalos’ semi-new look defense is going to keep owning the line of scrimmage, DJ is going to be the perfect man-sized piece to that puzzle.

Shadow of the Week

We had a DJ as Sun of the Week, and it looks like we have another DJ as our Shadow.

As excited as I was to see the 35K+ show out for the Spring Game, my doubt radar is going off about whether or not 5-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is going to commit to Oregon.

Maybe he isn’t the kind of guy that shows a lot of excitement. Maybe he just doesn’t want to show all his cards. But judging from his body language on the sideline, I’m personally not sure that I saw him fall totally in love with Autzen this weekend.

I truly hope that he’ll at least continue to give us a chance, but if meeting Mariota and Masoli in front of the most well-attended glorified scrimmage west of the Mississippi doesn’t get his juices flowing, maybe his heart is already with Clemson.

Maybe I’m just hedging here so I don’t set myself up for disappointment. I would obviously love to be wrong about this. I would love to admit that all my worrying was all for nothing, and eventually move DJ’s commitment into the Sun of the Week category. But I can honestly say that before Saturday I thought the Ducks had a 60% chance to get him, and now I’m feeling like it’s closer to an optimistic 40%.

Unsung Story

Something people aren’t talking about. – / Sing the story, Oregon /

I have heard little-to-no talk about our RB1, CJ Verdell. The guy is a returning 1,000-yard rusher going into his redshirt sophomore season, and he only seemed to look faster and more dynamic this past weekend.

Verdell made moves to break into the receiving game on Saturday, which included the longest play of the day with a 64-yard reception where he bumped to the outside and took off running. He also embraced his trademark power by shooting out of a cannon every time he got the ball up the middle. The team up north knows all about that.

CJ is hands-down the most underrated and least talked about player on this Ducks team right now. Our passing game will improve this year, there’s no doubt about that, but the offense is still going to center around our downhill running attack. Our offensive line has achieved true veteran status, plus they’re coached up by Cristobal himself. All of those factors add up to make CJ the quietest Doak Walker contender in the country.

Maybe it’s good that nobody is really talking about him. He will continue to be a silent killer that slips through the Grand Canyon-sized gaps that Throck, Sewell & Co. will be making for him. Travis Dye will also further diversify the running attack throughout the year, but CJ is the every-down back, and I think it’s high time to start singing his story.

Random Historic Oregon Football Thing I’m Thinking About this Week

From Fouts to Wheaton to Mariota, so many Oregon legends were on the sideline on Saturday.

But one very special Tiger-Cat stuck out to me.

Former Ole Miss signal-caller and current starter in the CFL, Jeremiah Masoli returned to Eugene for—I assume—the first time since being unceremoniously excused from the team in 2010. I have a very special place in my heart for Masoli and his hard-nosed style of play.

Masoli was certainly no generational arm talent, but his ability to lower his shoulder and make a play in the big moment was something to behold. He lead by example on some of the most instrumental, and criminally under-celebrated, Oregon teams of all time.

I could point to USC Fright Night, the 2008 Holiday Bowl, or Triple OT in Tucson, but the marquee Masoli moment was and always will be his fourth down conversion on the game-clinching offensive drive of the 2009 Civil War for the Roses.

With the game on the line, Masoli scrambled to the sideline toward Beaver CB Lance Mitchell. In a pivotal moment for both programs, Masoli slammed into Mitchell with laptop-swiping force, putting the Beav on his butt, and propelling Masoli past the first down marker.

It’s also worth noting that Masoli’s conversion was one of two do-or-die fourth downs on the drive. The other was converted by Kenjon Barner, who was also in attendance on Saturday.

Final Whistle’s Call

I should probably also mention that I definitely did not hate the budding Herbie/Juwan Johnson connection we saw on Saturday. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, the goal line fade is the worst play in football, but if those two guys want to connect on it every once in a while, I think I could live with it.

And just like that, Spring ball is over. But you can rest assured that this column will charge forward with even more wild speculation, opponent previews, College Football news, and other ultra-productive offseason topics. If nothing else, you can always rely on a new piece of Duck history every week.

Go Ducks!