Young playmakers highlight Oregon spring football game
by Rob Moseley
Replacing them, along with several graduated defensive linemen, was a primary order of business in the 14 spring practices that preceded Saturday's exhibition. And while play in the spring game was a mixed bag overall, several young playmakers emerged at positions of need for the Ducks this offseason.
On the scoreboard, the squad captained by Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu — dubbed "Mariasu" — topped the "Twifo" team led by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Tony Washington, 27-7. Mariota, who spurned the NFL to return to school this year, was the star of the day despite just one quarter of work, but he also had a strong supporting cast, including at those positions where Oregon is looking for answers entering the summer.
One of Mariota's two touchdowns was to Devon Allen, and another redshirt freshman receiver, Darron Carrington, scored Twifo's only touchdown of the day. Cornerback Dior Mathis and safety Tyree Robinson each had an interception as they bid to replace Mitchell and Patterson, respectively, and DeForest Buckner set the tone for the defensive line with 2 1/2 tackles for loss and a fumble he both caused and recovered.
"Those guys really stepped up," said Mariota, who was 6-of-7 for 100 yards and rushed for another 23. "They've worked hard. But moving forward through these next few months, it's going to be pivotal to build that chemistry and get on the same page."
Allen found the end zone twice on the day to cap an excellent spring. The two-sport star also scored at least once in each of the Ducks' two full-contact scrimmages earlier in the spring, and now turns his attention to the UO track and field squad as a sprinter and hurdler.
Allen caught a 45-yard scoring pass from Mariota in the first quarter, on which Mariota was flushed from the pocket under pressure from defensive end Arik Armstead, another potential new starter on defense in 2014. Mariota scrambled out to his right, and Allen was crossing deep the field in that same direction.
"Marcus is a great athlete," Allen said. "It was kind of a busted play. I just happened to run a back-side post and was wide open. He made a perfect pass. Pretty much it was like playing catch."
Allen later caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Damion Hobbs, snagging the reception and then juking a defensive back on his way to the end zone. Taylor Alie and Jeff Lockie also had touchdown passes on the day; Lockie finished 7-of-12 for 121 yards and a touchdown, while classmate Jake Rodrigues finished 7-of-18 for 66 yards with an interception in their ongoing battle for the backup job.
Alie, a walk-on from Eugene, capped a solid spring with a 20-yard scoring pass to Carrington. The young receiver missed time this month with a hand injury, and had three fingers wrapped together Saturday but still was able to make an acrobatic touchdown catch. He twisted in the air to make the reception near the sideline and was able to get a foot inbounds as well.
"I was so excited," Carrington said. "First time playing in front of that many fans, first time playing with Oregon in Autzen. It was just fun."
Carrington's friend and fellow San Diego native, Robinson, had four tackles and an interception. He opened the spring with the first-string before Reggie Daniels got those reps the last couple weeks; Daniels broke up three passes to lead all players Saturday.
It was a third young safety, Juwaan Williams, who led all Ducks in tackles, with nine. Sophomore running back Thomas Tyner caught a touchdown pass from Mariota and also led all rushers with 58 yards, but Williams denied Tyner a rushing TD at one point.
"My goal today was to make all my tackles," Williams said. "If there comes a time if someone gets through, you've got to be there and make a tackle, be a guy that's accountable. I think I made pretty much all my tackles. I achieved my goal; it was in a losing effort, but we're all one team so it's good."
The spring game was the first chance for Oregon fans to see the Ducks' defense under new coordinator Don Pellum. The two defenses combined to deny the offense on all three red-zone chances over the course of the day, and allowed just 7-of-23 third-down conversions, though of course those numbers don't reflect well on the UO offense.
"We wanted to go out there and have fun, be aggressive and do everything we've been practicing," said middle linebacker Rodney Hardrick, who had six tackles. "There was less pressure because it's the spring game, but guys really wanted the opportunity to show what we could do. We did good in some aspects, bad in others, but overall it was a good day."