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Season In Review: Quarterback

Jan 12, 2021

Reviewing Oregon's 2020 season and looking ahead to spring drills.

QB: Tyler Shough, So.; Anthony Brown, Gr.; Jay Butterfield, Fr.; Bradley Yaffe, So.; Robby Ashford, Fr.; Cale Millen, RFr.

Starter: While Justin Herbert was tearing up the NFL as a rookie with the NFL's Los Angeles Chargers, his successor after four years as Oregon's starting quarterback was sophomore Tyler Shough. Previously Herbert's backup, Shough got his feet wet in a handful of brief appearances in 2018, then showed significant promise in more extended opportunities in 2019. The staff welcomed graduate transfer Anthony Brown into the fold during the summer of 2020 to compete with Shough and provide some veteran insurance, but ultimately Shough ended up starting all seven games as the Ducks repeated as Pac-12 champions this past season.

Shough started the year under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead like gangbusters. Over the first month of the season he completed 77-of-117 passes (65.8 percent) for 1,158 yards, with 10 touchdown passes, a passer rating of 170.31 and an elite yards-per-attempt average of 9.9. He was a factor in the run game as well, rushing for 203 yards in November — ranking eighth in the Pac-12, among players at all positions. But the Ducks opened December at California, and the season took a turn offensively after halftime; Oregon was shutout in the second half to lose for the second week in a row, and the offense couldn't consistently regain the sizzle it displayed to start the season.

Shough still ended up leading the Pac-12 in passer rating for the season, at 160.38. But his completion percentage dropped to 58.0 after November, and yards per attempt fell to 8.0. Coaches spoke of Shough's confidence needing to be bolstered, and they took some pressure off of him by working Brown in situationally for the Pac-12 Championship game victory over USC and in the Fiesta Bowl. Through all of that, Shough never backed down from the leadership obligations his position demands — even after tough losses, he gamely made himself available for postgame press conferences, to discuss the good and the bad.

Reserves: We can only wonder how the competition between Shough and Brown might have played out had 2020 been a normal offseason. Instead it was conducted under strict COVID-19 protocols, including a shutdown of formal football activities in September when it looked like the Pac-12 wouldn't conduct a fall season. When preseason camp finally opened — and then for the opening few weeks of the season — Shough generally was with the No. 1 offense, and Brown led the No. 2 offense. That changed prior to the conference championship game, when Brown would take over the starting group for some red-zone drills and other situational work.

Brown ended up throwing two touchdown passes against USC, and Shough also threw two as the Ducks beat the Trojans, 31-24. A similar plan was enacted for the Fiesta Bowl, with Brown provided the chance for an extended opportunity in the second quarter; when he took advantage and led a long, explosive touchdown drive, the staff adjusted on the fly. Both played in the second half, but the offense couldn't find much traction as Iowa State pulled out a victory. Only Shough and Brown appeared at quarterback for Oregon in 2020, with Bradley Yaffe and Jay Butterfield primarily getting reps as the No. 3 QB in practice over the course of the season.

Developmental squad: The quarterbacks behind Shough and Brown are an incredibly varied group. Butterfield is a tall pocket passer with a big arm; Yaffe is a determined walk-on who can run and throw; true freshman Robby Ashford is an elite athlete with as high a ceiling as anyone; and Cale Millen is another remarkably athletic player whose versatility paid off late in the season in multiple ways. By season's end, Millen was a regular on special teams, unafraid to put his body on the line and make a big hit on the kickoff team. He also practiced at both receiver and defensive back when needs arose, looking quite comfortable in either of those roles as well. After the season, Millen opted to transfer.


QB: Anthony Brown, Gr.; Jay Butterfield, Fr.; Bradley Yaffe, So.; Robby Ashford, Fr.; Ty Thompson, Fr.

What To Watch: After Shough's decision in February to transfer, quarterback will be full of intrigue when spring practices begin (assuming, of course, the pandemic allows). Brown can be invigorated by the prospect of a full offseason to challenge for playing time. Butterfield and Ashford can immerse themselves in a standard offseason strength and conditioning program, although Ashford also planned to play baseball in the spring. And the X factor is new addition Ty Thompson, who enrolled this month after a record-setting high school career in Arizona. A five-star prospect and a two-time prep state champion, Thompson is one of the most elite quarterbacks to join the college ranks this year.