Football Practice Report: Sept. 14
Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads
When he was a recruit, Moliki Matavao was looking for a school that would play in marquee nonconference matchups, and compete for championships.
He envisioned himself playing on college football's biggest stages, and making big plays. It's one thing to daydream about such moments and another to experience them, however. Which Matavao now knows first-hand.
Matavao was on the receiving end of what proved to be the game-winning touchdown pass from Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown when the Ducks won last week at Ohio State. The Ducks had hurt the Buckeyes throughout the game with RPO plays that attacked the edges with runs and screen passes, and just when Ohio State thought another one was coming in the fourth quarter, the Ducks had Matavao leak out into the end zone, where he caught a pass that Brown lofted over the defense for a 14-yard touchdown.
"Catching the ball and bringing it in, it was just an unreal feeling," said Matavao, a freshman from Henderson, Nev. "Especially in that big environment that kind of made it feel like, dang, I made it."
Matavao was one of five UO tight ends to catch a pass against Ohio State. The unit's depth had been tested in the preseason when Patrick Herbert suffered an injury prior to a scrimmage. It will be tested further with the news this week that Cam McCormick's injury at Ohio State will sideline him for the season, and with veteran DJ Johnson being utilized on defense as well as at tight end.
Making sure there's no slippage will be veteran Spencer Webb, the starter entering this season, plus Matavao and his fellow freshman Terrance Ferguson. Waiting in the wings is walk-on Cooper Shults, who stepped into the two-deep for a couple of 2020 games when depth was stressed.
"They're all my brothers and I feel for them," Matavao said. "I'm stepping up, and whatever opportunity I get just maximize that."
McCormick's injury was particularly devastating for Oregon's tight ends, who watched him spend three years fighting to get back on the field after an injury in the 2018 season opener. Matavao said McCormick was "kind of like my big brother in all this" once Matavao arrived on campus this spring.
McCormick was one of the tight end group's most effective blockers, a role Matavao will help fill going forward. Just as his touchdown reception validated that he could make plays at this level, Matavao proved something to himself with his play at the line of scrimmage last week.
"I held my ground against some good dudes," he said. "I'm big myself – I'm big and powerful, that's my train of thought. Just because I'm younger, I still can compete with them."
Practice highlights: Ryan Walk, who was so effective as a pulling guard at Ohio State, got to the second level against a safety in work against the scout team and initiated one of the louder collisions of the day. … On the defensive practice field during the same period, inside linebacker Micah Roth snagged an interception and turned upfield with teammates leading the way as blockers. Roth is in the mix with the travel squad at another position thinned by injuries. …
Mycah Pittman returned a punt for a touchdown. … In highlights for the developmental squad, Bradley Yaffe threw one of the prettiest balls of the day, a pass he lofted over the defense and into the hands of a tight end. Moments later, Cross Patton got his teammates fired up by starting outside on a run, then unleashing a vicious spin move back toward the middle of the field.
Other observations: Cornerback Jaylin Davies was wearing jersey No. 14, presumably to enable him to be in the field in special teams situations with the guy he used to share No. 6 with, Jaylon Redd. … Coaches and players seemed particularly cognizant of not allowing any letup after a big win. The program's culture is built to stay process-oriented win or lose, and it never hurts to reinforce that message and hold each other accountable on the practice field.
Junior running back CJ Verdell
Junior offensive lineman Ryan Walk
Junior tight end DJ Johnson
Sophomore offensive lineman Dawson Jaramillo