Football Practice Report: Dec. 17
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Format: Full pads
From a coaching change, to teammates leaving the program, to two disheartening losses late in the season, there are plenty of potential distractions for the Oregon football team as the Alamo Bowl approaches.
That's to say nothing of each Duck's individual situation, and potential distractions specific to his own life. Senior safety Jordan Happle, for instance, is preparing to play his last college game when Oregon faces Oklahoma in San Antonio on Dec. 29.
But Happle said he isn't allowing the looming end of his collegiate career to affect his preparation.
"I'm focused," he said, "on beating Oklahoma."
Four members of the UO defense met with media following practice Friday. All four had potential distractions to process outside of those affecting the team as a whole. Happle's career is coming to an end. Verone McKinley III is generating some buzz as an NFL draft prospect. Jackson LaDuke is on the tail end of a second straight season largely lost to injury. And Jeffrey Bassa, along with LaDuke, is about to lose his position coach and the man who recruited him to Oregon, Ken Wilson, to Nevada, where Wilson recently was named head coach.
But Wilson, like the rest of Oregon's assistants this season, is still in Eugene helping the Ducks prepare for the Alamo Bowl, despite the departure of former head coach Mario Cristobal. The staff is playing out the season here, and players say they're committed to doing the same.
"We're kind of approaching it as, we owe it to ourselves, with all we've gone through this year," said LaDuke, who made his season debut in November after rehabbing a knee injury. "We've earned this bowl game, so now we've gotta go earn a win."
Bassa even used the same "1-0" mantra that Cristobal turned into a team motto for this season.
"Everybody's focus is still here," Bassa said. "We're still focused on Oklahoma, bettering ourselves everyday and just to be 1-0 in our process."
McKinley said after Oregon's loss to Utah in the Pac-12 title game that the Ducks had a choice to make — either get beat again in their bowl game, or set the tone for a successful 2022 season by finishing out 2021 the right way. On Friday, his message was no different.
"The last game we played, it wasn't too hot," McKinley said. "To go out there and have another opportunity, against a good Oklahoma team, is huge for us. We're excited about it."
Practice highlights: Each side of the ball recorded a win in a 2-minute drill that required a field goal to win. Dont'e Thornton caught a pass in traffic and gained a big chunk of yardage to set up a 41-yard field goal that Camden Lewis drilled. With the twos on the field, Bryan Addison won the scenario for the defense with an interception. … A "good on good" drill conducted in the red zone featured touchdown passes from Ty Thompson to Spencer Webb and from Jay Butterfield to Troy Franklin. …
Avante Dickerson had a nice pass breakup in 7-on-7 down in the red zone, continuing a strong week of practice for the freshman. … In 1-on-1 drills, Happle broke up a couple balls in the end zone while Webb and Kris Hutson caught touchdown passes. … Cross Patton and Jaylin Davies put the "thud" in thud tempo with a really loud hit during the first 11-on-11 period of the day.
Other observations: The Ducks practiced without Devon Williams, who announced Thursday he was entering the NFL Draft and would bypass the bowl. Kayvon Thibodeaux also is bypassing the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the draft, while Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu is playing in the bowl before leaving for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. … Cristiano Palazzo is taking placekicks behind Lewis and Will Hutchinson is the backup for kickoffs in the absence of Henry Katleman, who entered the transfer portal along with cornerback DJ James and defensive tackle Jayson Jones.