When Willie Taggart took over as coach of the Oregon football program, it was very apparent that there was a new sheriff in town. Saturday was just another example.
The Oregon football program took to the road for a spring scrimmage at Portland’s Jesuit High School, something that hasn’t been done in recent history.
Taggart said: “The football Gods looked out for us today, had a beautiful day here in Portland. Just driving up and seeing the line outside was great to see. Just solidified what I always thought about our fan base, they’re passionate about Oregon football.”
Taggart continued: “It’s part of our biggest fan base up here in Portland. And every Saturday home games we ask our fans to come down and support us and I think it’s only right here in the spring for us to be able to come up here and allow them to see their football team.”
The line at Jesuit Stadium started to form over two hours before the gates opened. Approximately 3,000 fans came out to support the Ducks. The energy and enthusiasm from the crowd started high and only intensified when the Ducks took the field.
As the first offense took the field against the first defense a great majority of the crowd were on their feet. Quarterback Justin Herbert bobbled the low snap from center Jake Hanson, rolled left, and threw the ball deep across the middle to sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell. Senior cornerback Arrion Springs made the first big play of the game as he jumped the route and intercepted the pass.
The defensive sideline erupted, led by defensive line coach Joe Salave'a, who was constantly cheering and encouraging the defense, along with defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.
As the scrimmage developed, the coaching staff would set up different scenarios to challenge the different offensive and defensive units. Some of the scenarios were 1st-and-goal from the five-yard line, 3rd-and-long from midfield, and 2nd-and-15 from the 25.
Senior running back Royce Freeman was the best player on the field the whole day and ran with the first-team offense. He scored two touchdowns on the ground, and was a large factor in the passing game on screens and check downs. Before the scrimmage, Freeman said about the expectations of the team heading into the season: “If you don’t wanna win every game, then you shouldn’t be out there.” His play backed that up in Portland.
A match up that was entertaining all afternoon was between senior wide receiver Darren Carrington II and true freshman corner back Thomas Graham Jr. Carrington got the best of Graham on a deep fly route down the right sideline for a touchdown, afterwards flexing to the audience and earning one of the largest cheers of the day.
Other observations from the scrimmage:
- Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland looks to have the stranglehold on the starting tight end position. He and Herbert have great chemistry and connected on three red zone touchdowns.
- Sophomore wide receiver Malik Lovette made a great impression with the second-team offense. He was a reliable target for quarterback Travis Jonsen.
- Freshman defensive tackle Jordon Scott played with the first team defense and was a vocal leader on the field. Taggart praised Scott afterwards for his attitude and execution.
- While Freeman was the best player on the field, the drop-off to backup running back Kani Benoit wasn’t significant. The Ducks have a ton of talent in the backfield, just like last season.
After the scrimmage was over, the fans started to funnel out as the team met at midfield. The fans that stuck around were in for a treat when the whole team and coaching staff walked to the fence and shook hands, signed autographs, and took pictures with every fan that stuck around.
There is a reason that Taggart, when talking about the Portland fans, referred to the Ducks as “their football team." This is a conscious effort to connect with fans, recruits, and boosters in-state.
The Ducks’ spring game is April 29 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.