EUGENE, Ore--Coming into the spring game the largest question mark regarding the Ducks program was: Who is going to play quarterback in 2016? Both Dakota Prukop and Travis Jonsen started very slow and neither player was jumping off the screen as Oregon quarterbacks tend to do. By the time the second half came around the two quarterbacks started to settle in and come out of their shells and both ended the afternoon with respectable stat lines.
Prukop came out throwing as he attempted nine consecutive passes to start the game and completing seven. Despite the solid attempt/completion ratio, Prukop struggled to get his Mighty Oregon squad on the board till the final play of the first half. A lot of that was due to the fact that he checked down early and often throughout not only the first half but much of the game. According to Rob Moseley of goducks.com, this has been Prukop's MO during spring practices and he carried it over to the spring game. "I think my decision making is a little different in terms of when I know there's not gonna be a quick whistle," Prukop said about the spring game environment, "I might try to take off on a run, pull a few of those zone reads, but my decision-making today was hey let's let the offense get to work, let's let the running back get to work... so, the decision making is a little different than normal." That's not to say that Prukop didn't sling the ball down the field at all, in fact, his first deep shot aimed at freshman Dillon Mitchell was completed in the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown and he hit Mitchell for a touchdown again in the fourth with a 31-yard pass. the two touchdown throws accounted for about a third of all Prukop's yards accumulated through the air and he finished 20/29 passing for 190 yards with two touchdowns and no picks on the afternoon.
Travis Jonsen's afternoon was marked with many highs and lows. On his opening drive he took his squad, the Webfoots, from their own 35 down to the Mighty Oregon 21 yard line before throwing a bad interception right into the hands of a waiting Reggie Daniels. He almost threw a second ugly pick at the end of the first half, after a touchdown was taken off the board, Jonsen rolled to his left at the Mighty Oregon 13 and fired a dart straight into Arrion Springs chest who dropped the easy pick. During his first several drives Jonsen did a good job of mixing up his targets between the receivers and tight ends and making an effort to push the ball down the field. He targeted both Johnny Mundt and Pharaoh Brown often and seemed to have the best route chemistry with the two tight ends. Jonsen settled down in the second half with more consistent play and created the biggest play of the game with a 52-yard strike to a wide open Darren Carrington, who he hit in stride and then walked into the endzone for a touchdown. Jonsen ended with a similar stat line to Prukop's completing 15 of 24 passes for one touchdown and one interception. However the stat that creates the biggest seperation between the two is that Jonson took six sacks compared to Prukop's two. "That's on me, just calling out the blitzes and making sure the o-line you know pushed out to whoever is blitzing," Jonsen said after the game.
The breakout performance of the game belongs to the aforementioned freshman receiver, Dillon Mitchell. He was on the receiving end of two deep touchdowns from Prukop and made plays all afternoon. Mitchell finished the afternoon with a team high seven receptions, 104 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball on an end around once for seven yards. Mitchell's performance was far and away the most statistically satisfying as the next best receiver on the day was Darren Carrington with two catches for 59 yards--52 of which came on the one long touchdown pass from Travis Jonson. Mitchell will have to keep up his high caliber play if he wants to see the field in the fall; two of the Ducks' veteran receivers in Dwayne Stanford (Injury) and Devon Allen (track) didn't participate in this afternoons game but the youngster certainly made the most of his opportunity to shine. "I knew that we were down a couple of wide receivers but they, as well as the ones I was playing with, have pushed me to do good and get better every day," Mitchell said. Dakota Prukop was asked if Mitchell's performance surprised him at all, to which Prukop responded, "No not at all, not at all. If anything I was like, 'man I better get him the ball five more times maybe we'll get two more touchdowns,'" Prukop joked, "He did an awesome job, outstanding... He definitely made me look good today."
On the running back front, Royce Freeman was, as expected, a highly limited participant in today's game and never took a handoff; only a few receptions from Prukop out of the backfield in the first quarter before his day ended. Taj Griffin didn't participate today for unspecified reasons. That left Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit and a handful of others to duke it out for a larger role behind the expected first and second running backs in Freeman and Griffin. Benoit looked a little more explosive as he broke off four runs of 10+ yards, his longest going for 48 yards down to the Webfoots three yeard line. Benoit finished with 104 yards rushing and a touchdown and Brooks-James finished with 75 yards rushing no touchdowns and a long run of 11 yards.
As mentioned above, Pharaoh Brown did participate in the game this afternoon but was limited as well. Brown made his first catch on the Webfoots first drive on a quick one yard arrow route. "It felt pretty good. Getting hit is fine I have no nerves getting hit and catching the ball. I feel great running and getting hit." The catch was greeted by a standing ovation of the 32,000+ fans in attendance that lasted well into the next play. "After the crowd erupted after Pharaoh's first catch, that was awesome," Dakota Prukop said, "It just shows, you know, that the fans care about the players and that was really neat to be apart of that." Brown flashed his renewed athleticism on a 26 yard catch and run on the Webfoots next drive that got his squad into the redzone and onto Mighty Oregon's nine yard line. Brown later admitted that he isn't in full game shape yet and that his next goal is to get conditioned so that he will be able to play a full game and match his production standard.
All-in-all this team still looks to be very much in a developmental stage. The youth of Travis Jonsen and the unfamiliarity with the offense for Dakota Prukop were noticeable this afternoon. The job still looks to be up for grabs after the up and down performance of both the quarterbacks competing in the competition for the starting job. This Oregon team still has a lot of things to bring together on the offensive side of the ball before they are ready to kickoff in the fall, but some big strides were made this afternoon and Ducks fans should be excited by the first real quarterback battle since Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett fought over the starting job prior to the 2012 season. The quarterback who won that job turned out pretty well.