Canzano: Insider pulls back curtain on Oregon Ducks football
Nate Costa sheds some light on quarterbacks and more.
Nate Costa has seen some stuff over the years in Eugene. The former University of Oregon quarterback played for Chip Kelly, helped coach Marcus Mariota and Justin Herbert, and found himself inside Mario Cristobal’s program last season working with the Ducks’ quarterbacks.
Costa, now at Nevada as an assistant, joined me on Wednesday for a wide-ranging interview on a variety of subjects. Our conversation was candid, authentic and helped answer some questions about what we saw — and didn’t see — last season in Eugene.
UO went with Anthony Brown Jr. as the starter in 2021, but Costa said the coaching staff had extensive discussions and debates week to week about whether Oregon should be playing Ty Thompson more.
“I think Anthony did just enough — just enough — to hold onto that position,” Costa said on Wednesday. “He won us a lot of football games. The quarterback standard at Oregon is very high. It’s a high bar for a guy to try and reach. I don’t think Anthony reached it on a daily basis and the fan base let him hear it from time to time.”
How close were the Ducks to giving Thompson more playing time?
“We had those conversations. We had them early on, we had them midseason, we had an extensive one at halftime of the bowl game against Oklahoma,” Costa said. “We almost made a move (at halftime).”
Thompson, a five-star recruit, now finds himself in a spring football battle with Auburn transfer Bo Nix. If you’re looking to identify Oregon’s biggest sin of the last decade it is the failure to recruit and develop a quarterback. Between and after the wild successes of Mariota and Herbert, UO turned to a line of transfers, experiments and stop gaps.
Costa has been there for it all. He said first-year coach Dan Lanning’s decision to bring Nix to campus creates a “sticky” dynamic for a position group that includes Thompson and Jay Butterfield.
“They essentially shot a round across the bow of every quarterback in that quarterback room,” Costa said.
Still, Costa understands why Lanning did it — Nix has played in 34 games in his college career. He has extensive game experience in the toughest conference in the country.
“Bo has seen those things. He’s seen it at the SEC level and has a better feel for the speed-of-the-game challenges,” Costa said. “It doesn’t mean Bo is going to be the guy, but it’s a slight advantage for Bo Nix.”
I spent a lot of time last season observing Cristobal’s program, wondering about scheme, and wondering how the head coach’s personality might grind on his staff. Also, I wondered why we weren’t seeing more of Thompson in games.
Said Costa: “Anthony did a serviceable job.”
Costa helped answer a variety of other questions…
On Ty Thompson’s strongest skills:
“Big arm. One of the biggest arms I’ve seen in a quarterback. I used to do a thing with the QBs at Oregon where I put them on a radar gun like an MLB prospect. It gives you a general understanding of arm strength. He was putting the football above 60 mph. If you look at the NFL combine numbers that’s an elite number. For a kid that is 18-19 years old to be able to generate that kind of velocity is impressive.”
On where Thompson struggles:
“Speed of the game. He played at a smaller level in high school in Arizona. Adjusting to the speed of Pac-12 football is an adjustment for anyone and he’s still working on that.”
On quarterback Jay Butterfield:
“Butterfield is a coach’s son, understands offense and has a photographic memory and can build plays in his head. What Ty (Thompson) has in arm strength, Jay has in accuracy… he’s one of those guys that you don’t notice in year 1, 2 or 3, but in year 4 and 5 you’re going to be ‘Oh my gosh, who is this guy?!?’”
On the impact of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead missing the Stanford game:
“Massive… I was the quarterback coach for that game. But ultimately I’m not the same as the coach you have there every day… Anthony’s play that game struggled a little bit because of Joe not being there… we were in the game and we weren't sure Joe was going to make it.”
On the toughest defensive match-up in the Pac-12:
“Cal — I think Cal is probably the best coached team in the Pac-12. I think year in and year out Justin Wilcox does more with less. Overall they recruit hard-nosed, intelligent kids and get them to play really hard. They play a sound scheme and the coaching staff in general puts players in position to make plays. They beat us in the Covid year, beat us in 2020 in Berkeley. That never should have happened but they did it with superior scheme and coaching.”
Costa on what he learned from Mario Cristobal:
“Work ethic, he’s one of the hardest working men in college football. He wasn’t just sitting behind a desk, guarding his desk. He was constantly working; text messaging recruits, FaceTiming recruits, hitting me up about what game plan I liked on third down, hitting Joe Moorhead up and asking about the install for spring football, he was constantly on top of everybody in the building.”
On defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux:
“I have text messages and missed phone calls on my phone every day after practice from NFL scouts — 49ers, Eagles, Tampa Bay Bucs — every one of them asking me questions about Kayvon… I think he’s a dual threat. I think he’s a very intelligent young man and he’s going to align himself with the right people off the field. He’s going to make himself a boat load of money both on the field and off the field.”
On the questions about Thibodeaux’s motor:
“I get the questions about his motor. I think he can take plays off from time to time. But when you’re in a position being like him and you have a 320-pound left tackle trying to rip your face off I think everybody can take a play off from time to time. I think he’s a sensational player. I hated matching up against him in practice because he made it hard for my quarterbacks to get a pass off.”
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Interesting take from Costa about Oregon being outcoached by CAL. We know Mario doesn't have a sterling rep for game management - and Nate's comments indicate his staff knows it. As for the QB battle, glad I don't have to make that decision. You'd hope for Ty to live up to his hype, but man, I love the Nix experience factor - especially heading into Atlanta. I'm just hoping if Nix get's the nod, Ty Thompson doesn't immediately enter the Portal.
Great interview, John. Ducks can’t repeat the sin. Start and invest in Thompson, Bo backs up!