Canzano: Oregon Ducks belong to quarterback Bo Nix -- for now
UO spring game shines light on QBs.
EUGENE — It’s Bo Nix’s team. There’s no other reasonable takeaway after watching the Oregon Ducks’ spring game on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
Nix engineered a couple of impressive touchdown drives, avoided sloppy mistakes, and looked like a quarterback capable of closing out games. A lot could happen between now and when Oregon faces Georgia in the season opener on Sept. 3 but the quarterback battle feels like Nix’s job to lose.
I love the kid’s arm. His first pass attempt of the game traveled 61 yards in the air, but fell incomplete. The redshirt sophomore-to-be followed that up with a couple of very nice throws. But I’m convinced that the biggest holes in Thompson’s game — maturity and experience — are things he can’t really do much about right now.
Here’s a fun fact:
Nix’s total college pass attempts: 1,507.
That became apparent over four quarters and a running clock on Saturday. One of the biggest challenges Oregon coach Dan Lanning will face in the coming months is convincing Thompson to stay out of the transfer portal. Because even as the Ducks feel like Nix’s team, Thompson is still the future of the UO program.
My UO quarterback ranking:
It’s Nix and it’s not close. An assistant working for another Division I program told me this week, “I’d expect that room to thin out a bit.” I love that players have the transfer portal available to them, but should Nix earn the starting job I’d like to see Butterfield and Thompson stick around, get more game experience, and see what happens.
Oregon gave Thompson a ton of reps in the spring game on Saturday. It’s evident they like his skills and want him to feel valued. But Nix was decidedly better.
Lanning can’t afford to make the same mistake Mario Cristobal made last season. Oregon needs to get Thompson involved, possibly as early as Week 2 vs. Eastern Washington and keep him involved throughout the season.
Some other important stuff:
• I liked a lot of what I saw from Dan Lanning’s team on Saturday. The Ducks fly around and have good speed. They looked organized, focused and played with purpose. Lanning is 35 years old and is a first-time head coach. If you’re among those who wondered if Lanning knows how to organize a practice and a scrimmage, you can rest easy. So far, the new guy looks like he knows what he’s doing.
• Oregon executed kickoffs, punts and kicked field goals and extra points on Saturday. Lanning clearly wanted this to feel and look like a simulated game. The Ducks even blocked a punt and had some nice kickoff returns. It was a very different feel from the abbreviated scrimmage that Oregon State held a week ago at Reser Stadium. Beavers’ coach Jonathan Smith made no secret of the fact that he was focused on avoiding injuries in the spring.
• Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham told me this week that his offense will be like “basketball on grass.” He wants to get his talented skill position players in space vs. opposing defenders and let them shine. If the spring practice is any indicator, we’re going to see the ball in the air a lot next season. If you missed my podcast with Dillingham — give it a listen.
• A staffer in Oregon’s sports information department leaned in to me on Saturday as the spring game went to the fourth quarter and told me, “We’re estimating 42,000 in attendance today. That’s an estimate.” It was a sunny day with temperatures in the 60s and the turnout was tremendous. It felt more like 25,000-30,000 to me. It’s their house, though.
• Oregon vs. Georgia on Sept. 3 is the annual “Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.” The total team payout for the game is $6 million split between the participating teams, per a source.
• Last year’s season-opening event featured Alabama vs. Miami and drew 9.1. million viewers. When Oregon played at Ohio State in Week 2 last season, the FOX broadcast drew 7.75 million viewers.
• The Pac-12 is 0-1 all-time in this “Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.” Auburn beat Washington 21-16 in 2018. The SEC is 15-2 in the event.
• Oregon defensive back Darren Barkins squared off against five fans in a 40-yard dash at halftime of the spring game. One catch — Barkins started 10 yards behind the fans and had to run 50 yards. He finished third, just a couple of yards off the pace. I watched and enjoyed the novelty of it.
• Don Essig, the legendary voice of Autzen Stadium, had a couple of nice moments during the spring game. Mat Kearney’s song “Coming Home” was played between quarters and the stadium continued to sing it long after the PA system cut off the music. Essig quipped, “Well done there… by the Autzen Stadium Choir.”
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