Alamo Bowl reps for Ty Thompson would have been nice, now Oregon's QB picture gets interesting
Ty Thompson played no offensive snaps in a game he should have started.
And when Oregon fell down 30-3 after the first half and it was obvious what direction the Alamo Bowl was headed and what the outcome would be—Oklahoma left little doubt, winning 47-32—there was no reason to keep the young quarterback on the sideline but on the sideline was where he remained.
To be completely fair to interim head coach Bryan McClendon, there were few who expected the first-year freshman quarterback to supplant Anthony Brown, a sixth-year senior and the season-long starter, in Brown’s final game. McClendon said as much in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s bowl game.
And there’s also no obligation or incentive for an outgoing staff to make the job of the incoming guys any easier. Playing Thompson would have given new head coach Dan Lanning a data point as the team heads into an offseason quarterback competition, but if McClendon and the rest of the offensive staff felt it would only serve long-term gains and not offer them immediate results, a staff coaching one more game wasn’t going to pull that card.
“As a coach once said in a press conference, you play to win the game,” McClendon told reporters in mid-December. “So you want to make sure you do everything you can to make sure you do that. If winning and losing didn’t matter then you wouldn’t keep score. As long as we’re going to go out there and play, we’re going to do everything we can to give our kids the best chance to win the football game.”
Brown led the Ducks to the Alamo Bowl and to a 14th-place ranking heading into the game. He quarterbacked Oregon to a Pac-12 title game and a 10-win season. Brown threw for 2,683 yards and 15 scores this year, the second-best yardage total by a Pac-12 quarterback.
But his inconsistent play was hard to ignore.
Brown was booed in a home win over Cal, and he threw for 244 yards and a touchdown against no interceptions that day. He had three outings this season where he completed less than 50% of his passes. In an unsightly loss to Stanford, he had just 186 yards and an interception. In the two losses to Utah, he completed 51% of his throws, averaged 6.4 yards per pass attempt (season average was 7.7) and threw two picks while the Ducks’ offense mustered only 17 points.
You can understand McClendon’s evaluation of his options, but the book is largely written on what Brown can give this Oregon offense and what he can’t. The Alamo Bowl was his final game. You can respect the coaching staff for giving him the opportunity to end his career on the field. And yet it played out how most expected it would.
Brown was picked off on the Ducks’ fourth offensive play; he threw behind his man and into heavy traffic. He threw at his receivers’ feet. He missed a deep ball to a receiver who’d beaten his man cleanly. He led a receiver sitting into the soft spot of a zone rather than driving it on frame. He made some nice second-half throws to wide-open Oregon receivers, sure, but the final 30 minutes were mostly academic.
Complicating matters was Brown’s admission after the game that he’d played and been playing through pain.
“Shit—excuse my language—but I played through a lot,” Brown said. “It was hard. … It hurts, just to play through everything that I’ve been through, whether it was the hand, my foot, knee. Didn’t really matter. I didn’t care, because it was all for them (teammates). … There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. Was I playing on that borderline? Probably. But for them, I’d give my body up. I don’t care.”
A coaching staff should, though.
Perhaps Thompson isn’t ready. The rebuttal there would be how exactly does one get ready if not allowed to learn on the job?
Against a Power Five opponent in a low-expectation setting when the opposing defense has very little tape to go off of feels like it’d be as good a spot as any to give a young quarterback a shot. Especially so if the receivers on the field are backups who haven’t been working with Brown much on the year.
Thompson threw 15 passes in three games as a true freshman. If he’s the guy in 2022, there will be very little known about how he’ll respond when the heat is on and the bullets are flying. And he could have played while still preserving a redshirt year.
Even if playing would have burned a redshirt, at the rate quarterbacks are changing schools there’s no reason to make a guy sit and wait in the name of “saving” a fifth year; it might never come.
The 4-star out of Arizona became the highest-rated quarterback prospect the Ducks had signed in the 247 era when he joined the program this past offseason. He’s young. He’ll grow. He’ll make mistakes as he does. Game reps Wednesday could have been useful.
Auburn transfer Bo Nix will join the program this offseason, reuniting with new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham—Nix’s coach in 2019 at Auburn when he was a first-year starter. You’d think that if Nix were to pick Oregon he’d have at least an inkling the chance to start is good. Given Nix’s name, he might have been able to go wherever, and given his eligibility clock, he’s not going somewhere to sit behind another.
Now, questions about where Thompson fits into things going forward are certainly here to stay.
And, for that matter, the same can be said of 4-star 2020 signee Jay Butterfield, who has thrown just three passes in two seasons with the program now.
Surely Lanning and Dillingham and the rest of the coaching staff will hold a true and honest quarterback competition this offseason as they evaluate what they have and how they want to use it. Nix—or anyone else—will have to earn the job.
Oregon has been looking for the right piece at quarterback since Justin Herbert left. In Marcus Mariota, Oregon had an icon of a generation. In Herbert, the Ducks had a quarterback who seems to be a favorite of this next generation. Given his play with the Los Angeles Chargers, the Ducks have a certain cache they can lean into. There’s a visibility that comes with such territory.
It can be squandered, though, if average-to-mediocre play at the position lingers for too long.
Has Oregon developed a quarterback since Herbert left?
Brown was a transfer nearing the end of his collegiate eligibility. Nix has already played three seasons at Auburn, with the last two years at a .500 level. Again, Brown quarterbacked a 10-win season, but short-term thinking begets short-term thinking and the more you build around transfer quarterbacks the more you’re forced to rely on transfer quarterbacks.
How Lanning and his new staff navigate the quarterback spot will provide plenty of intrigue in the months to come.
Thompson’s scouting profile highlighted a quarterback with prototypical size, a balanced base from which he throws, “elite” arm strength, control and finesse, “smooth mechanics” and an effortless motion. “Candidate to start early in college career,” wrote 247Sports’ Blair Angulo.
While it’s simple to understand why he didn’t, it would have been nice to see Thompson get a shot at the Alamo.