Gold: 3 Takeaways from Oregon's spring game
You’ve gotta love the cigar-chomping Dan Lanning, always preaching go-go-go.
A year after he led the Ducks to an impressive 11-3 record in his first year at the helm, bringing a youthful exuberance to the position along with a no-days-off mentality, Lanning actually legitimized the spring game in a way that far too few head coaches across the country are willing to do.
His Green Team, helmed by star returning quarterback Bo Nix, beat the Ty Thompson-led Yellow team 23-20 in what was more of a defensive showcase than a fireworks show.
Both quarterbacks emerged healthy — even with some bruised egos, maybe, as the defense ruled the day — and the Ducks looked a bit more fluid in Year 2 of Lanning’s system.
Here are three takeaways from what was a productive spring game…
Dan Lanning goes bold with Bo
While most Pac-12 head coaches played it safe with their returning starting quarterbacks, Lanning treated Saturday like the opportunity for improvement it was. I love that.
Nix stayed on the field through the fourth quarter of the live scrimmage, and he wasn’t exactly shy about letting it fly, throwing 40 passes while connecting on 19 of them for 193 yards with a passing touchdown and a late rushing touchdown.
Nix’s best throw was a 33-yard touchdown connection with Troy Franklin, a darkhorse for the Pac-12’s leading receiver in 2023.
Can’t wait to see more Bo Nix ➡️ Troy Franklin touchdown passes this season! 🤩#Pac12FB | @oregonfootball pic.twitter.com/1K4ghdGOmQ
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 29, 2023
While it wasn’t a perfect day for Nix or his primary backup, Thompson — both of whom were flummoxed by a surprisingly sound pass defense (more on that later) — it was nice to see Oregon giving its two most important players a good look.
Why two most important players? Nix is obvious. Thompson, less so, but we saw what can happen when Nix goes down for even a series or two, like he did in a late-season loss to Washington. Thompson was wholly overwhelmed when pressed into action, so getting some authentic spring seasoning was imperative.
He went 16-for-34 passing for 274 yards and two touchdowns, rebounding from an 0-for-6 start to the game.
“That’s football a little bit, right?” Lanning said. “You know we had some bad balls early, some adversity early, didn’t complete some, some slow starts. And then be able to get some shots there at the end, I think that was big.”
Lanning made it clear in the postgame presser that he was intending to make Saturday as legitimate as possible.
“That was the plan,” he said. “We were going to play football today and try to get better at football.”
Ducks defense flies to the football
Maybe it was just an off day for the quarterbacks, or maybe the Oregon pass defense has just taken a step after a year in Lanning’s system.
The former Georgia defensive coordinator was brought to Eugene in part to add a bit of toughness and edge to what has typically been a finesse team. But in some of Oregon’s biggest games last year, the defense wilted.
Lanning welcomed a handful of potential impact transfers, including safety Evan Williams (Fresno State) and cornerback Khyree Jackson (Alabama). The Duck defense looked feisty and ready to hold up its end of the bargain.
“I think we’re a more physical team, I think it starts really upfront, but it certainly carries over in the back end,” Lanning said. “We have some guys that can make plays on balls, which is a positive.”
That wasn’t the big issue for Oregon last season — the Ducks had 16 interceptions.
But physicality and discipline were, and that’s what Lanning has set out to address.
Oregon is the most talented team in the conference. It doesn't mean they win the conference. But it's hard to ignore the potential if the defense is improved. https://t.co/wk2nsZCaPA
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) April 29, 2023
Where does Oregon go from here?
While some of the Ducks’ biggest Pac-12 competition has been particularly active in this brief transfer portal window, Oregon has been relatively quiet. No one expected Year 2 of the Lanning Era to be like Year 1 — or anywhere close to what is happening in Boulder — but USC has shown it is still open for business.
Might Oregon be, too?
Lanning has some questions coming out of spring ball, and his biggest worry — the state of the offensive line — is valid, as Oregon lost 4 starters from its magnificent line of 2022.
“Do we really truly have the depth to play as many players as we’d like to play?” he said, when asked about his biggest remaining questions o on the roster now going forward. “We’re gonna go back and you know, continue to evaluate that. How do things sort out really on the offensive line for us? I think we have to take a hard look at that and figure out where we’re the best there and there’s just a lot of pieces right? A lot of pieces of the puzzle.”