The Friday 5: It's time to get familiar with Anthony Brown
On Oregon's new starting quarterback, Ty Thompson's future, Sam Noyer's homecoming at Oregon State and the welcomed return of fans to college football stadiums.
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EUGENE — Oregon center Alex Forsyth admits he didn’t really know quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. well last year. That’s not either of the players’ faults. It was just hard to get to know anybody during the pandemic season. Brown didn’t even arrive in Eugene until after the chaos began.
But the two players have grown closer since spring practice, a process sparked after coaches assigned them neighboring lockers in the dressing room.
“I’m sure there was some intention there,” the junior joked.
Things weren’t always smooth in 2020, Forsyth said, especially early in the season as the Ducks broke in five first-year starters on the offensive line and a first-year starting quarterback in Tyler Shough. Whether it was the intended effect of a coach’s master plan or not, the improving chemistry between the quarterback and center is a key piece in boosting a total offense that ranked sixth in the Pac-12.
Forsyth said he and Brown text each other about blitzes and protections. They share film notes and have a far better understanding of each other as players and teammates than a year ago.
“He’s a flatliner,” Forsyth said. “I love that because sometimes guys can have high energy one day and low energy the next. You don’t want it to be like that. He’s got the best energy because he’s the same every single day.”
Brown’s consistency is impressive considering it’s been 700 days since his last start. He’s since returned from a second knee surgery, transferred 3,000 miles away from Boston College, joined Oregon mid-pandemic and never truly had a chance of competing for the 2020 starting job — not with a shortened season, COVID protocols and Shough on the depth chart.
But Shough transferred in January, leaving Brown as the only quarterback on the roster with a collegiate attempt to his name. Yes, Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford all took leaps from spring to summer to fall.
Brown worked, too.
“I would say it’s more focused and detailed,” Brown said of how his preparation has evolved throughout his career. “It’s knowing what I’m looking for. Knowing what I’m looking to go watch. Knowing what I’m working on. That’s the biggest difference from when I was younger to now.”
Preparation this summer involved a trip to the Manning Passing Academy, where Brown served as a counselor. He also dug into biomechanics with offensive analyst Nate Costa, utilizing science to analyze every movement in a quest for efficiency.
“I’m less into the numbers than I am knowing where my power is coming from,” Brown said.
Brown never really got to show off that arm during limited 2020 action, other than a 30-yard ball flicked for a would-be touchdown to Mycah Pittman offset by a holding penalty in the Fiesta Bowl. With the weapons the Ducks have out wide, Brown’s ability to get his receivers the ball downfield will be the difference between a good and great Oregon team.
If No. 11 Oregon is a great football team, a whole lot more people are going to be familiar with Anthony Brown.
2. We all kind of wanted to see Thompson though, right?
The Ducks made the correct move in starting Brown. He gives them the best chance to win now and benching a sixth-year senior two games into a season has fewer long-term effects than the other way around.
Thompson should be the real deal for the Ducks. He’s been in their building since January and nothing has shaken the staff’s confidence that the highest-rated quarterback recruit in program history has the talent to do great things. He works hard. He’s curious about how to get better. And, frankly, as a 6-foot-4 and 223-pound freshman, he has a different build than Brown. Oregon could win games with Thompson this season and it would be neat if his time overlapped with Kayvon Thibodeaux’s.
But watching C.J. Stroud’s Ohio State debut Thursday night only reinforced why Brown should be out there. Stroud, a redshirt freshman making his first start, was electric at times. He had 294 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in Ohio State’s 45-31 win over Minnesota. The No. 42 player in the 2020 class is going to be a really good football player, but he was also largely ineffective in the first half, passing for only 58 yards on eight completions with one interception.
That’s a luxury one can afford when playing for No. 4 Ohio State. The Buckeyes have 15 five-stars on their roster right now.
The Ducks have 13 five-stars in program history.
And while Mario Cristobal has dramatically improved Oregon from a talent standpoint in his three-plus years, the Ducks still aren’t deep enough to survive even an inconsistent half of quarterback play against an opponent of Ohio State’s caliber.
Brown should be ready. That’s why he’s here.
3. When Oregon State quarterback Sam Noyer was a sophomore at Beaverton High School, he didn’t go into fall camp expecting to start. Beaverton had a decent returning starter in Bryce Barker, a 6-foot-4 athlete, and coach Bob Boyer had enough depth to be optimistic about turning around 2012’s 1-5 Metro League record. But Noyer’s emergence during preseason camp gave Boyer an option he didn’t have previously: he could move Barker’s frame out to receiver and trot out the sophomore at quarterback.
In Noyer’s first career start, he rewarded Boyer’s move with 193 yards and three total touchdowns in Beaverton’s 35-6 win over Century.
“It just puts more weapons on the field,” Boyer told Tyson Alger of The Oregonian in 2013. “You have Bryce on one side…and a quarterback who can deliver. (Noyer) didn’t look like a sophomore out there.”
Eight years later, Noyer against finds himself as a surprise starter after being named Oregon State’s No. 1 heading into Saturday’s game at Purdue.
“It’s a privilege,” Noyer told reporters Wednesday. “Now we have to go win some games.”
Noyer started every game at quarterback for Colorado in 2020, passing for 1,101 yards (6 TDs, 7 INTs) and rushing for 208 yards with five scores as the Buffaloes went a surprising 4-2. He transferred home in June and his quick study of Oregon State’s playbook pushed him in front of Chance Nolan when it became clear Tristan Gebbia’s hamstring wasn’t ready to start the season.
“Let’s face it: He had to learn a brand-new offense,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith told The I-5 Corridor. “He’s played a lot, but anytime you’re calling something different — he might have been running the same play but we call it different — there’s a learning curve there and he’s done a good job with it.
“And he walked into our room and he knew that we had some guys with experience. We have some guys who have thrown touchdowns in this league and won some games. So he’s added a bunch and he’s fit in great.”
Nolan is no slouch. The sophomore had six touchdowns and two interceptions in four relief appearances of Gebbia in 2020 and the Beavers would have been OK with the former No. 1 junior college pro-style quarterback winning the job. When Smith arrived in Corvallis there were far more pressing concerns than upgrading talent where they already had some. But that’s where the Beavers are at in 2021, now we’ll see if it’s enough for their first postseason since 2013.
“The bowl game piece is the first goal you’re trying to achieve, but ultimately you’re trying to win each Saturday,” Smith said. “And with where we’re at with our program, I think our guys truly believe that. Everybody on our schedule, if we can play well — we have a great chance to win that game on Saturday.
“And I probably couldn’t have said that a few years ago.”
4. A trio of five-stars highlighted Oregon’s 2020 signing class, with Noah Sewell breaking out during the ensuing season with team a high 45 tackles and Pac-12 freshmen highs in tackles for a loss (6.5) and sacks (2.0). Paired with the established defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, there might not be a better one-two combo in the entire Pac-12.
So you can understand why there’s anticipation for the debuts of 2020’s remaining five-stars Justin Flowe and Dontae Manning.
Flowe was supposed to do what Sewell did. He was the No. 1 linebacker in his class, Sewell the No. 2 and by all accounts — especially Sewell’s Twitter account — Flowe looked like the physical freak he came advertised as during camp last year. But his season ended prematurely with a knee injury and Manning, a cornerback from Kansas City, had a strained hamstring that kept him off the field for all but one game.
Oregon’s defense could have used both. Even with standout seasons from Sewell and Thibodeaux, the Ducks allowed 75 more yards per game than in 2019.
Both are healthy for 2021, and no move signaled the potential impact more than the transfer of Isaac Slade-Matautia to Southern Methodist. Slade-Matautia, a two-year starter at middle linebacker with 127 career tackles, was ahead of Flowe on the depth chart. He was a good player. The Ducks need Flowe to be better.
“I feel like this opportunity is the biggest and I just want to take advantage of it,” Flowe said during camp. “Isaac Slade was a really great linebacker. He was a vet, so he just showed me the way. I’m going to do what I can do to help the team.”
Manning still finds himself battling with third-year freshman Trikweze Bridges to start the opposite side corner of all-conference first-teamer Mykael Wright. Whether he’s the first-snap starter or not, he’ll play significant minutes Saturday against a Fresno State team that averaged 356.3 passing yards per game last season. A strong showing will only make things interesting in the DB room when DJ James and Jamal Hill return from suspension next week.
5. The questions about the fans got old after a while.
We’ve had to ask them them since world flipped, but after a year of asking what it was like to play without fans and the subsequent how excited are you for when they come back, the whole thing felt a bit repetitive. Especially in the thick of the pandemic when, at times, the when in the latter felt like it could be substituted for an if.
But it feels different this week.
Oregon concluded preseason camp over the weekend. A depth chart came out on Monday, coaches and players met for interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday and, as you read this, the Ducks and Beavers are likely going through their Friday walkthroughs.
High school football will be played up and down the Willamette Valley tonight. The evening air feels crisp.
After seven years of covering college football in this state, there are certainly aspects to a football season that can feel monotonous — things that used to feel unique that have dimmed with repetition. But a return to somewhat normal this week is special, and the fans filing into Autzen on Saturday will be at the center of it.
Johnny Johnson III knows this.
The senior receiver has played a prominent role for the Ducks since 2017. He’s back after taking advantage of the NCAA’s “Last year didn’t really happen” exemption, and is only 20 catches, 431 yards and four touchdowns short of finishing his UO career as a top-10 all-time Duck in each category. He’s played in a Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, caught 12 touchdown passes from Justin Herbert and last opened up a season with fans in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
He’s seen a lot, yet, “It feels like it’s brand new again,” Johnson said. “Almost like my first year in college. It feels like that.”
Of course, everything isn’t entirely back to normal. Fans at Autzen need to provide proof of immunization to get in and masks are required. Postgame interviews will still be held through Zoom. The surging COVID-19 numbers throughout the state bring a lingering feeling of “Here we go again.”
But at least for the day, I’m going to enjoy the spectacle of college football again. From the Duck coming out of the tunnel on the motorcycle to “Shout” between the third and fourth quarter.
Hell, bring on the wave.
Football is back. You guys are back. Let’s have a day.
(top photo of Anthony Brown courtesy of Rob Moseley/GoDucks.com)