‘We probably took more shots today than any spring game combined’: Oregon’s offense dials it up
The Yellow team beat the Green team at Oregon’s spring game, but the talk in Eugene centered around an offense without training wheels
EUGENE — Alex Forsyth has been around Eugene long enough to know that comparing anything to the Chip Kelly years carries some weight to it.
The Oregon center is finishing up his fifth spring here, and for most of those years his Ducks have been chasing the ghosts of one of the most explosive offenses in football history.
So there was part of him earlier this week that paused when sophomore running back/WR Seven McGee compared Oregon’s new system under offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham to those great offenses of Oregon’s past.
“We like to always look forward and not too much backward,” Forsyth said Saturday.
Then Oregon’s spring game happened.
And while the score doesn’t really matter — the Yellow team beat the Green team 31-21 — what Forsyth saw did. And what he saw was McGee hauling in a Bo Nix pass for 70 yards on the game’s first play. He saw flea-flickers and downfield attempts and chunk plays after chunk plays. He even heard an impressed Don Essig come over Autzen Stadium’s loudspeakers to rile up the crowd with an “Are we having fun yet?” early in the first quarter.
They were. So were the players.
“We probably took more shots today than I think we’ve taken in any spring game combined,” Forsyth said. “It was cool to see.”
The Ducks played with tempo Saturday. All three quarterbacks — Bo Nix, Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield — were tasked with an array of short, medium and long throws, with the transfer Nix appearing comfortably ahead of his younger teammates.
Oregon coach Dan Lanning has yet to name a starter, but it’s no mystery who goes into the summer as the clubhouse leader.
“That was awesome,” Nix said. “With the crowd like that, it was an impressive spring game. I wasn’t expecting that many people for the spring game. The atmosphere was really fun.”
Nix, who was 8-of-15 for 230 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, moves to 2-0 in his career against the Ducks. He looked especially steady after shaking off a mid-game JJ Greenfield interception.
“We just wanted to execute and have some drives and explosive plays that ended in touchdowns,” Nix said. “And we did that.”
Nix’s last pass of the game was taken 70 yards to the house by sophomore Dont’e Thornton, who finished the game with a pair of scores.
Thompson was 12-of-27 for 127 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Butterfield finished 16-of-26 for 215 yards with a touchdown and pick.
Transfer running back Noah Whittington led all rushers with 84 yards and a touchdown.
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After four years of playing relatively conservative football in Mario Cristobal’s system, Oregon’s players seemed joyous by the feeling of wide-open football. It was especially thrilling for McGee, who committed to Oregon in 2018 and idolized the gadget players in Kelly’s offenses, like De’Anthony Thomas. The former Oregon speedster was on hand Saturday as an honorary coach and greeted McGee on the sidelines after that first drive with a handshake.
“We want to bring that back,” McGee said. “But we also want to be a physical team. We don’t want to just be based off speed, speed, speed. We want to be physical. We want to be fast. We want to be a team.”
McGee initially committed to Oregon under Cristobal, then put his name in the transfer portal when the former Oregon coach left for the Miami job. One of Lanning’s first recruiting successes as head coach came when he convinced McGee to stick around, pitching the New Yorker on an offense that would utilize his skills in space — like certain Oregon offenses of the past.
And it was Friday night inside the Moshofsky Center when McGee had a feeling he was going to go off the next day at Autzen. Nix had called a meeting for the offense, where they went over plays and strategy and a bunch of, “If this happens, then do this.”
So when they lined up on Saturday for the first play of the game and realized they had a mismatch, well, they took a shot.
“Me and Bo were on the same page,” McGee said.
Then he doubled down.
“Looking at what Oregon should have been and what Oregon could have been — now we’re bringing back the Chip Kelly offense where we’re creating space and putting players in space,” he said. “It was wonderful.”
— Tyson Alger
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