Posted on February 12, 2021
Though there was already sufficient intrigue surrounding the quarterback position in Eugene following an up and down 2020 season with Tyler Shough at the helm, even more mystery was added to the equation with spring practices roughly a month away, as Shough announced via Twitter Friday that he would be entering the NCAA transfer portal as a grad transfer with three years of eligibility remaining.
Many blessings and opportunities ahead! Hebrews 11:1 pic.twitter.com/e8MyWCwyn6
— Tyler Shough (@tylershough2) February 12, 2021
A starter in all seven games for the Ducks in 2020, Shough’s play, in large part, mirrored the performances delivered by Oregon during a COVID-shortened season. As the Ducks reeled off three straight wins to begin the year, Shough’s youth and inexperience reared its ugly head at times, though it didn’t prevent the redshirt sophomore from posting impressive numbers. He completed over 66 percent of his passes for 873 yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions during that stretch.
The second half of the season, however, was a different story.
Beginning with Oregon’s shocking loss on the road at Oregon State in late November, the season for the Ducks and Shough started taking a turn for the worse.
Shough’s two-interception effort against the Beavers was compounded the following week on the road at Cal when Shough and the Oregon offense turned in arguably their most uneven performance of the season.
Despite holding a 17-14 lead at halftime, the Ducks were shut out in the second half at Berkeley, as Shough’s inability to take care of the football and efficiently direct the offense in the loss became a major talking point with the season drawing to a close.
The shattered nature of Shough’s confidence was on full display in the Pac-12 Championship Game two weeks later vs. USC, as the downfield passing game was obsolete and the overall game plan became undeniably vanilla with Shough in the game.
It also marked the first time all season that Duck fans got to see backup quarterback Anthony Brown get inserted into a game situation, with the Boston College grad transfer emerging from the contest as a intriguing alternative to Shough, who finished 8-of-15 for 91 yards, two touchdowns and one interception as Oregon claimed the Pac-12 title.
Though Shough would get the starting nod against Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl, it was apparent his leash was short, as Mario Cristobal and the Oregon coaching staff pivoted to Brown after Shough saw action on the Ducks’ first two possessions of the game (completing all three of his pass attempts).
Shough would reappear late in the fourth quarter with the game more or less out of hand, but his interception with just over three minutes remaining in the contest punctuated both the Ducks’ season and his career at Oregon.
In some ways, it’s hard not to empathize with Shough, particularly given the way the quarterback competition was handled by Cristobal and the coaching staff towards the end of the season.
There’s no doubt that Shough’s play on the field had regressed dramatically as the season wore on, but the on-again, off-again nature of the quarterback rotation between Shough and Brown did nothing to help either player work themselves into a groove, and likely served to only further exacerbate Shough’s floundering confidence.
Still, tactics aside, it was painfully clear that Cristobal and Company were going to be faced with serious questions at quarterback, regardless of who returned to the roster heading into 2021.
With Shough officially moving on, Brown now becomes the odds-on favorite to open the spring and perhaps even the season as the Ducks’ starting quarterback, though it doesn’t necessarily reduce the speculation at the position moving forward.
In fact, one could argue that Shough’s departure opens up an even greater range of possibilities for the Ducks at quarterback next season.
Despite not seeing any game action during his first year in Eugene, Butterfield solidified himself as the Ducks’ third-string quarterback, surpassing Ashford and Cale Millen, who also recently entered the transfer portal.
A former four-star prospect and the son of former Stanford quarterback Mark Butterfield, Jay Butterfield possesses the size and arm talent to, at the very least, challenge for a backup role should he lose out in the competition for the starting job.
Ashford, on the other hand, has a skill set that more resembles Brown’s in many ways with regard to his dual-threat abilities and perceived fit in offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s offense. Like Butterfield, Ashford is a four-star prospect, though unlike Butterfield, the Hoover, Ala. native didn’t have the advantage of arriving on campus last winter to get a head start on his development.
An accomplished baseball player to boot, it will be interesting to see how Ashford juggles his dual-sport responsibilities now that the quarterback competition has opened considerably.
The name gathering the most buzz, however, is Thompson. The highest-rated quarterback recruit in program history, Thompson is already on campus and participating in winter conditioning. He’s also a player who Cristobal has publicly mentioned (even prior to Shough’s departure) as a player who will factor heavily into the quarterback battle this spring and into the fall.
Blessed with a big arm, great mobility, and the pedigree as a three-time state champion from Arizona, it would be no stretch to call Thompson the fan favorite as this competition unfolds.
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