What did we learn about Oregon's Tyler Shough?
Everyone knew what Oregon needed to watch coming into this season. The loss of Justin Herbert and four linemen (five when tackle Penei Sewell opted out) put a huge dent in the offense, and there were major questions surrounding those positions. Tyler Shough figured to take over for Herbert, and won the starting job against Stanford this weekend. It was our first glimpse of what he could do, so now is a great time to look at what we learned about Shough and what that means for the Ducks.
New offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead kept things simple, as was to be expected for a first time starter. Oregon didn't ask Shough to do too much against the Cardinal, but they also let him take his shots every once in a while. Play action and quick reads kept him in rhythm, but were also effective. You could tell it was his first time, as he was hesitant at times to make certain throws. Maybe cautious or playing it safe is a better way to describe it. He only threw for 227 yards on 26 pass attempts Saturday, but showed that he can push the ball down the field as well.
The reason why this throw was so important for Shough and the Ducks is the fact that it was so early in the game. Normally a new quarterback might need time to get comfortable and into the flow of the game, but he didn't waste any time. Throwing to a talent like receiver Mycah Pittman is typically a safe bet, but Shough put the ball in a spot where only Pittman could come down with it. He got a little help from a one-handed catch, but the throw was a statement throw. Teams can't just load the box and dare Shough to beat them, because he's already shown that he has an arm.
This back shoulder throw was another example. Now, I understand that Shough isn't Justin Herbert, and doesn't have the arm strength that Herbert displayed, but it gives Oregon confidence that their offense will continue to be explosive. We should also shout out the receivers here too. Johnny Johnson, Mycah PIttman, and even tight end DJ Johnson made some critical plays Saturday. They weren't always crazy catches like the two plays above, but they came at big times in the game. The passing game got off to a good start, even if there's still work to do.
One thing that came back which we haven't seen from the Oregon offense in a while is the rushing attack. Well, not the rushing attack as a whole (we'll get to that), but adding the quarterback in as a consistent threat with his legs. Shough rushed for 85 yards on 11 carries (7.7 yards per carry) with a score. His legs surprised many this weekend, not because anyone thought he wasn't mobile, but the level at which he could make plays with his legs stood out.
What does this mean for Oregon? With Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State seemingly locking up three College Football Playoff spots, the fourth remains wide open. While I'm not ready to declare Oregon a playoff team, it's a step in the right direction. Even with five new offensive linemen, the Ducks offense averaged 6.7 yards per carry and didn't allow a single sack. That's also huge for a quarterback trying to build his confidence. Shough and the offense needed to prove something early in the 2020 season, and they made a statement. Even with things to work on, this Ducks team will be a competitor for that final playoff spot, and Slough is already showing signs that makes this team scary.