By Rob Moseley
Venue: Autzen Stadium
One of the most cliché deals in sportswriting is to use, when there’s a big momentum swing to document, a twist on the first line of “A Tale of Two Cities." I’m not going to go all Dickens on you here, but by now you may have a sense of how the first scrimmage of Oregon’s preseason camp played out.
From the start, the defense carried over its momentum from two solid practices Monday, controlling play in Autzen Stadium on Tuesday afternoon. With officials on hand and the hitting live, the offense was unable to drive to any points in a clutch scenario to start the scrimmage. The next couple of team periods were marked by turnovers and dropped passes.
Coming out of a special teams period, Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher did their best to get some emotion building on the offensive sideline. Prior to the start of the next team period, Steve Greatwood told the offensive line in no uncertain terms that it was time to wake up and get going.
From that point on, touchdowns came fast and furious. Thus did both sides of the ball come out of Tuesday’s scrimmage with things to like and things to fix as double days resume Wednesday.
“We can’t ever afford to come out as lethargic as we did,” Greatwood said. “I got after them and they responded, mentally and physically. Pleased with that, but definitely not pleased with the way we started.”
Prior to the jump-start from the offensive line, the scrimmage had only seen three scoring plays – two on special teams. Devon Allen took one to the house against the No. 3 punt team, and Johnathan Loyd did likewise on the first rep for the No. 1 punt return team. In between, Allen got behind the secondary and hauled in a long touchdown pass from Jeff Lockie.
Allen later added another touchdown reception from Taylor Alie. It was his second straight major scrimmage with multiple trips to the end zone, after he scored twice in the spring game before going on to win the NCAA and USA Track & Field titles in the 110-meter hurdles this summer.
Allen said his legs are getting readjusted to all the start-stop running in football. Generally he hasn’t stood out too much from the pack in practices, but he seems to have a knack in big moments.
“I definitely think I can be one of those guys,” Allen said. “I just feel real confident with the way I’ve been practicing. … It’s starting to click a little bit, and I’m feeling more comfortable.”
Among defenders, outside linebacker Tyson Coleman’s play jumped out. Playing in his first live action since the Civil War, Coleman nearly had a pick-six midway through the day, and he had several open-field tackles later, though on drives that ultimately reached the end zone.
“I feel all right,” Coleman said. “I’m still adjusting to getting back out there and running around. My main thing is just getting back in shape. Other than that I feel good.”
Many of Oregon’s most veteran players took few snaps, if any, and Coleman said that might help explain why the scrimmage began to tip toward the offense later in the afternoon. When potential starters like DeForest Buckner, Tony Washington and Rodney Hardrick weren’t on the field, it showed.
“We lost a little bit of communication out there, and also just experience,” Coleman said. “I think that had a lot to do with it.”
Highlights: When the defense had it rolling, a Hardrick tackle in the backfield and sack by T.J. Daniel spoiled one drive, Henry Mondeaux stopped Royce Freeman in his tracks and Khalil Oliver broke up a pass in the end zone. (Freeman took one to the house on the play after Mondeaux’s tackle, but it was waved off due to a penalty.) Grant Thompson had a fumble recovery, and Justin Hollins recovered a fumble forced by Isaac Ava.
The offense first got going during a red-zone period. Loyd caught a touchdown from Lockie, and Austin Daich caught one from Alie. Matt Wogan made field goals of 32 and 26 yards; he hit the upright with his first kick of the day but was perfect afterward, including a make from 41 yards out. During a period focused on run plays, the offense got touchdowns on the ground from Thomas Tyner, Lockie, Kenny Bassett (twice) and Kani Benoit. Allen and Daich added their second touchdowns during the drill.
The clutch period to start practice, which featured no scoring, had required the offense to set up a “game-winning” field goal. Later a drill was run with a touchdown needed, and the offense converted on a Lockie pass to Johnny Mundt, an Alie run and a Tony James reception from Morgan Mahalak.
Other observations: UO coach Mark Helfrich said in the post-practice huddle his MVP of the day was Daich, who took reps at receiver, tight end, the kickoff team and scout-team special teams. … The offense seemed particularly effective with Jake Fisher at left tackle and Andre Yruretagoyena on the right side. … Hamani Stevens and Jake Pisarcik got some reps at center during the period with all the rushing touchdowns. … On Loyd’s punt return, Mondeaux stuck with the play and dove to trip him up at the 10-yard line or so, but Loyd kept his footing. … As Helfrich noted on media day, one new player’s arrival was held up by an administrative error, but defensive lineman Austin Maloata was on hand as of Tuesday. …
Defensive coordinator Don Pellum was in the booth. He noted earlier this month that he might stay on the sideline for next week’s scrimmage before deciding where he’ll be for games. … Officials repeatedly warned players and coaches to back off the sidelines, a point of emphasis this year in which the penalty structure has been modified. … True freshman Jimmie Swain was on the field for the first rep with the kickoff team, and Tanner Carew snapped for punts. Other freshmen who appear to be close to breaking into the lineup on special teams include Glen Ihenacho, Arrion Springs, Hollins and Oliver. … And with that, I’m off for the day. "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."