Justin Herbert is planning to finish his four-year term as Oregon’s starting quarterback by getting the program back to the top of the Pac-12 standings.
But it’s not too early for candidates to begin lining up for the 2020 race.
Tyler Shough emerged as the clear front-runner by completing 8 of 9 pass attempts for 92 yards and two touchdowns during the Ducks’ 77-6 thrashing of Nevada.
The 6-foot-5, 219-pound redshirt freshman made three appearances in 2018 and took one critical snap against Auburn, but offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo finally called a pass play for Shough in front of a partisan crowd last Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
“It’s nice to see it come to fruition,” said Shough, who has been preparing himself to lead the offense since enrolling early out of high school in 2018 for Oregon's spring practice. “A lot of hours putting in work in the indoor (practice facility) and on the field. It’s nice to get some reps, to get up big.
“It’s pretty exciting to be out there. Obviously, I have to be ready at any moment.”
Since Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy while leading the program to the College Football Playoff five years ago, Oregon has had two promising seasons derailed by injuries to the starting quarterback.
In 2015, the Ducks were electrifying on offense when Vernon Adams Jr. was taking the snaps. Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie were a combined 67-for-113 passing for 656 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions in relief.
In 2017, the Ducks were 4-1 before Herbert suffered a fractured clavicle. Braxton Burmeister and Alie were a combined 63-for-104 passing for 464 yards with two touchdowns and seven interceptions during Willie Taggart’s uneven season as coach.
Shough appears to be a nice insurance policy for coach Mario Cristobal this fall.
“Tyler did a great job coming in,” said Arroyo, who was able to play Shough with the starting offensive line in the third quarter before emptying the bench. “He looked like he had command, which is really what you want in a backup, going in and not being timid. He knew what wanted to do, and that was good to see.”
Oregon’s second-string offensive line is also preparing to replace some standout players. The starting unit includes seniors Shane Lemieux (left guard), Jake Hanson (center), Dallas Warmack (right guard) and Calvin Throckmorton (right tackle).
Cristobal has been pleased with backups Steven Jones (left tackle), Alex Forsyth (left guard), Ryan Walk (center) and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu (right guard), who will be in the mix to join standout left tackle Penei Sewell in the starting lineup next season.
“They are developing the same kind of DNA,” Lemieux said of the reserves. “They're getting more physical every single year. Ryan Walk, Forsyth, they're really becoming leaders in that in that group and really commanding the rest of that second group and the third group to really step it up.
“We’re kind of getting ready to leave and put our legacy down on them. They're kind of embracing that role already. So it's cool to see them taking over.”
Shough had a chance to play behind the second and third offensive lines as the Ducks continued to light up the Autzen scoreboard against the Wolf Pack.
Fans should be able to take another glimpse into the future if No. 15 Oregon takes care of business early against Montana on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (7:45 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“They’re obviously learning from a great group. They get held to a high standard from coach Cristobal and coach (Alex) Mirabal,” Shough said. “I really see no drop off in work ethic, and obviously they’re a great group of guys. I’m roommates with a lot of them. I’m really excited to see them get out of there and see what they can do.”
Herbert was thrown into the starting lineup as a true freshman after graduate transfer Dakota Prukop faltered early in Mark Helfrich’s final season as Oregon’s coach.
Shough is trying to take advantage of serving as the understudy behind a projected NFL franchise quarterback for two years.
“Just how you carry yourself during practice,” Shough said of what he has learned by observing Herbert on a daily basis. “The physical tools and how he’s throwing the ball. I try to match what he does.”
Shough threw a 7-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jaylon Redd, a 21-yard touchdown to tight end Hunter Kampmoyer and even showed off his mobility with a 13-yard run against Nevada.
“It honestly feels good to get hit,” Shough said. “When I got hit the first couple series, it was a good feeling to kind of wake your nerves up a little bit. … I obviously come off as a tall, lanky guy, not that super fast, but I can be sneaky fast. I’ve been working on (mobility) a lot this offseason.
“It’s kind of nice to get in some of those scenarios. I’ll keep working on it.”
When Herbert runs out of eligibility at the end of the season, Shough will have an early lead in the race to be the starter when Oregon opens up the 2020 season with home games against FCS powerhouse North Dakota State and Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State.
True freshman Cale Millen and current 2020 verbal commitment Jay Butterfield are expected to join the competition, and the NCAA transfer portal will give the coaching staff even more options.
“He's got the traits you're looking for in a quarterback in regards to command, personality, understanding, work ethic,” Arroyo said of Shough. “Before mechanical traits, I think those are the things that make for a successful quarterback. Tyler had those when we talked about him as a recruit.
“We talk about him now as a guy who's coming in and you can see his maturity, you can see the physical tools that are going to enable him to be successful and move forward.”
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