Justin Herbert said he wished the ride at Oregon wasn’t over.
But after the Ducks’ four-year starting quarterback walked off the field with a Rose Bowl victory on Wednesday night in Pasadena, Calif., it was officially time to pass the torch.
Many of the young players on the roster believe Tyler Shough — Herbert’s backup during the 12-2 season that culminated with a Pac-12 championship and the storybook 28-27 victory over Wisconsin — will be behind center when the 2020 season kicks off.
The 6-foot-5, 219-pound redshirt freshman was 12-for-15 passing for 144 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in five appearances this season.
Shough has been trying to soak up every moment of being Herbert’s understudy the past two years in anticipation of taking over the offense this spring.
“I would say just probably emulating his physical presence, the way he handles each game and how he prepares for it,” Shough said of the lessons he learned from Herbert. “Obviously, he has such a great talent. Just watching him in his throwing motion and stuff like that has been pretty cool to see.”
Shough will have a significant head start on the competition. Cale Millen missed the bulk of his true freshman season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Incoming freshman Jay Butterfield, a 6-foot-6 prospect from Brentwood, Calif., who attended the Rose Bowl, plans to be on campus when classes resume next week ahead of spring practice.
“We feel we have a couple really good quarterbacks here now and we feel that Jay is an excellent quarterback as well,” coach Mario Cristobal said during the early signing period last month. “He is enrolling early, he is working night and day on those classes to get it done. Every time we talk it seems like he’s another 10 percent finished with a particular course.
“It will be an open competition, like it should be, and we’re excited about it.”
Oregon added a second quarterback to the 2020 class, four-star dual-threat prospect Robby Ashford, shortly after Cristobal’s signing day press conference.
There is also reportedly mutual interest between the Ducks’ coaching staff and Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman, who entered the portal after passing for 2,868 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season.
The newcomers will have the benefit of starting the process with a new offensive coordinator with Marcus Arroyo having left the Ducks to be UNLV’s head coach.
“I’m excited to see it from afar. I think they’re in great shape,” Arroyo said of the looming competition to replace Herbert. “I think Oregon’s in an awesome situation moving forward with those gentlemen in that room. Happy to have the relationship we have with them and excited to see them move forward.”
During Oregon’s stay at the Rose Bowl, Shough said he was focused on preparing for Wisconsin, but noted that he would be ready to “cross that bridge” when it’s time to battle for the starting job.
“Both mentally and physically,” Shough said on the areas where he has improved during his two years in the program. “My confidence has grown so much in myself and my teammates. Physically, throwing the ball-wise, I’ve gained a lot of weight and I feel like I’ve grown in a lot of areas.”
After getting thrown into the fire of a 4-8 season as a freshman and suffering a fractured clavicle as a sophomore, Herbert found his voice and coaching stability as an upperclassman while leading the Ducks to wins in 15 of his final 17 starts.
Teammates say Shough is already one of the vocal leaders of the team.
“I feel like my parents have instilled me with that from an early age in the classroom, on the field,” Shough said. “You’ve got to do what’s uncomfortable sometimes and speak out and be a good influence for your guys.
“You’re kind of thrust into that in the quarterback position. I just try to embrace it.”
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