Duck notes: Oregon faces yet another backup QB due to virus
For the second time in three games, the Oregon football program found out just before kickoff that its opponent would be starting a backup quarterback due to COVID-19 protocols.
And for the second time in three games, the Ducks posted a win despite having very little time to prepare or plan for a first-time starter with no available game film to study.
UCLA starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson was a late scratch along with eight other players after the Bruins announced Friday that two people within the program had tested positive for coronavirus. As a precaution, anyone who is deemed to have been in close contact with a person who tested positive is being quarantined for 14 days.
That meant UCLA went into Saturday’s Pac-12 game without the services of Thompson-Robinson, plus receivers Jaylen Erwin and Delon Hurt; running backs Kazmeir Allen, Keegan Jones and Martell Irby; defensive back Quentin Lake and linebacker Kain Medrano.
“The difficulty is the unknown. You’re preparing for two different game plans,” said Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, whose team faced a similar situation in the season opener against Stanford when starting quarterback Davis Mills was held out of the game due to COVID-19 precautions.
“Some things showed up that we had seen and others that we hadn’t seen before. Some other stuff will show up on film that will be like, ‘Well, that’s something that’s a wrinkle that we just hadn’t seen or they hadn’t done with their other quarterback.’”
The Bruins turned to redshirt freshman Chase Griffin, a former Texas high school state player of the year, who completed 19-of-31 passes for 195 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his first career start. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder was a three-star recruit out of Hutto High School in Round Rock, where he passed for more than 10,000 yards in his career.
“Obviously with COVID you don’t really know what’s going to happen. We got the news a little bit before the game about some of their players being out,” Oregon safety Jordan Happle said. “Chase Griffin did a really good job today executing their game plan. I know their starter was out, but I don’t think there was any drop off in terms of what we saw today from him. I think he did an incredible job.”
With a freshman starting at quarterback, UCLA leaned on its ground game with 51 rushes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Senior running back Demetric Felton carried the load with 34 attempts for 167 yards and two of the Bruins’ scores — a 1-yard plunge in the first quarter and an 11-yard scamper in the fourth that got UCLA within three points with 3:43 remaining.
That was as close as the Bruins would get, with Griffin firing an incomplete pass on fourth-and-12 with 19 seconds left.
“Credit to them, their staff and Chase Griffin,” Cristobal said. “He did a really, really nice job running their offense.”
COMING HOME AGAIN: Happle earned the start at safety for Oregon while Nick Pickett sat out the first half due to a targeting penalty against Washington State.
Happle, a Portland native who transferred from Boise State to play his senior season with defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, had a monster game with 11 tackles, including six solo, and a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown on the final play of the first half that gave the Ducks a huge momentum boost.
“Momentum is the biggest monster in college football. When you get it, you want to keep it and never give it back,” Cristobal said. “This thing went back and forth a few times tonight, but that (interception return) certainly brought a huge momentum boost to our guys. Credit to him, credit to the defense. Huge play in the game.”
The 5-11, 205-pound Happle had three tackles each against Stanford and Washington State before Saturday’s breakout performance against UCLA.
“Everyone needs to be ready,” said Happle, who committed to Boise State out of Jesuit High in 2016. “Obviously COVID, it affects people and it changes game plans. You come into each and every day and you don’t really know what could happen that day. It’s always next man up. I’m just trying to play my role and be the best that I can each and every day.”
With the Bruins attempting a hail mary at the end of the second quarter, Griffin was hit as he released the football and Happle caught it in the middle of the field with a head of steam and raced down the left sideline for a touchdown that gave Oregon a 24-21 halftime lead.
“We’re out of time, so it’s score or nothing and he found a way to outrace the running back and get into the end zone,” Cristobal said. “It was a monstrous play in this football game.”
“Really, my first thought when I caught the ball was, ‘I’ve got to get in the end zone,’” Happle said. “Obviously I was put in a good position to make the play. It started with the (defensive) line getting the rush and getting pressure on the quarterback, because without that pressure that play never would have happened. And then as soon as I caught the ball it was great blocking and great effort by the rest of the defense that was on the field.”
For UCLA, junior wideout Chase Cota started and caught two passes for 21 yards.
Cota, a 6-3, 200-pound South Medford graduate and the son of former UO safety Chad Cota, made his 12th straight start for the Bruins and was targeted five times.
INSTANT IMPACT: With a litany of injuries at receiver and tight end, Oregon leaned on a pair of fresh bodies for some big contributions in the passing game.
Redshirt sophomore wideout Devon Williams, a transfer from USC with just three catches in the team’s first two games, hauled in six passes for 123 yards. His 19-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter gave the Ducks an early 7-0 lead.
“I probably haven’t been harder on anybody than I have on Devon. I think it’s the ultimate sign of respect when you really challenge someone,” Cristobal said. “When a guy has that much ability, when they’re blessed with that kind of talent, anything less than getting the very best out of them is kind of cheating the gift. These last two weeks it really popped. It was obvious in practice that he was due for a big performance and it certainly came out tonight.
“I’m really just proud of the fact that he has worked hard and I want to encourage him to just continue grinding. The sky’s the limit for this guy. We’re happy to see him having the success he did today.”
Williams was targeted 11 times by quarterback Tyler Shough, including a 30-yard connection on the first play of the second half and a 49-yard hookup late in the third quarter that set up the Ducks’ game-clinching touchdown.
“I think he’s been such an electric player in practice and obviously that’s showing in the game,” Shough said. “Obviously Devon had his name called quite a bit this week and he definitely stepped up big time. I think that’s the beauty of our wide receiver room is that no one guy is going to take control but they will if they have to. It’s just great to have a lot of those weapons out there.”
Senior tight end Hunter Kampmoyer also had a strong performance in his first action of the season, returning from injury to catch five passes for 70 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that proved to be the game-winner.
“Hunter is a conscientious, tough, hard-working guy; an unbelievable teammate and leader,” Cristobal said. “Just a really important guy to this football team and having him out there today, he provided a spark and made some critical plays and some critical blocks as well. So really happy to have him back.”
SPECIAL UNIFORMS: Oregon unveiled a new look Saturday with their “Ohana” uniforms, a nod to Polynesian culture inspired by an idea from assistant coaches Joe Salave’a and Alex Mirabal.
Following two years’ worth of design work, the Ducks debuted black jerseys and pants — a nod to the volcanic rock and soil that formed the Pacific islands — along with “Action Green” numbers and lettering, signifying the vegetation that grows on the islands.
The collaboration between Hawaii-based Sig Zane Designs and former Oregon wide receiver Daryle Hawkins, now a graphic designer at Nike, featured a number of details signifying family and culture, both considered essential values in Polynesian culture. The color palette, dubbed “New Growth,” is a reference to the direction of the Oregon football program under Cristobal.
“It’s all these different guys — the best of the best from various cultures — coming together to form a new family,” Hawkins said in a UO news release.