Why not play Morgan Mahalak NOW?

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In the tradition of FishDuck.com articles that make you ponder, I ask Duck fans to address questions concerning a quarterback at Oregon most have already written off: Morgan Mahalak.

You will learn some new things here, and they have not come from an interview with Morgan, but from snippets of interviews with other Oregon players who have happened to mention him.

There are also a number of boosters and coaches who still get to see practices on occasion. Thus, I’ve pieced this article together from the combined observations of players and other program insiders.

Morgan Mahalak

Photo by Gary Breedlove

Morgan Mahalak

The bottom line is that basic impression people have of Mahalak — the views that reside on many Duck message boards – are wrong.

When Mahalak joined Oregon in 2014, I heard some rumblings that his throwing accuracy was right up there with Marcus Mariota. At the time, I brushed it off. Nice to hear, but I needed more reliable confirmation.

Morgan ran the scout team that fall, simulating the opponent’s offense every week in practice. He hurt his shoulder in early October and struggled through the rest of his inaugural season in Eugene at less than 100%.

My question to those who say Mahalak is not ready for the spotlight: How can you be ready to run the Oregon offense when you have only run the scout team in practice?

Fast forward to last spring and an observer at Oregon practice told me Mahalak was once again injured, as it was clear he was in pain when throwing in practice.

Was this a continuance from the previous fall, or a brand new injury? I wrote nothing after hearing this report, as I respected the coach’s need for silence regarding injury information.

Morgan Zone Read an Inside Linebacker!

From Video

Morgan with the beautiful zone read on an inside linebacker!

Morgan’s spring game performance was mixed; his execution of the zone read (shown above) was superb, while his passing didn’t appear to click based on casual observation. The injury diminishing his reps would account for part of that.

Yet when I went back and watched the spring game, Morgan did not have the benefit of the first- or second-team skill players. They left the field with Jeff Lockie, and returned with Lockie. Mahalak got third- and fourth-teamers and even walk-ons for his surrounding firepower.

Does anyone shine under those conditions? How about a series or two with Bralon Addison and Darren Carrington as his wide-outs?

When Vernon Adams showed up for practice, guess who lost practice reps in order to bring Adams up to speed?

Mahalak is again running the scout team this fall; this is not because he got beat out by Adams, Lockie, and Taylor Alie, but because he has not had a chance to compete with them in running the Duck offense.

The coaches say he is “not operationally ready,” which is certainly true. But I ask again, how can Morgan be expected to run the Oregon offense without getting reps in the Oregon offense?

Morgan Mahalak throwing.

Photo by Gary Breedlove

Morgan Mahalak throwing in the spring game.

The whispers I have been hearing recently is that Morgan has been throwing exceptional passes for the scout team this fall, as he is finally healthy.

The rumors continue with how he is throwing many more touchdowns in practice this year against both the scout defense and the first-team defense (not all of that is due to the weakness in the secondary, mind you).

The collective opinion of my practice observers also surprised me with their thoughts on who Oregon’s fastest QB is, now that Ty Griffin is with the defenders. It is indeed Mahalak – over even Travis Jonsen!

Is the season over?

As I was walking from the stadium with Senior Editor at FishDuck.com Dano Dunn — I overheard a man in his late forties tell his wife,

 “I don’t think we’re going to win another game, but maybe the Civil War.”

I was not surprised to hear this, as I had been thinking the same thing last week at halftime of the Colorado game. It was all I could do last week to keep from sharing those terrible thoughts with all of you.

A few minutes later I heard a young female voice behind me say, “It’s going to be a long f**king season.” Since Dano and I both have knee issues and hobble along slowly — the youngster passed me and I could see that she and her friend were students at UO. Thus both middle aged and young fans share my dire conclusions for this year.

One coach among my network of consultants cracked me up as he told me that,

“Pac-12 coaches don’t need porn; they just watch Oregon footage and have orgasms.”

Ouch! Funny, painful and true.

Mahalak is faster than the other QBs?

Photo by Gary Breedlove

Mahalak is faster than the rest of the Oregon QBs?

My friends, the coaches went all-in on Adams, and I understand why better than most. But most all of us know that a broken finger does not heal quickly, and even when VA returns, he will not be the Adams we saw at EWU.

This strategy was a huge risk for both the coaches and Vernon, and both sides accepted that risk up front.

The coaches want to win games now and not build for the future. But how many games can we realistically win — both this year and next (Lockie is a junior, folks) — with QBs that cannot throw accurately more than 15 yards down the field?

It was heartbreaking to see the WSU safeties so close to the box last Saturday. They could cover the short routes they knew Oregon would have to run, and still be there for run support in two strides. We had no vertical threat, and that will not change this season.

The question becomes … build for the future or try to salvage the season?

A QB such as Marcus who was brilliant as a redshirt freshman is an anomaly. However, it often happens that a redshirt sophomore comes out blazing and goes from afterthought to productive starter in the blink of an eye.

Mahalak can be that stud redshirt sophomore next fall. All the physical tools are there; he just needs the reps to get the mental part down.

Give him game experience NOW, and let his talent refine itself this season in the Duck system. We will lose games with him playing major snaps in 2015, but these are games most likely lost anyway. Vernon should only play when the finger is 100%, and that is probably a long way off.

Our best chance at another win is likely in the Civil War. By then, Mahalak could become a serious threat pushing the ball 20-plus yards downfield to Oregon’s fleet of talented receivers.

This game experience will help him be ready to make Oregon a winner again in 2016, which will make this year simply a blip season over the long term.

So I ask you, FishDuck.com faithful: why not play Morgan Mahalak NOW?

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • BigBallzChipper

    Charles, If this was anyone else I would look the other way and not even comment. However, I understand what you saying, but I believe no one knows the situation better than the coaches. After WSU loss and even after we lose to huskies be it I will still trust the coaching staff. I think Helf is not going with Mahalak because of trust issue or some type of work ethic issue. My case in point is Helf has recently thrown Mahalak under the bus more than a few times. Usually Oregon handles that in house and I think he is publicly calling him out and if that is the case than I would rather support our coaches than some hot shot kid who thinks they are our best shot and should be given the starting job without competing.

    • SOD

      BBC…I’ve heard Mahalak called a lot of things; but “hot shot kid” has never been one of them…until now. I generally trust the coaches’ evaluations and perceptions…but I also realize they’re human and have their own biases and foibles. I have lost a lot of faith in Frost’s infallibility over the course of this year and, frankly, that causes me to cast doubt on his judgement of our young QBs as well.

      Plainly, I tend to agree with Fish that trying Mahalak out can’t hurt, might possibly help and has an outside chance at finding a diamond in the rough that our OC/QB coach has been letting rest in the coal bin.

      • Michael Miller

        Coaches can carry grudges. It happens. Also agree about Frost- I really don’t like what we are seeing this year without Marcus to cover for him.
        Smug comments from Frost and Helf don’t help either and are somewhat revealing.

      • Carl N

        It could be that Helf and Frost see Mahalek’s potential and are just trying to push him to reach it.

        • SOD

          That could be, Carl. However, telling someone they disappointed his head coach and his position coach last year, that he isn’t qualified to get on the field at any time this season, and the coaches aren’t sure if he will in the future – and doing it through the public media – is not usually the best way to motivate kids to improve. Especially if the kid seems to have a self-confidence problem to begin with.

  • MarcTheDuck

    I’ve been thinking in a similar direction, but not about Mahalak – mainly based on what I had read (not yet ready) and because I thought that sounded about right based on his youth and lack of reps with the travel team. I’m not disagreeing with you, I just don’t know enough about Mahalak to have considered him. Instead I have been hoping that we would pick between Lockie and Alie (both just seem more ready than Mahalak to me) and give them all the reps so that next year they would be in a better position to help rebuild the team. I no longer see this year as rebuilding… I think the best we can do is lay the foundation for a good rebuilding next year. Jonsen, I’m assuming (again, for lack of knowing any better) will not yet be ready to step in and lead the team. I’m leaning toward Alie since I think he could run the read-option better than Lockie (he seems to when I’ve seen him play). But his passing needs to improve – I’m hoping that over the course of this year they can get him enough experience and improve his passing enough so that next year we could be at least a credibly good offense. Again, I’m assuming the guy that finishes this year (other than Adams) will end up the QB next year. The year after that would be an opportunity for a competition with Jonsen or another QB in the fray. If Alie won out again then Jonsen would only be a junior the year after that… and we may have another, younger QB rising up by then.

    • Carl N

      If Lockie and Alie don’t show dramatic improvement this year, I have a hard time seeing either of them being the starter next year. Neither have a great arm or are as athletic as either Mahalak or Jonsen. I tend to agree that it is critical for any developing player to get live reps. Since Mahalak is burning a year of eligibility, I would like to see him get at least a few reps at some point. This is by no means an expectation that he would suddenly blossom into the starting role, that is unrealistic. But it would help him develop. I am wondering if we would have seen Jonsen by this point if he had been healthy…

  • Tom

    You guys are grasping at straws. All this speculation and hope over a quarterback you have hardly seen play. If Morgan was the guy you have imagined him to be he would be getting more playing time. Sorry guys, this fantasy of a savior who is just waiting to get his chance from coaches who don’t see his potential is just that, a fantasy. Mahalak as himself stated that he didn’t use the most of his opportunities his freshman year. So far in his sophomore year he is last on the depth chart. If and when he is ready to get playing time you will see him on the field.

    • Devin Reynolds

      Did you actually read the article? No one is “looking for a savior,” we’re just looking for someone who is marginally competent who possesses the requisite physical tools, that’s Mahalak. And you’re the one who’s delusional if you think that the circular logic you espoused in your comment is justification for him not getting any playing time with our season looking the way it does.

      • Tom

        Where exactly did I use circular logic? You THINK that Mahalak has the tools to play now. I’m saying that all evidence points to him not being ready. The evidence being his position on the depth chart and his own words about his redshirt year. Youre not in practice and you don’t know that Mahalak will ever climb the depth chart but you are assuming that he will.

        • SOD

          So, saying because he’s been determined to be not ready to play right now means he will never be ready to play so keep him on the scout team where he will never learn our system enough to be ready, isn’t “circular logic”? It’s pretty close to most definitions I’ve seen. At the least it’s setting up a situation for failure more than success…regardless of whether that’s at QB, RB, DB or third assistant bottle washer.

          Mahalak played through an injury to his throwing shoulder (IIRC) his true freshman year – handling scout team QB duties. By doing that, he may have been able to polish some QBing skills; but, none of them included becoming particularly expert at running OUR offense. This year, because he isn’t “operationally ready” for playing time (as if most RS freshmen QBs, who spent more time learning our opponents’ offenses instead of our own, are) he’s back to running the scout team..AGAIN not getting a grounding in our offense (that sneaky “operationally ready” bugaboo being reinforced each week).

          We hear practice reports of good throws by MM. We hear of the scout team doing a great job of pressuring our starting D. And, at the same time, we hear the coach in charge of the QBs telling us the kid taking ALL the snaps with that scout team isn’t doing a good enough job to even be looked at positively for future potential.

          Something is wrong with that picture…and, to me, it doesn’t seem like it’s the guy in the pads. I’m with Fish…give him a chance (at least as much of a chance as you did the tardy transfer from EWU) to show what he can do with the traveling squad.

          • Tom

            I never said he wouldn’t ever be ready, just that the coaches know better than you armchair quarterbacks.
            Logic lesson:
            If A then B. If not B then not A. It’s called modus tollens.
            If Mahalak is ready the coaches get him experience on the field. No Mahalak on the field = Mahalak not ready yet.

  • fairweatherfowl

    I remember Adams saying in an interview, “…me, Jeff and Travis…” My thought at the time was that Adams had inadvertently revealed that Jonson was the reserve QB on the rise. Were he not injured, Jonson would have seen the field by now.

    But Mahalik playing in a real game? If he currently had that capacity the coaches would have put him in a game by now.

    Both Adams and the coaches pushed all their chips on the table. The team gambled on Adams, but he couldn’t accomplish his first team assignment of graduating in June. Sometime this year Adams will be back, and he will bring the long ball with him.

  • tristanh314

    Charles, it breaks my heart to see such a long time Oregon fan as you this down in the dumps. We all knew a season like this could happen eventually when we were riding the CK/MM success express, but we never wanted to really believe it.

    As far as this season goes, there is one thing left to play for: bowl eligibility. Not because it will be a financial success or bring great prestige to the program, no bowl game the Ducks could realistically make at this point will be, but those 15 additional practices will be vital for the team going forward. The young defenders need every rep they can get, and the more the young QBs can work with the receivers the better

    Looking at the post Colorado schedule it seemed to me the best way to get to 6 wins was to sweep the Northwest schools. Obviously, that is no longer possible. Had the Ducks not “couged it” I would probably have advocated trying to pull another rabbit out of the hat and then get VA ready during the long week for ASU. Looking at the remaining schedule now though, barring a HUGE upset (never say never…) the Ducks only hope for three more wins are UW, USC, and OSU. If VA is even 75% of what he was before the injury, my lay opinion is he has to be given a shot to spark the offense is Seattle. After that, we can talk about playing for next year.

    • FishDuck

      Oh I can’t complain. We have had a lot of winning, and I’ve told so many to “enjoy this while you can, as things change. If they didn’t, then Army would still be #1! ”

      It is just that it is quite possible for us to recover much faster than most team at .500 or below, thus I wanted to at least SEE him get some reps and see what he can do.

      He can run the Zone Read superbly, and has a stronger arm than Alie and Lockie….so work him into some play packages!

      If he can’t play well–fine, but at least let’s give him a shot since the current two are not the answer for next year.

  • Bill Mittelstadt

    If Ducks went with your scenario & Mahalak, I’d be fine with it, but I don’t think there’s any chance the coaches go that way. That being said, I’m continually surprised Lockie is playing ahead of Alie. Lockie provides NO run threat, & he often looks uncomfortable. Alie is & always has been a great leader, he can run the option part of the offense, & he’s completely unafraid. He may not be the guy next year & beyond, but I think he’s clearly the most complete qb right now. Let him take every snap. Go Ducks!

  • goducks58

    It’s a very interesting and intriguing proposal. The fact that circumstance and injury can play a huge part in any player’s development really comes to bear for Morgan. He was my very early pick for the successor to Mariota. Thanks for reminding us of what has transpired for him.
    I think the coaches have really been snakebit this year and are really facing a quandry with choosing the leader of the offense. If Vernon isn’t completely healthy and both Lockie and Alie are hit and miss, they might consider going with MM2, but for their (most likely warranted) own reasons, I still don’t see that happening. That said though, IMO this year there have been a number of poor coaching decisions…. So my faith in them has been tested.

  • GoDucks

    The only way to take the remainder of the season is one game at a time. It’s the mindset of the Early 80s!

    But whe have a MUCH more talented crew. Here are the reaons for optimism.

    Our kids in the secondary are at the phase of the their development when they can improve the most dramatically Nobody knows when that elusive something will ‘click’ in their head; it could happen any week, it might take another year.

    If Adams comes back, based on what we saw before the injury in game one, we should be able to compete with every team down the line. At the very least he gives us something that we haven’t seen from Alie or Lockie – a willingness to throw a ball more than five yards.

    Encouraging news about Mahalak… Glad to hear that the inside-view of him is better than the general one. That gives me more hope for next year. And so I say, yes, if Adams doesn’t come back soon give him playing time for sure. He can also throw for more than five yards, eh?

  • duckusucker

    Always a pleasure to read your take.

    I read pretty much anything I can find on the team—- but all I’ve read concerning Mo Ma is that his attitude (last season) had been lacking, i.e. he didn’t have the fire and commitment. Helf said something, a couple of times, to that effect; he also said Morgan was doing better this year.

    Like Jake Rodriguez, Morgan came with all sorts of promise and sky-high hype: all of it, mind you, based on high school performance. J-Rod bombed out, beaten out by Lockie (that should tell us something….). Morgan was competing this year w/Ty, Alie, and Jeff: he came out FOURTH. That should tell us something…

    It’s hard to “take a year off” and compete at this level. I certainly hope Morgan steps up: we’re going to need him this next year—- if not him, W H O? I think it’s apparent Lockie doesn’t have either the skill set (the experiment of recruiting a kid w/such modest running skills can now be seen as a gigantic mistake, for this system) or the performance abilities to consistently win at this level.

    Jonsen, perhaps a guy who may have had a chance w/one year of practice, was seriously injured and most probably won’t be fully ready by spring ball; anyhow, it’s VERY tough to step into our system w/such relatively little exposure.

    So, again, the Ducks may have a vacuum to fill at QB. It appears, if Morgan doesn’t step up, we’ll be looking to find another one-year wonder, a la Vernon Adams.