Does Oregon Finally Have Depth at Quarterback?

David Marsh Editorials

Quarterback depth at Oregon has been fleeting and has often led to lost seasons for the Ducks. In 2007, Dennis Dixon was on the verge of winning the Heisman and the Ducks were on the road to the National Championship game, until Dixon blew out his knee and the entire season fell apart.

In 2013, Marcus Mariota and Oregon were a Top-5 team with a real shot at winning the conference and making a run at a National Championship, until he partially tore his MCL against UCLA which led to losses against Stanford and Arizona. Mariota played in every game as Jeff Lockie was not considered good enough by the coaching staff to put in. An injured Mariota was still better.

Then in 2015, Vernon Adams broke his finger, which made me contemplate a massive “what if” scenario of how things could have been different if he wasn’t injured in the first game of the season.

Most recently, in 2022, Bo Nix was injured at the end of the game against Washington. Ty Thompson stepped in as the backup and failed to move the offense, along with an untimely slip up from Noah Whittington on a run play. The defense collapsed and this dealt Oregon the second loss of the season and a shot at the playoff. A couple weeks later against Oregon State, an injured Nix was playing, but was completely ineffective in the fourth quarter and the defense failed to hold up against the Beavers. This knocked the Ducks out of the Pac-12 title game.

Having a competent backup quarterback could have made a difference in how any of those seasons played out, and teams with championship aspirations need to have backups who can play when called upon to keep the season’s hopes alive.

Dante Moore is the widely believed to be Gabriel’s back-up currently.
(Photo by: Steven Chan)

The last time Oregon had a solid backup was in 2020 when Tyler Shough was the starting quarterback and Anthony Brown was the backup — until the Fiesta Bowl when Brown took control over the starting job completely, which was followed by Shough’s transfer. The previous time Oregon had solid quarterback depth was in 2016 when Justin Herbert was initially the backup for grad transfer Dakota Prukop — until Herbert surpassed Prukop on the depth chart and assumed starting duties.

In both these cases the backup ended up taking over the starting role, but both teams were highly flawed and it went beyond quarterback play. To find the next instance where the Ducks had a solid backup quarterback you’d have to look at 2012 when Bryan Bennett was the backup for Mariota. Bennett transferred after 2012.

Programs with a good starting quarterback have trouble holding onto their competent backups as they can look elsewhere to find play time. But that may have finally changed at Oregon.

At this time, Dillion Gabriel looks like the clear starting quarterback with Dante Moore is his backup. However, Austin Novosad made quite a statement during Saturday’s spring game to contest Moore’s grip on the No. 2 spot and even freshman Luke Moga made some outstanding plays.

In terms of on-field production it is difficult to gauge because it was a spring game and we didn’t see the No. 1 offense or defense on the field as a complete unit since the coaches opted for mixed squads, but make no mistake — this Oregon defense is going to be one of the best in the country. The first half was an entirely defensive affair as they locked down the Gabriel and Moore-led offenses. This resulted in a halftime score of 7-3.

Luke Moga scores a rushing touchdown in the Spring Game.
(Photo By: Pac-12 Media from YouTube)

The defense played close on the receivers and didn’t allow any WR to run free down the field. Every ball caught was contested and required perfect quarterback throws. And the quarterbacks managed to make those throws.

In the second half, mostly the fourth quarter, it became clear the vast majority of Oregon’s defensive starters were on the bench as the offense began to light up the scoreboard. This it not to take away the big plays and scoring drives from the quarterbacks and the offense on the whole, but it gave us, the fans, the opportunity to see the potential of these players.

In the end, the most important takeaway from this spring game is that all the quarterbacks played with confidence. Even walk-on Brock Thomas took a deep shot upon taking the field and looked comfortable doing so. Each quarterback looked like he knew the playbook and like he was in control of the offense on the field — and it showed on the final scoreboard at 28-23.

This is an athletically gifted offense with some talented quarterbacks, and if injury strikes the starter this season it feels like Dan Lanning and company will have a replacement to take the field and keep Oregon’s championship dreams alive. As it stands right now, it feels like this may be the team to get it done, and it all starts at quarterback.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Steven Chan


Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in technology in SLC, Utah.

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