Oregon football: Herbert, Carrington shine in Ducks' Spring Game
EUGENE, Ore. — Justin Herbert threw for 327 yards and found Darren Carrington for three touchdowns in Oregon's first Spring Game under new coach Willie Taggart on Saturday.
The vibe around the annual event was totally different than in past years: Instead of building on previous successes, the Ducks are — almost — starting fresh.
There are a few familiar faces, notably Carrington and running back Royce Freeman, but it is clear the Ducks are now Taggart's team.
"We definitely got a lot of work to do," Carrington said. "But we're on the upside right now. There's no backsteps, we're only going up."
Taggart is taking over an Oregon team that finished 4-8 last season and at the bottom of the Pac-12 North standings at 2-7, snapping a run of nine straight winning seasons in conference play.
Taggart's first spring game featured Team Free, led by Herbert and featuring Carrington and Freeman, against Team Brave, with Travis Jonson and newcomer Braxton Burmeister at quarterback. Team Free won 34-11 before a crowd announced at 36,821.
Unlike past seasons under Mark Helfrich and Chip Kelly, when the event was more of a scrimmage based on points, this was more like an actual game — with a running clock in the second half.
Herbert, a sophomore, completed 16 of 26 passes for Team Free. He threw for 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns in eight games as a freshman last season.
Carrington finished with four receptions for 116 yards.
"He's a gamer. He's one of those guys that loves to play the game of football, he loves to compete," Taggart said about his senior receiver. "If we can have a team full of Darren Carringtons who compete and love the game, we'll have a hell of a football team."
Jonson, a sophomore, was 5 for 15 for 86 yards and true freshman Burmeister, who enrolled in school early this spring, connected on three of seven attempts for 63 yards.
"Our chemistry has definitely improved this spring, and it'll improve more by the time fall comes, but Herbert, I mean, that's the guy right now to beat," Carrington said about the quarterback competition.
One of the day's biggest highlights was Kani Benoit's 95-yard scoring run in the third quarter that put Team Free up 28-3. Tight end Matt Mariota, younger brother of former Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, drew hearty applause when he had a carry for 11 yards.
"We're still building. We're nowhere where we need to be as a football team yet. We have some good players. We don't have a lot of depth that we need to have, that's going to be a work in progress," Taggart said. "The thing for us as coaches is just to make our guys better than they were before. If I guy wasn't good enough we want to make him look better than he was before. If a guy was good we want to make him great."
Oregon dismissed Helfrich three days after a loss to rival Oregon State in the final game of the season last year. Taggart, head coach at South Florida for the past four years, was hired in December.
Taggart guided South Florida to a 10-2 mark last season and a spot in the Birmingham Bowl. He is the first coach Oregon has hired from outside the school since 1976. The Ducks' previous three coaches — Mike Bellotti, Kelly and Helfrich — were assistants who got promoted.
Freeman had 12 carries for 43 yards. He was hampered by injury last season when he rushed for 945 yards and nine touchdowns.
"I think we've got a chance to have a good team," Taggart said. "Again, we're not there yet, but we're doing some good things overall."