Evanson: For the Ducks, Brown's clock has to be ticking
If you're an Oregon Ducks football fan, how much is enough?
Next year is when Oregon is really supposed to be a national power to watch. Still, fans and local media are expecting a lot from this year's football team.
Defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux might be the country's most disruptive player, the linebacking corps boasts the dynamic five-star talented freshmen duo of Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe, and the offensive line and skill groups are littered with a mixture of talented experience and youthful depth. So, excitement is to be expected.
But whether they're capable of it or not, this team's playoff hopes hinge on a quarterback capable of getting them there — and I don't think Anthony Brown is it.
That's not a slam on Brown. I appreciated his response to questions regarding his and the team's performance following a very unimpressive showing in their season-opening win over Fresno State. The graduate transfer from Boston College, who only played sparingly during last season's COVID-shortened slate, took the expected criticism head-on and bluntly spoke to his need to do better. But while the will seems to be there, it's hard to see the way through a dense fog of inaccurate throws and pocket hesitation.
Complicating things, Oregon has heralded five-star freshman quarterback Ty Thompson waiting anxiously in the wings, tantalizing fans with his size, athleticism, and the expectations that come with the rave reviews from spring and fall camp.
I understand the decision to start Brown to start the year. As a sixth-year senior, certainly, he has the experience. But it was that experience that raised expectations, and he didn't meet them despite last week's win over the Bulldogs.
Fresno State is a good team, and one that many believe to be a sneaky contender in the Mountain West Conference's West Division. But Ohio State is a different animal, and a win over the Buckeyes will require an exceptional performance from the quarterback, rather than the barely adequate one we saw last week.
Starting Thompson in the "Horseshoe" feels like a lot to ask. The historic 100,000-plus seat stadium is daunting for even the most experienced of signal-callers, but for an 18-year-old whose last game snap was against Cactus in the Arizona 4A state championship game roughly nine months ago, it might be a stretch to say the least.
The Buckeyes are ranked in the country's top five, have qualified for the playoffs four times in the past seven years, and year-in-and-year-out, they boast one of college football's most talented rosters. So baptizing a true freshman quarterback — even one as talented as Thompson — could be considered a mistake.
Or is it?
While history doesn't speak well of greenhorn signal-callers in similar positions, the rule has its share of exceptions.
Oklahoma's Jamelle Holieway led the Sooners to a national title in 1985 after replacing Troy Aikman in week four.
Philip Rivers threw for 3,364 yards and 27 touchdowns during his freshman season at North Carolina State.
Both Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston won Heisman trophies for their historic debuts in 2012 and 2013.
And notably, in 2009, USC's Matt Barkley — in just his second college start during his true freshman campaign — led the Trojans on an 86-yard, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of an 18-15 win over who? You guessed it: Ohio State, at Ohio Stadium.
So, it can be done. But are you willing to risk "now" in the interests of "later" by letting Thompson learn on the fly? I have to think Brown will ultimately dictate that.
This team isn't likely a playoff team, not based on what we saw last week. But until "likely" becomes "isn't," Anthony Brown will take the snaps, and only his performance will determine how long.
If he struggles against Ohio State like he did against Fresno, he has to sit, and I think the leash has to be short: a quarter, a half at most, the following week, because experience without winning is worthless, and if you aren't winning now, you should focus on winning later — which is Thompson all the way.
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