EUGENE — Oregon’s passing game leaned mostly on super seniors Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd during the first half of the season, and Devon Williams and Mycah Pittman are emerging into those threats that could be the difference for the Ducks in the second half of the season.
Williams had five catches for 80 yards and Pittman had a career-high five receptions for 46 yards in last week’s win over UCLA. The No. 7 Ducks (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) need the fourth-year and third-year sophomores to be consistent contributors in order for the passing game to be more effective.
“They’re continuing to do things in practice that are affording them these opportunities, but there’s more in the tank,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “The expectation is full throttle every single day, having a determination to continue to improve and push themselves and their teammates and do whatever it takes to improve. I want to stay along those lines, because I really appreciate these two guys. I know and I watch the level of potential and impact that they have and to me there’s more in the tank and we’ve got to get it out of them.”
Williams had back-to-back 100-yard games against UCLA and Oregon State last season, then an injury effectively took him out of two of the final three games.
With four catches for 67 yards against Cal, including a terrific back-shoulder grab down the sideline, and three receptions of over 15 yards, including a season-long 32-yard catch against the Bruins, Williams is making a large share of Oregon’s bigger plays the past two games.
“He’s incredibly talented and gifted physically and presents a matchup problem and then is able to make yards after the catch,” offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said. “I am confident that we’re going to continue to see great production during the week in practice and then on game days with Devon.”
Quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. lives with Williams. Besides the extra time they spent together in the offseason and before practice running routes, Brown said Williams has put himself in position for plays in games by how he’s practiced.
“He’s a really good leader,” Brown said. “He’s been playing really hard in practice, he’s been doing his thing, he’s been paying attention really good with attention to detail.”
Pittman’s five catches were a standout performance after not having any in three of the first six games, though there was one big catch against Ohio State wiped out by a penalty.
His 29-yard catch over the middle was both a terrific throw by Brown over a linebacker and play after the catch by Pittman, who knocked into several defenders and drew a targeting call in the process. Oregon scored two plays later.
“I saw the linebacker put his hand up and I was like, ‘God please my one opportunity to get this freaking ball, don’t touch it,’” Pittman said. “He didn’t, thankfully. As soon as I got the ball I honestly thought touchdown. Whenever I can get the rock it’s an opportunity to go out there and make plays.”
Williams’ involvement in the offense at the X position has also led to Johnson playing more at Z and Pittman moving inside to the slot more often.
“Between J-Redd and Mycah in the slot, we are very fortunate to have two guys with that talent level to run those routes on the inside,” Moorhead said.
Pittman has not been targeted frequently this season. To help change that he’s worked to improve his physicality both in blocking and route running.
“I’m starting to really get into guy’s heads and get really physical in moving them,” he said. “Moving another man from where he wants to be is kind of like asserting your dominance. It’s something that I’ve actually grown to like a lot actually. Being physical and being able to pancake somebody and put them on their back, I think that’s something that I improved on as the season’s been going.”