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Even though Oregon has had a lot of success at the quarterback position over the last 15 years, Vernon Adams will be the first Duck senior QB to make it to and start on Senior Day for Oregon since Joey...
It’s purely improvisational yet somehow it looks like a well-choreographed ballet. Plays that are reminiscent of the ones that were drawn up on the palm of your hand on a playground as a kid seem to have come to life at Autzen Stadium. Only three months have passed since Vernon Adams Jr. officially became a Duck after passing a math test required for a transfer from Eastern Washington. In that short time, Adams’ exciting scramble-like play behind the line of scrimmage has earned him the respect of his teammates, coaches, and he seems to be doing just fine filling the shoes of Heisman Trophy Winner Marcus Mariota.
Adams Jr. performance since returning from a broken finger has lead the Ducks to five straight wins, most recently a 48-28 victory over South contender and then 24th ranked USC. Where number three threw 6 touchdowns passes against his favorite childhood team. No other opposing quarterback ever in the storied 94 year history of Trojan football has accomplished that. Adams had always dreamed one day of wearing a USC uniform and while that dream didn’t entirely come to fruition; he certainly has left his mark on a day he never imagined was even possible.
“Definitely not, being a SC fan, you know, growing up being from that area, it’s an awesome feeling,” he said after Saturday’s win. “I’m so happy for the guys in that locker room, the rest of the seniors. It’s a great feeling.”
He was perfect. Almost.
Besides an early interception on a scramble play intended for Bralon Addison on Oregon’s first drive of the game in the end zone, Adams lamented, “That makes me so upset.” Adams responded by spreading the love and found 6 different receivers for touchdowns on the day while making the USC defense look silly at times. He finished 20-25, for 407 yards —that’s more touchdowns than incompletions earning him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors and receiving national recognition and being named the FWAA’s national offensive player of the week.
“Vernon is a great player. With the ball in his hands, he does a lot of special things. A play can never go wrong with him. Kind of similar to Marcus (Mariota) but Vernon is never looking to run the ball, you know, Marcus would take off running and get the first down,” said Charles Nelson who caught a 26-yard touchdown strike to put the game out of reach for the Trojans. “Vernon is always looking to throw the ball, find open receivers and wait. He’s just a great quarterback.”
Adams’ six touchdowns tied the UO school record and he is one of eight Ducks to break the 400-yard barrier through the air. The Ducks’ best passing performance of the season came as the program’s best passer, 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, watched from the sideline, where he gave Adams advice between drives.
“He just told me to have fun out there, stay confident, and let lose,” Adams said.
It’s hard after these past performances to wonder, “What if?” What if Adams was healthy all season if the conversation surrounding this Oregon team would be any different. When asked on Saturday night, if he would have been able to play at this level in those first six games if he were healthy. He responded simply and without a doubt, “Yes.”
His teammates agree, “I honestly think if Vernon is healthy all season, if our defense is healthy all season, we might be talking about a big time playoff run right now. But we can’t worry about that, we are where we are,” said Bralon Addison who caught a first quarter touchdown pass of 48-yards and ended up leading all receivers with 105 on the day.
While Adams admits he wishes he had more time at Oregon, that’s not the path that was laid out for him. Instead of focusing on what could have been, he continues to live in the moment and take this season all in as it winds down. And being able to share it with his youngest and biggest fan, whom he proudly carried off the field and into the tunnel on Saturday.
“I can’t wait to tell my son about this later on in life,” he gleamed.
A California loss to Stanford later Saturday evening ended Oregon’s hopes at a North bid in the Pac-12 Championship game. But, there’s no time to spend on “what if’s” Adams has turned his attention to finishing out his short but quickly storied career at Oregon in the 119th Civil War.
The Ducks look to win eight straight on Friday when No. 18 Oregon (8-3) host Oregon State (2-9) at Autzen Stadium. Adams is no stranger to the Beavers. The graduate transfer led Eastern Washington to a 49-46 victory in 2013 where he passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 107 yards and two scores.
From an Eagle to a Duck, this kid keeps flying.
~ Nicole Abeyta
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As the Oregon Ducks lined up for their 4th down in the second overtime period against Washington State, down 7 points, my pizza was getting cold. This time, I gave in, gave up all hope, and began to enjoy my pizza. I didn’t bother to watch the final play. I looked up to see a […]
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Ask most Oregon fans and they’ll tell you Royce Freeman is the Ducks’ best chance at bringing the Heisman Trophy back to Eugene after this season.
That claim isn’t entirely false, as Freeman is an electric running back who has surprising speed despite his power back frame; he can run between the tackles and on the outside, he excels in pass protection – most running backs do not — and he can catch the ball out of the backfield.
These are all no-brainer pieces to creating an ideal Heisman candidate, but Freeman is missing one piece to the Heisman puzzle and it is likely the most important piece. Anyone care to venture a guess? Anyone at all?
Freeman isn’t a quarterback, and that cuts deep into his chances of hoisting the hardware.
Since we entered the 21st century there have been only two running backs to take home the award – Mark Ingram Jr. in 2009 and Reggie Bush in 2005 (the award has since been vacated for NCAA violations by USC and Bush).
That gives the running back position a 13 percent success rate in the last 15 Heisman races. With that, I think it’s hard to call any running back a favorite candidate, let alone a “lock it in” candidate, although Freeman does deserve to be in the early season conversation.
With that in mind, if the Ducks are going to have back-to-back Heisman winners, it’s more likely going to come from the new man under center.
Enter Vernon Adams Jr., the Ducks’ new signal caller by way of Eastern Washington University. I’m sure by now most of our readers are familiar with Mr. Adams’ accolades playing with the Division I FCS Eagles. For those who might need a refresher, here are his stat lines in his three seasons with the Eagles:
2012 – 1,961 yds | 20 TD | 8 INT | 60.9 CMP%
2013 – 4,994 yds | 55 TD | 12 INT | 65.6 CMP%
2014 – 3,483 yds | 35 TD | 8 INT | 66.1 CMP%
For his efforts in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Adams was the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award (the FCS equivalent to the Heisman), a two-time winner of the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, and both a first (2014) and second-team (2013) FCS all-American.
Let’s take a closer look at those stat lines. Notice anything similar? Those numbers are creeping up on Marcus Mariota-esque levels. Especially in regards to turnovers, those numbers show exceptional accuracy.
Speaking of accuracy, there is an upward trend that has yet to dip in completion percentage. Adams improved his accuracy every season at Eastern Washington and that was with his FCS-level receivers.
They were, however, exceptional FCS receivers — Cooper Kupp is a legit NFL prospect. Eastern runs an air raid-type offense; the entire offense ran through Adams and his arm. We know he can throw, and throw well, with an entire offense on his shoulders.
In 2015, Adams will have a new weapon to help him reach new heights — an explosive run game. At EWU in 2014, the leading running back only totaled 135 rushes. To help put that into perspective, Mariota totaled the same number of rushes in 2014 and Freeman almost doubled it with 252 rushes.
This is going to keep defenses more honest against Adams, who knows he won’t be relying on his arm every play. Adams averaged close to 40 pass attempts per game with the Eagles.
The common argument against this whole position is that Adams was playing against FCS defenses, and therefore he won’t have the same success against FBS teams.
That may be true if he had transferred to any other school but Oregon. The truth is, the Ducks offense might be the perfect fit for Adams and his skill set. The knock on Mariota heading into the draft was that his accuracy was unproven because Oregon’s receivers are always wide open.
Well, after watching every game the Ducks played last season, that statement isn’t entirely false.
Of course, there were times when Mariota dropped absolute dimes into tight windows, but a good amount of touchdowns were the result of amazing separation by receivers. Surprise, surprise — after watching lots of Eastern Washington game film and highlights from the last few years, we can say the same thing about Adams.
This similarity in the passing game should help ease the new QB’s transition into the Oregon offense, and was more than likely a big factor in how he won the starting job despite spending only two weeks in preseason camp with the Ducks.
In an interview about surprise Heisman contenders, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com said, “He is a perfect fit in the Ducks’ offense. Adams is not an explosive runner like Mariota, but he is a more accomplished pocket passer with enough elusiveness to make plays with his legs when the opportunity arises.”
Regarding his exposure to FBS opponents, Bryan Fischer of College Football 24/7 said of Adams, “Sure the jump up in competition is nothing to laugh at, but he’s proven in the past that he can play with Pac-12 teams while at Eastern Washington and he has the potential to put up video game numbers in the Ducks offense.”
Despite going 2-3 in five FBS contests, Adams has shown up to play every single time, and the largest point differential in an FBS matchup loss was a 21-33, 12-point loss to Toledo in 2013 in which he threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
Two weeks prior to the Toledo loss he lead EWU to a 49-46 barnburner win over Oregon State, so Adams already has a Pac-12 victory under his belt, as well as exposure to both Washington and Washington State — two losses by a combined 11 points.
Adams seems to thrive when the lights shine brightest — and starting for the No. 7 team in the country as the heir to a Heisman trophy winner who took his team to a championship game is about as bright as those lights can get.
If Adams can consistently put on the type of performances he put on display against those FBS teams in the past three years, you better believe he will find himself at the very least sitting with a few other finalists for college football’s most celebrated personal accolade.
Adams wasn’t able to grab the Walter Payton at Eastern, but with those shortcomings he was unknowingly setting up a better story by putting himself in position to grab the Heisman here in Eugene, instead.
Top Photo by John Sperry
It was the most highly anticipated moment for Duck fans across the country. Autzen Stadium was shaking from the roar of