After Oregon was blown out by Utah in a 62-20 humiliation in the fourth week of the season, the Ducks' dynasty-like run of success took a hit. That was solidified two weeks later, when Oregon lost to Washington State at home, all but eliminating the Ducks from the Pac-12 title game and dropping them to 3-3 on the season.
There are some real issues with Oregon this season. Among them: a defense that ranks 105th nationally in yards per play, and an offense that no longer features Marcus Mariota. But you know what Oregon does have? Vernon Adams. And in the three games since Adams has returned from injury, Oregon is on a three-game winning streak, with the chance to jump back into the national consciousness against Stanford Saturday night on Fox.
Given Oregon's whole body of work, it makes sense that the Ducks are 9-point underdogs in Palo Alto. But given what Oregon has done when healthy, the Ducks have more than just a fighting chance.
Consider the difference for Oregon when Adams was injured with a broken finger and when he wasn't. Adams was healthy for the first two games of the season, against Eastern Washington and Michigan State, and for the three latest against Washington, Arizona State and Cal. In between, he sat out against Georgia State, played for part of the game against Utah and sat out against Colorado and Washington State.
|Oregon||Healthy Adams||Injured Adams|
|Yards per play||7.19||6.50|
|Yards per pass attempt||9.36||6.65|
|Plays per game||80.2||77.25|
If we only considered the games in which he has been healthy, Adams' yards per attempt would rank seventh nationally, and Oregon's yards per play would rank sixth nationally. Both numbers would rank atop the Pac-12.
Adams, for better or worse, changes the game, and Oregon knew what it was getting when he transferred from FCS Eastern Washington. He is truly dynamic in the passing game, just as he was at Eastern Washington. This scouting report from Pacific Takes describes Adams' strengths perfectly:
Like a lot of programs that run the spread, Eastern Washington didn't ask its quarterback to make too many intermediate throws. For the most part, Adams was making high percentage short throws that were basically like running plays and taking the occasional deep shot. None of that is too different from what Oregon will ask him to do, most of the time.
Against (Washington), he was like an NBA Jam player that couldn't miss. Every bomb he threw was pretty much perfect.
The referenced game against Washington is what made most fans believe Adams could play in the Pac-12. He shredded the Huskies' defense for 475 yards and seven touchdowns, while surrounded by FCS-level talent. This past week's 44-28 win against Cal spotlighted everything we loved about Adams coming into the season.
He threw an effortless touchdown pass while scrambling to his left.
He also ran for a touchdown, doing a front flip over a defender and scoring in pretty much the most exciting way possible.
But then there are the drawbacks. Again, Pacific Takes' scouting report nailed it.
He struggles with decision making and accuracy on throws over the middle of the field.
That was also on display against Cal, which really was the full Vernon Adams experience. Adams threw two red zone interceptions against the Bears, which is why a 777-yard performance by the Ducks only ended in 44 points.
In just five games, Adams has thrown five interceptions. Heisman winner Marcus Mariota threw four interceptions in 15 games all of last season.
Mariota was a once-in-a-generation player, and he's probably the best player in Oregon history. The Ducks were never going to find another Mariota, and they certainly weren't going to find one in Adams. Mariota was incredibly consistent, while Adams is pleasantly unpredictable. Perhaps more than anyone in the country, Adams will do whatever it takes to make a play, even if it ends in disaster. And that's what gives the Ducks a chance to beat Stanford and turn this into an impressive season.
Adams might make some mistakes against the Cardinal, but he's also going to make some plays. And if he's on his game, just like he was against Washington last season or for most of the win against Cal, Oregon can beat anyone in the Pac-12.
Nobody sums up the Vernon Adams experience better than Vernon Adams: fun. Maybe the interception problems will continue, or maybe Adams will go over, around and through the Stanford defense. Or maybe a little bit of both.