The dilemma commenced before halftime. With Oregon holding a firm 28-0 lead inside San Antonio’s Alamo Dome, Oregon QB Vernon Adams laid crumpled across the 35 yard-line in agony after sustaining a jarring helmet-to-helmet hit from TCU’s safety Derrick Kindred. What soon followed would become an unraveling of a team, its players, and promptly an uncertainty of a vital offensive position.
The second half initiated with a 31-point advantage for Oregon. However the game would be played without starter Adams, who was replaced by backup Jeff Lockie.
During the course of the third quarter, the junior Lockie struggled to find rhythm while under center. Through several mishandling of snaps, erratic accuracy in his throws, and poor decision-making, Oregon’s colossal four score lead got trimmed to 14 points. Next came a Lockie fumble at their own 49 yard-line. 11 plays later, a Horned Frogs touchdown closed the gap to three. If it wasn’t for a heads up tackle by true freshman CB Ugo Amadi in the final seconds, then TCU might have come out victorious in regulation.
In spite of Oregon’s porous defense surrendering 405 yards and 38 points in the second half and in overtime. It was actually Lockie’s dreadful performance through the air — 7/15 for 36 yards, 0 TDs, and a dismal 2.8 QBR that impeded their breakneck offense, as well as floundering the game.
The meltdown experienced in last year’s Alamo Bowl wasn’t just a figment of the Ducks’ 2015 season. But more so of an endless quandary that’s hindered Oregon in the past…primarily at quarterback.
Wait. Are you saying that the University of Oregon. A program who’s produced phenoms such as Marcus Mariota, Darron Thomas, even down to Dennis Dixon and Joey Harrington, have a QB problem?
Well, sort of, to a certain degree. But let’s take it how it is shall we.
Last off-season, Oregon scrambled to find a reputable starter to fill the void from previous Heisman winner and No. 2 overall draft pick in 2014’s NFL Draft — Marcus Mariota. Fortunately, they found one in Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams Jr., but they had to fight tooth and nail to secure him. Through several NCAA eligibility issues, plus a math test that literally determined his collegiate future, nothing was settled until early July. This ultimately left Adams with no more than a month’s time to recollect Oregon’s diverse and complicated playbook.
Even despite those meddling circumstances, the fifth year senior learned quickly and earned the starting job. Throughout the season, Adams put on many entertaining performances during his one-and-done campaign with the Ducks. Adams’ efficiency numbers were unmatched in 2015, and his 10.2 yards per attempt were better than any quarterback in the past two years, including the program’s very own, Marcus Mariota.
Kudos to SB Nation for creating the nifty tables below that explains these stats further.
Adams got even better as the year went on, and as he got healthier. He finished with an astounding 10.7 yards per attempt and a 191.72 QBR in conference play. Over a full season, the yards per attempt number would tie Robert Griffin III for the best since 2002, and the quarterback rating would be the best since Russell Wilson in 2011. Only 11 quarterbacks in the past decade have passed for over 10 yards per attempt, and efficiency-wise, Adams holds his own.
Unfortunately for Oregon, injuries proved to be the derailment of what could’ve been an unforgettable season, one that might have landed them in the College Football Playoffs.
So back to the point I was originally making. Oregon finished a respectable 9-4 last season without the presence of a healthy Adams all year. Injuries told the story of Oregon’s underwhelming season, which can be mainly traced back to depth around its roster. The Ducks went 2-3 in games that Adams did not play in or did not finish, other than the opener over Eastern Washington in which he left after suffering an injury with the team already up big.
Depth. This five letter word has demonstrated the fates of many Oregon seasons, even in the slightest of margins. And it looks to be an issue again in 2016. While Adams will be waiting for his name to be called in this year’s NFL Draft. Back in Eugene, head coach Mark Helfrich, first year offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and quarterback coach David Yost will be constructing a plan to find the right option under center next fall.
Oregon dipped back into the FCS pool to nab 2015 Big Sky Conference Player of Year, Dakota Prukop, from Montana State, who has one year left of collegiate eligibility. Oregon hopes that Prukop, who last season passed for 3,025 yards and 28 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, in addition by rushing for 797 yards and 11 scores can be the answer they need.
Prukop certainly possess all the tangibles to be a strong fit within Oregon’s offense. Size, strength, durability, and an ability to create havoc to any defense is what made Prukop a force for the Bobcats last year. If he can match those numbers, even enhance it more this season, Oregon’s offense should be one of the best in nation.
But remember, this post isn’t about what player should be starting next season. That was already determined this off-season. Oregon’s coaching staff wouldn’t have journeyed into the FCS waters to recruit a player that wasn’t going to be in competition of starting.
Because let’s forget about Prukop for the time being. The real story line for 2016 at the quarterback position is what’s behind him on the depth chart. There’s no telling for certain how Oregon would have faired last season without Adams, but it definitely wouldn’t have ended with nine wins. Oregon’s offensive efficiency drastically decayed once both backups – sophomore Taylor Alie and junior Jeff Lockie played — although it was only two weeks.
There was a modest difference in point production when Adams was/wasn’t on the field, but nothing drastically significant. Oregon collectively averaged 40 points per game during the four full games they missed Adams compared to 46 when Adams started at full strength. However, the critical misstep that altered the Ducks wasn’t the offense in general, because nothing could stop RB Royce Freeman’s charge to 1,838 yards and WR Bralon Addison’s elusiveness that led him to 888 all-purpose yards. It was the efficiency of its quarterbacks that dug Oregon in, and although that was only to a certain degree.
In the five games they both competed in, Lockie, even with his uphill battle throwing the ball completed 61.6 percent of his passes last season. Alie, during the same span converted just 42.9 percent. I know I put full blame on Lockie’s shoulders for the Alamo Bowl meltdown, and rightfully show. But he actually provided the best outings out of all the backups. In addition for executing over 60 percent of his completions, Lockie supplemented an extra 580 yards and 5 TD’s to his stat line. That should count for something. Alie, with all of his accuracy issues aside, was Oregon’s first-rate choice whenever they decided to utilize read options (ran for 14.2 yards per carry), thus revealing why Alie’s best asset to Oregon is more as a runner, not a passer.
Lockie returns as a senior next year and gives the Ducks experience, the same can be said for Alie. Both should improve, but the Ducks ARE and SHOULD be looking to lean on their young recruits more than ever next year, and it starts by grooming redshirt freshman QB Travis Jonsen.
Jonsen was sidelined all of last season with a ‘turf toe’ injury that zapped any chance for the true freshman to develop. Due to his injury that he nursed throughout the season, the best Jonsen could get out of his first season in Eugene was studying game-film and relaying that to the starters.
“I always watch film and take mental reps to keep myself engaged” Jonsen said in an interview last week from the Oregonian.
Likely not a starter next fall, Jonsen will look to bounce back big while placed in an extended role. Still 19 years old, Jonsen carries an upside that Lockie and Alie simply don’t have. This is a main reason why Helfrich and the rest of Oregon’s coaching staff will use the former five-start recruit as much as they can.
Listed at 6’3” and 194 pounds, Jonsen is the tallest quarterback featured on Oregon’s depth chart. Shown here in his high school tape, Jonsen administers breakaway speed, sturdy mobility, and an ability to break defenses down when fazed with pressure in the pocket.
Given that Prukop has the starting role nailed down, expect Jonsen and his tremendously high ceiling to emerge as a catalyst in Oregon’s offense, even if it’s broken up into spurts.
The pressure will be on Jonsen and Oregon’s experienced core to perform. Oregon cannot afford a drop-off in their backups, which could spell for another confounding season. Either way, Jonsen becoming the backup would be important should something happen to Prukop, but it’s even more of an incentive in terms of setting the stage for 2017.