The Oregon Ducks might be the first ones to admit that having Vernon Adams run their offense last season was a bit awkward. He didn’t show up until the first week of fall camp was almost done and never had time to develop chemistry with his receivers. When Adams was in, Oregon was good. When he wasn’t in due to injury, Oregon was bad.
That didn’t stop coach Mark Helfrich from getting another senior transfer from the FCS to run the offense for a season. Dakota Prukop came into Eugene under much different circumstances relative to his predecessor. He was on campus in the spring and fully participated in spring camp, summer workouts and fall camp. Those experiences led to his debut Saturday in an actual game before the biggest crowd he’s ever played in front of.
Prukop played near flawless ball in a 53-27 win over UC-Davis in Oregon’s season opener, attended by 53,811 at Autzen Stadium. Although the attendance figure was just short of capacity and officially ended the Ducks’ 17-season home sellout streak, the former Montana State Bobcat didn’t show any signs of being intimidated by his surroundings. He started off slowly, but when it was all said and done, Prukop threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another score.
“The offense started clicking, but I don’t think we ever got into the true mojo that we’ve been getting into at practice,” he said. “I don’t think we put the gas pedal all the way down.”
Prukop was just one of many changes the Ducks will have to get used to this season. How quickly they adapt will determine how well they do. Besides breaking in a new quarterback, Oregon started four new offensive linemen (all redshirt freshmen) to go along with one senior. The team is also trying to figure out a new defensive scheme on the fly.
It was a roller coaster ride with all three of the changes, but luckily for Oregon, it can navigate through the changes against lesser competition until the Ducks go to Lincoln to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Week 3.
“It was kind of a mixed bag across the board. We had a lot of good moments and some head slapping moments on film that will be corrected immediately,” Helfrich said after his team’s opening win. “A lot of growth and development will take place here in the next couple of days and we’ll go from here.”
Virginia will see firsthand how much the Ducks improve from Week 1 to Week 2, and unless the Cavs drastically improve over the course of a week, Oregon will defeat them next week at home. Virginia went down 37-20 to Richmond in its season opener.
The Cavaliers will learn by watching film that Prukop presents different problems for a defense than Adams did. Prukop will settle for the safe pass, get the first down and keep the drive moving more than Adams, who would go for the home run more times than not. Prukop will also tuck the ball and run with it more than Adams would. Ironically, it was a run that got Adams hurt last season and derailed the Ducks’ season.
The last time the Cavs played Oregon, it was 2013 and the Ducks flew cross-country to come away with a 59-10 win with Marcus Mariota at quarterback. Prukop’s game is more similar to Mariota than Adams, because he can make something out of nothing at times.
Oregon’s defense will see its share of ups and downs this season as it did over the course of its first game. The Ducks were a lot more aggressive and pressured UC-Davis quarterback Ben Scott for most of the day, but as expected in a brand-new scheme, Oregon had some breakdowns, especially in the secondary, and Scott made them pay, thus the 28 points to an FCS team that was 2-9 last season.
There is a light at the end of the defensive tunnel for Oregon: true freshman linebacker Troy Dye. The Norco, California, native dominated with 11 tackles, seven of those solo, 4.5 for loss, a sack, and even a blocked field goal attempt. That effort will surely be good enough for Dye to be named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. As with most if not all Duck players, Dye enjoyed the Autzen Stadium experience.
“The atmosphere was great. It was expected, nut the way I played, I didn’t expect that at all,” he said. “I just played fast and physical like the coaches told me to do. I was just out there having fun.”
Seeing the progress the Duck defense makes with Dye flying around will also be fun to watch for the Oregon faithful.