On his first drive in nearly a month, he completed passes of 48 and 36 yards, on the road, against the best statistical defensive team in the Pac-12. The latter was for a touchdown to give his team an early 6-0 lead.
The quarterback would eventually lead his team to a 26-20 win in hostile territory. It was a victory that might have changed the entire outlook of a season.
That quarterback is Vernon Adams and that team is Oregon. When the night ended, it was Ducks 26, Washington 20.
Without Adams, the Ducks were struggling mightily. They were struggling for an identity, struggling to move the ball and struggling to score. Oregon was 3-3 overall, 1-2 in conference, both losses coming at home and searching the schedule for possible wins.
It got to be so bad that ESPN College Gameday did a feature on the demise of the Ducks and claiming head coach Mark Helfrich was at a crossroads in his career. This is the coach that guided Oregon to their second national title appearance just last year.
What a difference one game and one able-bodied quarterback can make.
Not only did Adams settle down the offense, but the defense seemed to play relaxed and more aggressive against the Huskies. This was a defense that couldn’t get off the field last week. That is until Washington State scored a touchdown. Oregon held Washington to just 385 yards of total offense, nearly 200 yards less than their season average.
Note: Title error in video–but it’s the right game highlight tape
Was this because Adams was on the field and making the offense potent again or was it because the Washington offense was just that bad? The answer is probably a little of both, but what Adams’ return did do was to insert life back into a season that was on serious life support.
Adams wasn’t perfect in his return. He had some possession where he was off his game a bit and rusty, but like a winner, when he absolutely needed to make a pass, Adams was able to buy time and find the open receiver.
On many occasions, that open receiver happened to be Darren Carrington. Yes, that Darren Carrington who lit up Florida State in last season’s Rose Bowl before being suspended for a drug violation. He missed the national title game against Ohio State and the first six games of this season as well. But even after all that time off, Carrington was able to make himself useful with five catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
The return of Adams and Carrington couldn’t have happened at a better time. For those who are not familiar with the Oregon-Washington rivalry, it can get as ugly and intense as Michigan-Ohio State. The Ducks have owned the Huskies for 11 straight years before this win made it 12.
That streak was in serious jeopardy before the Ducks announced two hours before kickoff that Adams would be starting. The quarterback combination of Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie just wasn’t going to get it done against Washington on the road. They had a tough time moving the ball against the Cougars, who boast an average defense. The back up duo wouldn’t have fared much better at Husky Stadium, one of the loudest venues in the country.
Oregon was able to put the Dawgs on their collective heels early with an 87-yard drive for a touchdown on its opening possession. What that score did was to relax the offense because the unit saw that its recent history of futility through the air was at an end and it told the defense that it didn’t have to be perfect in order for the Ducks to win.
The defense relaxed so much that it played its best game of the season. Oregon held the Huskies to just a field goal in the first half before having to come up with an interception on Washington’s last possession to seal the Huskies’ fate.
Now Oregon has 12 days to prepare for Arizona State. Twelve days for Adams to practice more and knock off the rust and 12 days for the defense to fine tune some things. In just one Saturday night, Adams showed why he might not be the conference Player of the Year, but he sure is the Pac-12 Most Valuable Player. He turned a mediocre Duck team into one thinking that the North Division may still be up for grabs.
Perhaps more importantly, Adams also kept the win streak against the Huskies alive and well for another 365 days.