A believer in the football maxim that sharing any kind of information is sharing too much information, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich has yet to announce the name of the quarterback who’ll start Saturday night against Washington.
But be surprised, be very surprised, if Vernon Adams Jr. doesn’t step into Husky Stadium and look at it the way Steve Wynn might gaze upon a $2.7-billion resort in Las Vegas and think: I own this place.
Starring for Eastern Washington last year, Adams delivered a passing show unprecedented by a visiting quarterback in Seattle: 31 completions in 46 attempts for 475 yards, and those weren’t the stats that stood out. The stats that stood out were seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Although the Eagles lost, 59-52, Adams gained enough hype from that game to convince himself he belonged at the next level. Taking advantage of a loophole in the NCAA rulebook that allows graduate students to transfer without sitting out a season, Adams earned his degree at EWU and headed to Oregon.
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Aside from having to turn his back on one of the only two schools to offer the 5-foot-11 quarterback a scholarship — Portland State was the other — Adams’ decision to transfer was as easy as Sunday morning film sessions after facing the Huskies.
He’d compete for a national championship in a major conference, which in turn would help elevate his NFL draft stock. Along the way, he’d have a chance to succeed former Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota as a Heisman Trophy recipient.
Ohio State tailback Archie Griffin picked up two in a row at Ohio State during the 1970s, but the only team represented by back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners with different names is Army, where Doc Blanchard won in 1945 and Glenn Davis won in ’46.
In other words, Adams was looking at making some history as Oregon’s version of Russell Wilson, another 5-11 quarterback who took advantage of the NCAA transfer rule and showcased his talents for a single season at Wisconsin. But all those ambitions fell apart a few minutes into the fourth quarter of the Ducks’ season opener against — talk about bad karma — Eastern Washington.
While it would be inaccurate to suggest there was animosity between Adams and the team Adams renounced, it would be naive to believe the Eagles weren’t fired up. When Adams took a protective slide on a running play, linebacker John Kreifels crashed into him with a late and unnecessary emphatic hit.
Kreifels ended up getting a sideline lecture from coach Beau Baldwin and a one-game suspension. Adams ended up with a broken right index finger, a problematic injury for somebody who relies on his right hand to throw footballs.
He tried to keep playing, but when it became apparent to Helfrich that his quarterback’s effectiveness was closer to 50 percent than 100 percent, Adams was sent to the bench, where he’s spent the last 11 quarters.
Adams may or may not be fully healed — again, acknowledging either would be divulging too much information — but even if his index finger is at less than full strength, he’ll give the Ducks a better option than beleaguered replacement quarterbacks Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie.
Washington coach Chris Petersen, who did a stellar job of hiding a similar face card before appointing true freshman Jake Browning as the Huskies starting quarterback in September, is more than familiar with this drill. Petersen has to assume Adams will get the call Saturday night.
The no-huddle, full-throttle, stun-’em-while-the-defense-is-wheezing offense is all the rage these days, and containing any dual-threat quarterback has become priority for opposing coaches. But the Ducks, despite the prominent role they played as ushers in the transformation from football as chess match to football as arcade game, have reverted back to ground-control principles.
Which is to say, the task of tackling Oregon electro backs Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin figured to preoccupy Petersen this week more than any pass the quarterback attempts. But, still ...
The last time Adams took on Washington, he threw for seven touchdowns. Between that broken index finger and the challenge of assimilating into a new offensive system, perhaps a different Vernon Adams awaits the Huskies.
They can only hope. The first one put on a performance so impressive, he used it as his springboard vault into the not-so-great beyond.