Next season TCU is going to have a new starting quarterback. Think for a second about how you would feel if that quarterback was a standout last year at, say, Texas State. With Vernon Adams earning the starting job in fall camp after playing for Eastern Washington last year, that's pretty much the situation that Ducks fans were in heading into 2015.
Ultimately, Oregon's season has to be looked at in two parts: the first six games and the last six games. In the first six games they went 3-3 and never looked very dominant. In the last six games, they went 6-0, including beating the two teams that played for the Pac 12 Championship in consecutive weeks (Stanford & USC). Today, we'll look at the first six games.
Game #1: Oregon 61, Eastern Washington 42
In kind of a fun twist of fate, the Ducks actually opened the season against Adams' old team. In a way, this game was Oregon's SMU. They were a much more talented team than Eastern Washington, but an inexperienced secondary facing a capable passing attack, and some serious tackling issues, led to an uneasy, to-close-for-comfort victory.
By the time it was over, Oregon fans felt pretty good about Vernon Adams, who went 19 for 25 passing with 246 yards, two TDs and no INTs. They also felt pretty good about Royce Freeman who carried 21 times for 180 yards and three TDs, although there was little doubt that he was really, really good. He's also a very physical runner and fun to watch. They did not feel good about about a secondary that had to replace three starters from last season and gave up 438 yards passing to an FCS team. They also did not feel good about Vernon Adams hurting his hand after taking a hard hit in the fourth quarter.
Game #2: Oregon 28, Michigan State 31
Oregon came into East Lansing with a lot of hype and consequently went 75 yards on 13 plays on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead. Michigan State came right back and answered with their own 75 yard drive to tie the game at 7-7. MSU's drive only took three plays. I wasn't surprised to hear that was how the first two drives went, I was just surprised that the team names next to those drives weren't flip-flopped.
Michigan State pretty much controlled the rest of the half after that as Oregon's Vernon Adams threw two INTs and MSU led 14-7 going into halftime. MSU opened the third quarter with a three and out, and on the ensuing punt, Oregon's Braylon Addison went 81 yards to the house to tie the game 14-14. The teams traded blows for the rest of the game with MSU holding between a three to ten point lead the whole time. After a 14-point, fourth quarter rally, this is how close Oregon came to making it 21 and (most likely) winning the game:
People always say that football is a game of inches. Well, there's a reason for that. Somewhere along the way Vernon Adams broke one of his fingers and, probably most disturbing, Royce Freeman was stopped on the one yard line on fourth and goal to turn the ball over on downs. In the end, Sparty got revenge, and the Oregon fans were left not really knowing what to make of their team.
Game #3: Oregon 61, Georgia State 28
There's really not all that much to say about this game other than the following: 1) Oregon won, 2) Vernon Adams did not play because of the aforementioned broken finger, 3) Vernon Adams' backup Jeff Lockie (think lock and key, not Thor's brother) and Royce Freeman both had pretty good games, and 4) Georgia State scored more than they should have and Oregon's secondary managed to allow them to throw for over 300 yards (yikes).
Game #4: Oregon 20, Utah 62
This one was ugly from the beginning. Utah had trouble breaking through early and had to settle for two field goals and a 6-0 lead after their first three possessions. Oregon ripped off a big 77-yard kickoff return and scored on a screen pass to Royce Freeman to tie the game up. I have no idea why, but Oregon went for two, didn't get it, and basically the rest of the game can be summarized like this:
Utah ran it all over the Ducks and was up 27-13 at the half. Vernon Adams got pulled from the game in the first half in a move that their coaches made a point to say wasn't completely motivated by Adams' finger injury. Lockie threw three interceptions on the first two Oregon possessions of the second half, Oregon's tackling issues persisted, and Utah led 55-13 by the end of the third quarter. That was all she wrote and the Ducks playoff hopes, for all intents and purposes, were dead in the...uh...water.
Game #5: Oregon 41, Colorado 24
Vernon Adams, still dealing with a broken finger, did not play in this one. Instead, Jeff Lockie and walk-on Taylor Alie combined to go 12/20 for 137 yards and one score through the air. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that's likely the lowest passing yardage total that Oregon has put up in a long, long time. It was raining though, so to be honest, we probably shouldn't even count this game.
This game went back and forth, had a couple of lead changes, and Colorado hung within one score until Taylor Alie's TD pass with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. In the end, Royce Freeman rushed for 163 yards and two scores, and Oregon as a team managed 361 yards on the ground as Oregon escaped Boulder with a win.
Game #6: Oregon 38, Washington State 45
My boy Mike Leach got a big upset win in this one. Oregon once again had to go without Vernon Adams, and Jeff Lockie this time had only 123 yards passing as Oregon continued to struggle in the passing game. In what had become the norm for Oregon, Royce Freeman carried the team with 246 yards and two touchdowns.
Oregon's secondary, the weak spot on their team all year, got absolutely torched for 505 yards on 50/74 passing by Wazzu QB Luke Falk. Even as weakened as Oregon was by injuries, they still managed to push this game to two overtimes before ultimately falling on a tipped ball touchdown by Wazzu.
In the end, the story of the first half of Oregon's season was defined by bad breaks and injuries. Frog fans can definitely appreciate their position, as the story of what could have been for both of our teams is slightly depressing. Still, like TCU, they managed to put together a really impressive season despite their run of bad luck.
Vernon Adams is fun to watch and did a great job when he got healthy in the second half of the year. Royce Freeman is a bad, bad man, and that helped make things easier on Adams as well as his backups. We'll look at the really impressive part of their season, a 6-0 run to finish the year, next week.