When I took on this article, I admit I had to ask the FOW team who they thought deserved the title "Offensive Player to Watch". Two names came back from Oregon Connoisseur Travis (HToadSwayze) and Melissa (the ever-fabulous coachmelissa): Vernon Adams, Jr. and Royce Freeman. While Coach seems to think Adams is the key player for the Quacks...uh, I mean Ducks...The Duck Connoisseur believes Freeman carries the team. Not wanting to get in the middle of this battle, I'm choosing to write about both. They're both talented players with great chemistry on the field, so let's take a look at how these two players came to be favorites in Oregon.
QB Vernon Adams, Jr.
Adams is a native of Pasadena, CA. He played for Alemany High School and led them to a league title in 2010, which led to him being named the Serra League MVP. He played for Eastern Washington for three years before transferring to Oregon this year. In his time at EWU, he was 701 of 1,081 attempts for 10,438 yards passing and a 64.8% completion percentage. He had 11 rushing TDs and 1,232 yards rushing. He has a knack for long passes, which Swayze alluded to in his preview piece with some amazing videos of Adams. At Eastern Washington, he had 42 passes at 40+ yards, 26 of which ended in touchdowns. It's no wonder he caught Oregon's eye and won the starting position after Marcus Mariota's departure.
Adams started his season with the Ducks against his former team, posting 246 yards and 2 TDs against EWU and leading the team to a 61-42 win. While the game ended with a decent margin of victory, Oregon's defense left fans a little concerned for the future (which seems appropriate now looking back at the season). While Adams was hailed for his first game, he was hated after the second game of the season against Michigan State. After overthrowing a pass just short of the endzone with 1:30 left in the 4th quarter and the Ducks down by 3, Duck fans were close to kicking Adams out of the pond. Mind you, Adams was battling a broken finger at the time, but apparently Ducks are like Honey Badgers; they don't care. Adams didn't play in game 3 of the season against Georgia State, which was a good call, considering it was an easy 61-28 victory for Oregon. Then came Utah. While Adams was still recovering from a broken finger (which I imagine is sort of important for a QB), he left the game before halftime. And it wasn't just because of his finger, either. He went 2 for 7 for a measly 26 yards and 1 touchdown. And my favorite stat of the game: he had 6 carries for 5 yards, the longest of which was 6 yards. Yeeeeaaaaah...I'm not very good at math, but even I know those numbers are really bad. The Ducks lost 62-20.
It's safe to say, though, that Adams bounced back in the last half of the season. He even pretended to be Boykin by doing some cool flips into the endzone, though they weren't nearly as graceful*. In 9 games this season, Adams went 155 of 240 for 2,446 yards, 25 TDs, and 6 INTs. That means his passing accuracy was 64.6%, a slight improvement over his 3 years at Eastern Washington and making him #1 in terms of efficiency in the nation. His longest pass came against USC this season at 52 yards, with a personal best of 407 yards passing in that same game. After the Bowl game, he'll head to St. Petersburg, FL for the East-West Shrine Game on January 23, where he's hoping to catch the eye of NFL scouts and earn an invite to the combine. It'll be up to our defense to keep scouts' eyes on Boykin instead. Clearly, Adams can pass. So the Frogs will need to force him to run. His career best rushing yards came against Eastern Washington this season, with 14 carries for 94 yards, which isn't bad by any means. But he's clearly more comfortable passing. He has 79 rushing attempts for 155 yards and 2 TDs on the season, his longest being 24. By comparison, Trevone Boykin had 123 rushing attempts for 612 yards and 9 TDs this season, his longest being 69 yards. If the Frog secondary has a bad game, those long passes by Adams could add up to trouble for TCU real quick.
RB Royce Freeman
Then there's Royce Freeman. The sophomore from Imperial, CA has been a standout since high school and was rated one of the top prospects in the nation. In high school, he held the school record for rushing yards in a game with 353, which he earned as a junior. He had 3 games with more than 300 yards in his senior year (2013), with a season-high of 340 yards and 5 TDs. That season, he ran for 5 TDs in four of his first five games, and he ended the year with 2,824 yards and 41 TDs. He also caught 8 passes for 116 yards and an additional 2 TDs. Unlike Adams, running is Freeman's strong suit.
Once he arrived at Oregon, he was the first true freshman in Oregon history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing. He scored 18 TDs and had 1,523 all-purpose yards. The coaches voted him the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with 1,365 yards rushing, his longest being 38 yards. He had 18 rushing TDs to go along with 16 receptions for 158 yards and 1 additional TD. This year, he leads the Pac-12 in TDs with 16. He had 100+ yards in 10 of 12 games this season, and ranks 4th in the country in rushing yards. With only 5 more rushing attempts than last year, Freeman posted 1,706 yards, with his longest run being 64 yards; almost double last year's longest. The Ducks have capitalized on his receiving talent, as well. He has 24 receptions this season for 325 yards and 2 additional TDs. Oregon has also used him in a trick play as a passer, so the Frogs should be ready for that possibility, too.
Freeman didn't have the drama that Adams had this season. He was just plain consistent. He doesn't let the momentum of the game affect him. In fact, some of his best runs have come against some of the more challenging opponents (namely Arizona State, Washington State, and Stanford). The problem for the Frogs is that he's consistently unpredictable; that is, he's so multi-talented, it'll be challenging to figure out exactly what type of coverage he requires. Receiving? Rushing? I'm not even sure Freeman knows what he's going to do play-to-play. Freeman controls the Duck offense more than any quarterback, so if you stop him, you can make Oregon doubt their own abilities. Michigan State and Utah had Freeman's number. They limited him to less than 100 yards in each of those games. His longest run against the Spartans was 17 yards, and his longest against the Utes was 20. He managed 1 TD total for those two games. The Frogs need to study those games the way they studied for Corey Coleman and Baylor. TCU was the only team to limit Coleman to less than 10 yards in a game, and they kept him out of the endzone for the third week in a row. But, I digress....
With Adams and Freeman healthy for this bowl game, they're akin to Boykin and Green: a dangerous combination. Each has their individual talents, but together they have the pass and run game covered. To stop this duo, the TCU D will have be at the top of their game. Make Adams run while keeping Freeman from running. That's not too much to ask for, right? Oh yeah, and win the game, too, would you, Frogs? The trophy would go great with our collection.
*Sidenote To All Football Players: If you're going to pretend to be a gymnast, please tuck your head so you don't break your neck. And NEVER lock your arm and put your hand down to catch your fall. Ask Casey Pachall and Josh Docston. It ends badly every time.