Oregon might have named quarterback Vernon Adams as its starter for the season opener, but that has done nothing to quiet the hype surrounding this game.
If anything, the matchup of Eastern Washington’s former quarterback against his old team is now more heavily anticipated. Football fans will want to see the player who was able to miss the first few days of practice and still beat out the longtime Marcus Mariota backup, Jeff Lockie. Fans will want to see the player who idolizes fellow transfer Russell Wilson.
But they will have to wait a week.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the Ducks decided to announce Adams as the starter on Friday because the Ducks started game-week preparations on Saturday morning.
"The separation was enough that as we began today we kind of started our true game-week preparations so the timing worked out for everything," Helfrich said.
Several times while he spoke, Helfrich and fellow coaches emphasized that point, that the separation was enough. As of now, it doesn’t sound like Adams completely left any of the other Ducks in his dust, but that he was a little bit better in a lot of places, making him the clear choice.
"There’s a ton of factors and it’s not a drastic deal," Helfrich said. "It’s a little bit here, a little bit there."
"I just think at the end of the day he just made a couple more plays than the other guys," Oregon passing game coordinator Matt Lubick added.
Lubick said those plays really started to show up after Adams settled into the offense and stopped thinking so much. As he allowed himself to just play and react to the game, everything slowed down for him and his ability to extend plays was on full display.
That version of Adams -- the one who isn’t thinking too much and just allows his natural abilities, informed by the playbook and his knowledge of the Oregon offense, to run the show -- is the one coaches are hoping will show up next Saturday as the Ducks open their season in Autzen Stadium.
"Thinking neutralizes all your talent, because when you’re thinking you’re not reacting, you’re not playing fast, so a fast guy is all of a sudden playing slow," Lubick said. "But once you actually know what you’re doing and you have confidence, then your talent actually shows. The hardest thing about that is it takes reps to get that, you don’t just get it. You don’t just show up the first day and know what you’re doing, but every rep you get a little bit better."
Had Adams gotten to campus in June, maybe this decision would have been made faster and maybe that neutralization of Adams’ talents wouldn’t have happened as often during fall camp for the Ducks.
But because they knew that would happen, Lubick said the staff intentionally kept it simple at the beginning for Adams so that they wouldn’t overload him too much. But he noticed that each time they installed something new Adams would go back to thinking, but that each time he jumped back into playing again he’d do it more quickly than the previous time.
"He’s one of the smarter guys I’ve been around as far as picking things up on the fly," Lubick said. "I’ve been very impressed with that."
That is high praise from a coach who spent a lot of time working with Marcus Mariota, the benchmark in the Ducks' program.
So though coaches might try to temper expectations by saying the competition was close and that Adams separated himself in small ways, there are hints that Adams could be everything the Ducks hoped he would be when this transfer process started last winter. If he could win the starting job in a few weeks and pick up the offense that quickly, he could have a chance to be something pretty special in few months.