The Duck’s offense has been a signature of the Oregon football program for years. The fast paced, no huddle, read option offense was Chip Kelly’s brain child, and in recent years it has transcended the Oregon program to permeate much of college football. Under third year head coach Mark Helfrich, the read option remains in place for the Ducks, but for the first time since Helfrich took over there is a new quarterback running the offense.
Quarterback Vernon Adams is the new guy on campus, having arrived only midway through August, and was not named the starter until August 28th. Adams only played in the first two games of the season after injuring his index finger in the season opener. So far this season, Adams has completed 64% of his passes for 555 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He has also rushed 28 times for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite the talent of Adams, there has been a noticeable drop off from Marcus Mariota’s play of a year ago. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost remarked that there were games last season where Mariota bailed them out with his individual play. With Adams having only two weeks of season preparation and a broken finger, the Ducks do not have that luxury this year.
Adams' finger throws into question whether or not he will play on Saturday, though general expectation is that he will. If he is unable to play, redshirt junior Jeff Lockie will get the start for the Ducks. Lockie got the start last week against Georigia State, throwing for 228 yards on 23 of 31 passing with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. While Lockie had a solid showing in his first career start, the Ducks will likely need more out of the quarterback position to win Saturday's game. Adams is a three year starter, with big game experience, and is a better overall athlete. Even with his broken finger, Adams is a better option for the Ducks, and as such should start against Utah.
Whoever is playing quarterback for the Ducks will have a stable of playmakers to distribute the ball to. At tailback, Oregon boasts sophomore sensation Royce Freeman. The 5-11 230 lb. running back burst onto the scene a season ago and with backup Thomas Tyner out for the season, has been carrying the load again this season. Freeman is an all around back with speed and power and will provide a challenge for the Utah front seven. With Adams not 100% Freeman may be the biggest concern for Utah, as he is big enough to wear a defense down and fast enough to break a big play.
Byron Marshall is the man Freeman pushed out of the starting running back position a year ago. Marshall has found a place at receiver however, leading the Ducks in receiving last season and is off to a nice start this year with two touchdowns receptions already. Oregon's receiving group is not a one man show however, Marshall has plenty of help in what is a very deep Oregon receiving corps.
Bralon Addison, who sat out last season with a torn ACL, is back this year and appears to have returned to form. Against Michigan State, Addison caught 7 passes for 138 yards and had an 81 yard punt return for a touchdown. Sophomore Charles Nelson has big play capability as well, and has been the second most targeted Oregon receiver this season. Dwayne Stanford is the big receiver of the bunch, standing 6-5 and weighing 205 lbs. Stanford has six receptions on the year and one touchdown, but was held without a catch against Michigan State. As evidence of Oregon's big play offense, each of the four receivers mentioned is averaging over 14 yards per reception. Any guy in this group can be a game changer, making it all the more important the Utah secondary stays with their assignments and avoids blown coverages.
Oregon traditionally struggles with big physical defensive teams with strong running attacks. Both Ohio State last year, Michigan State this year, and the Stanford teams of years past have created headaches for the Ducks. Utah is built in a similar fashion to Michigan State, and reviewing the Spartan game film should provide Utah coaches with insight on how to scheme against Oregon. The Ducks however, now have one game under their belt playing a physical style of football on the road, against a better Michigan State team. Because of this, Oregon will enter Saturday's game better prepared to face Utah's defense and will do so in a home environment. To leave Autzen with a win, the Utes will need to bring pressure on Adams and force him to commit turnovers. As good as Utah's defense is, the Ducks will find ways to score on Saturday. Utah's offense just doesn't have the chops to outscore the Ducks on their own, so the defense will need some takeaways and probably score a touchdown themselves for Utah to win.