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Blanchette: In the end, Vernon Adams Jr. gets last word with his play

EUGENE – The problem with college football morality plays is that inevitably the morals get to be drawn by the guys who can make the plays.

The Oregon Ducks have had a few over the years. Now they have another.

Who, as we all know from our math homework, was subtracted from Eastern Washington’s football roster last spring.

At the time, this engendered much hand-wringing and sermonizing about hubris and loyalty, to say nothing of the damnable notion of a college athlete getting to make choices without the help of all the adults who know better. There were some hurt feelings in the locker room left behind, some perhaps imprudent farewell touches by the traveling man himself and some graceless rumor mongering – by adults who should know better.

But then Vernon Adams Jr. passed arithmetic and took two whole weeks to jump to the head of the Ducks’ quarterback line, in plenty of time to face his old school in the kind of cruel joke the college football gods love.

Suddenly, it was just football again – and Vernon Adams is very good at football. The petty drama had finally receded.

Well, until John Kreifels blasted Adams with a late hit at the end of a scramble-and-slide with 9 1/2 minutes to play Saturday night, earning the Eastern rover an ejection.

This – and the arm waving Kreifels did to the Autzen Stadium crowd of 58,128 raining boos down upon, before EWU coach Beau Baldwin chased after to admonish him – was the only sour moment of the 61-42 victory that was closer to a split decision for the Ducks than it was to a knockout.

That’s because the Eagles were able to author some positive non-Adams subtext:

• In their search to replace the most dynamic quarterback in their history, the Eagles found not one but two – freshman Reilly Hennessey a happy surprise in relief when Jordan West cramped up.

• And with all due respect to Ducks tailback Royce Freeman (180 yards) and Adams, let’s suggest that the best player on the field was EWU receiver Cooper Kupp, the best part of waking up to a college football Saturday around here. Catching 15 balls for 246 yards Saturday night will be enough to have the Ducks checking into his progress toward a degree.

Sorry. Too soon.

The folks at Eastern didn’t much like the way Oregon went about acquiring its new quarterback, whatever the niceties of the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule. But they certainly understood the attraction.

He was “Big Play V.A.” at Eastern and that’s likely to stick here, too. Mixed in among his 19-of-25 passing day, for 246 yards, was some vintage Vernon footwork, darting away from the rush into a clearing, buying time for his receivers to fully separate. The 94 yards he gained himself was just a bonus – though surely the Ducks must be concerned already about keeping him whole.

But Adams didn’t himself realize the magnitude of his biggest play – the move to Oregon – until he emerged from the Autzen tunnel.

“Going out there and the fans are going crazy – I had goose bumps,” he said. “My heart was beating. I was thinking, ‘This is crazy. This is real life.’

“Throughout all of fall camp, I didn’t really know how I was going to feel. When I came out today for pregame early, it was emotional – seeing my (EWU) friends and hugging them. But it was also really fun starting my first game as a Duck.”

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich fretted some over amped up emotions of this game.

“I was waiting for the first throw to be 200 mph and 12 feet over the guy’s head,” he said. “You know, the Nuke LaLoosh route.”

There were glitches – missed receivers, missed checks, the ball he put on the turf without a hit – but for all his fancy footwork and flair, the most impressive thing about Adams was how quickly he’s grasped Oregon’s nuances. Those 6:15 a.m. film sessions with offensive coordinator Scott Frost have obviously paid off.

“Even with the Heisman Trophy winner (Marcus Mariota) last year,” Frost said, “there were things we needed to clean up after Game 1.”

Even the aberrant ugliness of Kreifels’ late hit was softened when Adams returned to the sideline after being checked out, good to go next week at Michigan State. Baldwin met his old quarterback at midfield, just to make sure.

“He just said he was proud of me and sorry about that,” Adams said. “I don’t know if it was a cheap shot or not, but coach Baldwin was sorry – and he’s my friend.”

And, like any good coach, has moved beyond the what-ifs.

“It’s not bittersweet,” Baldwin said. “I’m so happy for him that he’s out there playing. It didn’t surprise me. I saw a lot of the same stuff in a different colored jersey.”

The moral here – after a spectacular debut – is that Vernon Adams made the right move. But he’s always had a feel for that.

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