EUGENE – Vernon Adams Jr. came here for the exposure.
His former teammates also found some exposure Saturday night in a game that showcased Eastern’s offense as much as Oregon’s.
And they exposed a few Oregon defenders in the process.
The script eventually played out in a 61-42 Oregon win, but not before the Eagles’ offense threw in a few plot twists in the season opener for both teams.
A solid effort from quarterback Jordan West and a record-breaking one from receiver Cooper Kupp showed that the Eagles’ explosiveness didn’t fly south with Adams.
His replacement, West, threw a trio of first-half touchdown passes to keep things interesting against the seventh-ranked Ducks, who needed all of their offensive firepower to stay a couple of steps ahead of the Eagles in front of a sellout crowd of 58,128.
“I feel like the offense hasn’t lost a step at all,” said EWU receiver Shaq Hill, who finished with four catches for 49 yards and the Eagles’ first touchdown of the night.
“We’re going to attack anyone we play, and we don’t hold back.”
Even when West was felled by cramps in the second half, redshirt freshman Reilly Hennessey kept the Eagles in the game with a touchdown pass that made it a two-score game late in the third quarter.
“The mindset is that we’re a program that has to move forward, and that’s taking nothing away from Vernon Adams,” EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. “This program has to keep going.”
In the end, the Eagles lost this one for the reasons everyone predicted: Oregon’s punishing running game, its team speed and Adams, who threw for 246 yards and ran for another 94. A young Eastern defense, featuring five freshman starters, gave up 731 total yards and 485 on the ground.
It didn’t help that Oregon jumped out to a 13-0 lead and shut down the Eastern ground game. The Eagles gained 549 yards overall, but managed only 111 on the ground.
“We had some nervous jitters at the beginning,” said EWU running back Jalen Moore, who was held to 7 yards on five carries. “We have some things to work on, but we’re getting there.”
As usual, they got there through the air. The Eagles were down two scores and unsettled on both sides of the ball when West and receivers threw the first daggers into a young Oregon secondary.
First, Kendrick Bourne made a leaping grab for a 33-yard gain to set up West’s 12-yard TD pass to Hill to put the Eagles on the board. Early in the second quarter, the Eagles were reeling by a 27-7 score when Kupp took a short pass from West, then fought off Oregon cornerback Arrion Springs for a 73-yard gain to the Ducks 1.
Three plays later, West hit Bourne for a 2-yard score that cut the deficit to 27-14, but that wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with an Oregon offense that scored on its first five possessions.
“We came in here and fought for 60 minutes,” Baldwin said. “We had a mindset that if we could find a way to be there late in the game, maybe a bounce here or there would decide it. But we knew it would take a lot of good things to happen because they have such a great program.”
Eastern got more than its share of good things from Kupp, who set Autzen Stadium records with career highs of 15 catches for 246 yards. Kupp had three touchdown receptions to give him 40 in his career, moving him into 12th in FCS history and six behind the Big Sky Conference and EWU records.
West was 23 for 34 for 293 yards and three scores before leaving with leg cramps and leaving the game in the hands of Hennessey, who passed for 145 and two TDs.
The last chance of an upset evaporated early in the fourth quarter. With Oregon leading 54-35 but the Eagles at the Ducks’ 27, Hennessey was intercepted at the 13 by Juwaan Williams.
Baldwin plays gambler
Even on the biggest stage, Baldwin was ready to roll the dice.
Trailing 44-21 in the third quarter, Baldwin didn’t hesitate in keeping the offense on the field for a fourth-and-7 at his 39.
West’s scramble came up short, but a personal foul penalty on the Ducks kept alive a drive that ended with backup Hennessey’s 1-yard TD pass to Kupp.
That made it 44-28, and suddenly the Eagles were back in the game. Baldwin gambled again on the next play, an onside kick that the Eagles recovered at midfield. Eastern was ruled offside and forced to rekick.
This time the Eagles kicked the ball away, and the Ducks responded with a three-play, 68-yard drive that all gave them a 51-28 lead.
“Against a team like this, you have to try and steal some possessions,” said Baldwin, who did the same thing a year ago in a 59-52 loss at Washington.
Late in the game, Adams was scrambling and sliding on the turf as Eastern linebacker John Kreifels closed in.
Leading with his helmet, Kreifels leveled his former teammate with a late hit, leading to Kreifels’ ejection.
The howls of the Oregon crowd grew louder as Kreifels made an uncomplimentary gesture to the crowd as he was being escorted off the field. Baldwin noticed, too.
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