Eagles entering 2015: Ranked No. 6 in the FCS coaches poll, two spots lower than where they finished last season, the Eagles retain key pieces of its high-flying offense in head coach Beau Baldwin and All-America receiver Cooper Kupp despite Adams' defection to Eugene. But now he'll be catching from a new quarterback in Jordan West. West sat out EWU's last scrimmage of the fall, held Saturday, with back spasms but is expected to play against UO. Baldwin is 67-25 in seven seasons at EWU. Baldwin shuffled his staff in the offseason and will run a new 4-2-5 defense against the Ducks, rather than the 4-3 system that was torched last fall. EWU returns seven starters on offense and six on defense.
Star power: Kupp, a 6-foot-2 junior, has averaged 111.5 receiving yards per game and 15.8 yards per catch in his career. But most impressive may be the touchdown he's good for every 4.4 receptions. In 2013, he won the Jerry Rice Award given to the top freshman in FCS. His father was a 1990 fifth-round NFL draft pick at quarterback, and his grandfather, Jake, was inducted into the New Orleans Saints' Hall of Fame in 1991 as an offensive lineman.
Did you know: Oregon natives Matthew Sommer, a junior nose tackle and West Salem High School graduate, and Samson Ebukam, a defensive end from Portland's David Douglas, are on preseason Big Sky all-conference teams. There are 10 total Oregonians on the EWU roster.
Early prediction: Oregon 60, Eastern Washington 20.
-- Andrew Greif
Helfrich said there’s plenty the Eagles do well to get the Ducks’ attention. Quarterback Jordan West is “a strong-armed pocket guy that can move around enough,” and “has a great feel for their system” after filling in last season during a stretch of games Adams missed due to injury. Receiver/returner Cooper Kupp is a threat, Portland native Samson Ebukam leads the Eagles’ 3-4 defensive front, and the special teams units are packed with defensive starters.
Oregon and Eastern Washington will play each other for the first time Saturday at Autzen Stadium, yet there will no more familiar opponent for Eagles coach Beau Baldwin than the quarterback he'll try to beat in the college football season opener. In Vernon Adams Jr., Baldwin will try to contain the All-American they called a teammate for four seasons, before he opted to transfer "up" from the Eagles, an FCS power, to reigning Pac-12 champion Oregon. But he knows all too well how hard a job that will be Saturday when the teams kick off at 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks).
"I think it's going to be really hard because I know how good he is," said Baldwin, under whose tutelage Adams scored 121 total touchdowns in three seasons. "He's just so good in so many ways, that part of it is going to be a challenge. It's a challenge for any team when they play Vernon Adams — you're up against one of the best in the country at any level."
Adams earned the Ducks' starting job over Jeff Lockie after just two weeks of practice after he missed the first four days of practice during fall camp's first week as he completed the final math class necessary for his EWU graduation and enrollment in UO's graduate school. An NCAA rule allows players who have graduated with eligibility remaining to transfer elsewhere and play immediately so long as the new university carries a graduate school program not offered at the first school.
When Adams passed his exam Aug. 13, it stirred conflicting emotions in Baldwin. Excitement came first. "I sent him a text and just congratulated him because I knew how stir crazy he was going not being able to practice," Baldwin said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. "The last thing I would have ever wanted for him was to not be able to suit up and ultimately not play in game one wherever that was. It was exciting. "The other side of the emotion is ... it also made you a little nervous because you know how darn good he is."
Eastern Washington earned a reputation for humbling Pac-12 opponents with Adams at quarterback. The Eagles stunned Oregon State in 2013 with a road victory and narrowly lost last season at Washington in a game where Adams threw for seven touchdowns. But Baldwin was careful to offer his opinion that the Ducks, who won a school-record 13 games last season and played for the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship, are "ultimately like no other team we've played."
Baldwin was hinting at Oregon's talent and depth at the skill positions, but also accolades like this: Oregon is shooting for its eighth consecutive season with at least 10 victories and since 1997, owns the second-highest scoring average (36.2) and fifth-highest winning percentage (.727) in Division I football. "You always respect a place that continues to do it year after year even when they're on paper supposed to," Baldwin said. The most obvious mismatch is Oregon's reloaded offense, which has led the Pac-12 in scoring every season since 2007, against an Eastern defense with 15 underclassmen on its two-deep depth chart.
"More than anything you've got to be locked and loaded for every play for all 60 minutes," Baldwin said. "If you slip at all and the next thing you know you've given up two or three touchdowns in a row." And a few of them could be at the hands of Adams.
UO - EWU
ON THE AIR
National Television: Saturday 5PM, Pac-12 Networks with Kevin Calabro (pxp), Yogi Roth (analyst) & Lewis Johnson (reporter). Radio: Oregon IMG with Jerry Allen (pxp), Mike Jorgensen (analyst). Satellite Radio: Sirius 93, XM 197.
•First meeting. The Ducks are 13-0-2 all-time against current teams from the Big Sky Conference. Oregon’s last game against a Big Sky foe was a 69-0 victory over Portland State in 2010.
•The Ducks have won 10 straight home openers, averaging 55.1 points per game during that span while not scoring fewer than 38 points. UO’s last home-opening defeat came in 2004 against Indiana (30-24).
Since 2000, Oregon is 37-6 in regular season, out-of-conference contests, earning notable victories against the likes of Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan (x2) and Michigan State. During that stretch, the Ducks are 3-1 against the SEC, 6-2 vs. the Big Ten, 1-1 vs. the Big 12, 5-0 against the Mountain West, 12-2 vs. the WAC, 2-0 against Conference USA and 7-0 vs. FCS teams.
DUCKS NEED 1 TD PASS TO TIE NCAA MARK FOR CONSECUTIVE GAMES WITH TD PASS
Oregon has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 68 straight games dating back to September 4, 2010, when Darron Thomas threw two TD passes in a 72-0 win over New Mexico. The streak is one game shy of the NCAA record which was set by Texas Tech.
Oregon is the only team in the nation to score at least 80 touchdowns in each of the last five seasons. The Ducks led the nation in TDs scored in 2014 (90), 2012 (89) and 2010 (81), while ranking second in 2011 (88) and fourth in 2013 (81). Only Baylor has done it at least three times.
DUCKS SCORE IN ALL FACETS OF GAME
If the Ducks aren’t scoring on offense, they are probably finding the end zone on defense or special teams. Oregon leads the country in non-offensive TDs since 2010 with 32.
Jeff Lockie sauntered out of practice, T-shirt soiled with a day's worth of sweat and three days' worth of frustration. He was corralled and met by a smaller group of reporters than had generally greeted him for the last three weeks. "Just the three of you?" Lockie said, reaching out to shake hands. He knew what was coming. This was the first time he had been available to speak since he lost. Vernon Adams Jr. was now the starting quarterback of the Oregon Ducks and Lockie, for the third time in as many years, headed into game week as the backup to a phenom.
For most of the year, Lockie has been the mouthpiece to a reported two-player race, forced to do all the talking during the spring and the last three weeks of fall camp. As Adams was winning the battle, Lockie was peppered with questions. On Monday, he was asked to put a bow on a competition he poured his soul into. "Everyone wants to be the guy," Lockie said. "I think we all know in life some things don't go your way, and I think the only response is have your head up and keep going because I think there's a lot of bigger things going on here than myself." For the umpteenth time since April, it was the right thing to say. But even if he didn't admit it, those who have been there before know the mixture of emotions brewing underneath the composed exterior. There was sadness, disappointment and anger.
Lockie is still a pivotal member of the program. Oregon managed to play the last three seasons without substantial injuries at quarterback. Though Mariota played banged up at times, Lockie attempted only 41 passes over the last two seasons, with the majority of those coming in garbage time and not because of injury. It's been a fortunate period for Oregon football. There is no evidence to suggest that Adams is any more likely to get hurt than Mariota, but the position is the most sought after in the game by defenders. It's a cliché, but Lockie is just one play away from seeing the field.
It's why even though the present suggests that Adams is more important to the team, Lockie's development over the past year wasn't for naught. With championship aspirations, the Ducks can't afford a midseason speed bump if something with Adams goes awry. "You kind of switch gears," Lockie said. "You switch your mentality and you're back to preparing for Saturday and making sure we're the most prepared we can. If that means helping Vernon out with the game plan, if that means helping the receivers out, whatever it means, it's just the next step forward. You kind of switch your mindset and keep going." That's what the junior quarterback said on Monday, and it was the right thing, even if he's still processing the fact that he won't be starting on Saturday.
ENHANCEMENTS FOR 2015 MAKE AUTZEN MORE MOBILE FRIENDLY
The UO athletic department in 2015 is introducing services that take advantage of the new technology.
In response to issues raised in surveys conducted by Oregon athletics, fans will be able to scan mobile tickets from smart phones at Autzen’s gates when the Ducks open the season Saturday against Eastern Washington. Also, a new GoDucks Oregon Gameday app will enhance the stadium experience by providing streaming audio and other features (Click here to download).
In addition, concession stands throughout the stadium now will accept credit cards, and the available offerings have been expanded to include, among other new items, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Local food trucks will be stationed at the stadium’s southwest corner to provide additional choices.
The most recent enhancements were spurred in part by survey results published last year by Turnkey Sports. The survey included more than 76,000 season-ticket holders from 68 FBS schools; more than 20 percent were from Pac-12 schools, including nearly 4,000 from Oregon, the highest response rate of all schools.
UO officials were gratified by survey results that generally reported positive experiences for Duck fans. Using a 1-to-10 rating scale, UO season-ticket holders reported an overall satisfaction level of 8.2, compared with 6.6 for the rest of the Pac-12 and 6.7 nationally. Single-game ticket buyers at Autzen had an average satisfaction level of 8.3, compared with 7.0 across the Pac-12 and 7.1 nationally.