Spotlight on the PAC-12
ESPN’s College GameDay (6-9AM PT on ESPN) will be in Salt Lake City next week when No. 10 Utah hosts No. 24 California. This is the second time in three weeks that College GameDay will be in Pac-12 country. GameDay was in Tucson last Saturday, when UCLA knocked off Arizona in Week 4. The contest, which will kick off at 7 p.m. PT and air on ESPN, features a pair of unbeaten Pac-12 squads. Utah (4-0) from the South Division was on a bye in Week 5. North Division leader California (5-0) moved up a few spots after coming from behind Saturday to beat Washington State 34-28 in Berkeley.
The Utes received one first-place vote in last week’s AP poll after knocking off Oregon 62-20. The Bears are 5-0 for the first time since 2007. It will be the first time Utah hosts College GameDay as a Pac-12 member. GameDay last went to Utah in 2010, when the Utes hosted TCU in a Mountain West Conference showdown of top-10 teams. TCU won that game 47-7.
Nine days after Darren Carrington was cited by Eugene police for an alcohol violation, and six days before his expected return from NCAA suspension, the Oregon Ducks are saying little about the sophomore receiver's availability against Washington State. Asked Monday whether he could say when Carrington would be permitted to play — whether by NCAA or team discipline — offensive coordinator Scott Frost answered he had "no idea." That followed head coach Mark Helfrich's vague replies Sunday concerning Carrington's status, where he reiterated that any undisclosed discipline would be handled in-house, but didn't indicate whether Carrington could play against the Cougars (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) on Oct. 10.
Police working the city's "party patrol" cited the 20-year-old Carrington for open container in an alley early on Sept. 26, two blocks west of the University of Oregon campus. The citation comes with an Oct. 16 date in municipal court, a maximum $500 fine and, though a misdemeanor offense, potential jail time.
After catching two touchdowns in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Florida State on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl, Carrington has missed the past six games following a failed NCAA-run drug test. Carrington hasn't been available for interviews since failing the drug test but has worked out with the team during the suspension. Teammates and coaches have lauded his effort and focus during spring and fall practices and expected his return, whenever it comes, to bolster an already deep position. "Darren's biggest strength is that he loves to compete," receivers coach Matt Lubick said in August. "It doesn't matter if it's pickup basketball, it doesn't matter if it's out there on the practice field or a big game like the Rose Bowl. He wants to compete and be the best. You could make an argument that he's practicing harder than anybody. It's been very impressive to watch the way he's working."
A glass half-empty view of Vernon Adams Jr.'s status is that Oregon's graduate transfer quarterback and opening-day starter remains unable to cut it loose in practice and wary of playing until his broken index finger is healed. "It's really tough for me not playing," said Adams on Monday, two days after missing his second game this season, against Colorado. "Especially because this is my senior year. I've got to be 100 percent before I can go out there."
The half-full perspective, the one the Ducks prefer, is this: He's getting just as many repetitions than ever, which has led to hopes he'll transition quickly back to the field once his finger allows it. "He's mentally taking every rep on the field," said offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who in Oregon's 41-24 victory against Colorado last weekend helped devise a rotation of Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie in Adams' stead. "He's been really dialed in." Adams has practiced some as the pain "definitely went down" recently, he said Monday, but he's taken the majority of his reps while stationed five yards behind practice drills. When Lockie looks right and left, progressing through his "reads," Adams mimics taking a snap and surveys the same coverage, cocking an imaginary ball near his temple while tapping his feet in an imaginary pocket. "He's a student of the game," said Frost, who praised Adams for not allowing his focus to wander. "He does a great job in practice and that's hard when you've got 100 or so reps in practice." Those reps increase as the day continues. After practice finishes at 11 a.m. and teammates scatter for classes, Adams lingers in the football offices. Classes for his graduate school program — Interdisciplinary Studies: Media-Journalism, Sports and Business — are all online, he said, estimating that schedule allows him to study three-to-four extra hours every afternoon.
Vernon Adams Jr. warms up before Oregon's victory against Colorado.Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian
"He's one of those guys who is a veteran and he understands how to watch film, so if he's watching on his own I'm not concerned about it," said Nate Costa, a UO graduate assistant and former UO quarterback whose injuries left an appreciation for the value of such "mental reps." "A lot of people watch film like people watch on TV; they watch where the ball goes. That's the last thing you want to do as a quarterback."
As high-tech as Oregon's film study has become — UO is one of eight Axon "elite training labs" in the world, according to the technology firm's website — it is, stripped of its HD screen, simply a new tool to fix the age-old problem of confidence. Ducks coaches preach playing "fast and free" — the more prepared an athlete is, the less he must think on the field.
Adams played fearlessly relying on his instincts at Eastern Washington en route to becoming a two-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top FCS player. Frost and Adams acknowledge that no simulation can replace a live defense, however, and no matter how much Adams worked to maximize his study time prior to his late arrival in August, he admittedly has played tentatively since while processing the nuances of Oregon's offense and adjusting to his injured finger.
"It's not Eastern where we just play two big teams, we've playing a big team every single week," Adams said. He was pulled from Oregon's loss to Utah on Sept. 26 in favor of Lockie due to his head as much as his health, coach Mark Helfrich said."It's somewhere on that spectrum of playing with total confidence," he said. "Nobody knows that answer really but him."
His track record would suggest Adams holds many answers to Oregon's season. A return to form figures to inject life into the Ducks' dormant vertical passing game, take pressure off the running backs while adding some to opposing defenses. In the interim, he'll be standing behind his fellow quarterbacks, observing and hoping that "mental reps" keep him from falling behind. "I'm sitting back seeing if they made the right read or the wrong read in that situation," Adams said. "Now when I'm watching film I'm sitting around like 'OK, this is what I need to do.'"