dakota prukop

Herbert creates excitement, but approach with caution

Herbert creates excitement, but approach with caution

Oregon will throw freshman quarterback Justin Herbert to the Dawgs on Saturday when the Ducks host No. 5 Washington at Autzen Stadium. 

Starting Herbert over underwhelming senior transfer Dakota Prukop against one of the best defenses in the country might seem like cruel and unusual punishment, or the decision simply smacks of desperation for the 2-3 Ducks. 

Whatever the case, Herbert appears to have the talent to be successful. Enough talent to at least make it plausible that he could rise to the occasion an deliver at the very least flashes of future potential. 

But can he defeat the Huskies? Doubtful. But not impossible. It's always difficult to cast an educated assessment of a mystery. Herbert is certainly an unknown. That will change Saturday evening and we will be left with a completely different narrative for Oregon's season. 

Here is a look at the likely scenarios that could happen during and after Saturday's game:

  1. Herbert leads the Ducks to a victory: Nothing would kick-start the legend of Justin Herbert more than him leading the Ducks to an improbable victory on Saturday. A win would put the Ducks back into the North Division race with far less daunting competition on the horizon. However, a Herbert-led victory would also cause the coach Mark Helfrich haters to ask, "why didn't you play Herbert sooner?" A fair question with a simple answer. Players improve over time. There's no reason to believe that Herbert was as good coming out of fall camp six weeks ago as he might be right now. Herbert's accelerated development, however, would put an end to the crazy accusations that Helfrich, who recruited and helped tutor Marcus Mariota, can't develop quarterbacks. 
  2. Herbert plays well, or is average, in defeat: This is the most likely scenario. Even if Herbert shines it appears unlikely that the Ducks will overcome any freshman mistakes he makes and their porous defense to defeat a very well balanced team like Washington. But if Herbert could manage to simply show signs of being a potential star in the making, that would set the table well for the rest of the season. A solid Herbert against UW could turn into a potent Herbert in two weeks at California and beyond. 
  3. Herbert struggles and Ducks get blown out: If the Ducks play well enough to win in most phases but fall to UW primarily because of inadequate quarterback play, then the narrative would be that Oregon should have started the more experienced Prukop. If the Ducks are blown out and Herbert is awful, then the sky would begin to fall all around the Ducks. Either way, Oregon would be left with a 2-4 record and huge remaining questions about the quarterback position, for this season and beyond, that likely won't be answered before UO falls out of bowl game contention. 

The intrigue is certainly palpable. 

A quick look at the Oregon-Washington:

When: 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: FOX. 

Betting line: Washington by 8.

Records: Oregon (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12), Washington (5-0, 2-0). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-11); UW coach Chris Petersen (20-12 at Washington, 112-24 overall). 

Last week: Washington won 44-6 at home against Stanford.  

How the Huskies will win: Washington will come at Oregon's defense with a deft young quarterback, two solid running backs, a fleet of fast receivers and a dominant defense. 

Game over, right? Probably. 

Jake Browning has come into his own as a passer.  He ranks second in the conference in passing efficiency (196.3) and is second in touchdown passes (17) with just two interceptions. He's completed 70.7 percent of his passes.

Browning's top targets are Chico McClatcher (16 receptions. 313 yards, four touchdowns), John Ross (21-277-6) and Dante Pettis (15-211-4). Sophomore Myles Gaskin is providing the rushing attack. He ranks fourth in the conference with 80.4 yards per game and has four rushing touchdowns.

Washington should score points, like everyone else does, against Oregon's defense. The question is whether the Ducks can move the ball consistently against Washington's dominant defense led by linebacker Azeem Victor, who ranks fourth in the conference with 8.4 tackles per game. Linebacker Psalm Wooching ranks tied for second with 4 1/2 sacks. 

UW, allowing 12.8 points per game, has shut down everyone other than Arizona, which runs a similar spread offense to Oregon. The Wildcats lost 35-28 in overtime at home to UW two weeks ago. 

That outcome bodes well for Oregon's chances. 

How Oregon can win:  Browning is not very mobile. The Ducks' defense did well against Nebraska other than containing its mobile quarterback, Tommy Armstrong Jr.  Browning's inability to hurt UO with his feet could play well for Oregon if linebacker Troy Dye helps Oregon generate a pass rush. That could slow down Washington's offense a bit. 

Plus, Washington runs more of a pro-style offense. The Ducks did well slowing down Nebraska' running game but has struggled mostly against teams that spread them out and run the ball (Virginia and Washington State). 

If the defense plays a respectable game, the Ducks could find enough success on offense to win if Herbert plays phenomenally well. Arizona's dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins, a redshirt sophomore, had a great all-around game against the Huskies. 

Herbert must get rid of the ball quickly to avoid being sacked (Washington has 21), and take care of the football.  If he can get the ball down field to receivers Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson, the Ducks could score enough points to pull off an upset.

But those are big ifs against Washington's defense, especially with a freshman quarterback at the helm. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): Infinity.  There's no reason to believe the Ducks can stop anyone, let alone Washington, and the Huskies' defense must be licking its collective chops after watching how WSU rattled the Ducks' offense on Saturday. 

Preliminary pick: Washington 37, Oregon 24.  It's the Huskies time and they are not going to allow a weak UO defense and a freshman quarterback to derail their run at a potential playoff berth.

A true frosh starting at QB against the Huskies? Bad idea

A true frosh starting at QB against the Huskies? Bad idea

If this story is true, if the Ducks really are going to start freshman quarterback Justin Herbert against the No. 5 team in the country Saturday, there are a whole lot of things wrong with that idea. Let me mention just a few:

  • A true frosh without a redshirt season -- is he ready? There were times earlier in the season when the coaching staff could have given him more playing time but did not. I'm still not sure why.
  • Giving a young quarterback his first start against a team that appears to dine on even the most experienced of quarterbacks, could end up as an offensive disaster and worse -- an injury to a kid who may not be as skilled as he could be in evading the pass rush.
  • Why not wait for the bye week to follow and use him against California? Wouldn't that make more sense?
  • Most teams, most coaches, I believe, have always tried to put their young quarterbacks in a position to succeed in their first start -- not be beat up, battered and perhaps overwhelmed. An assignment against the hungry Dawgs from the north might prove to be a detriment to his development. Quarterbacks who get hit a lot, especially young ones, can get a little timid.

Let me suggest that the only good thing that could come of this is for the Ducks to either win the game or perform well enough to keep it close. And, of course, get Herbert -- who by all accounts is a terrific young player -- through the game without incident. I'm certain somebody on the Oregon coaching staff must believe the kid is ready for this assignment and can handle it.

But you know what? It seems like a real panic move to me. And something else, too.

It appears to me that Dakota Prukop is being made the scapegoat for the team's three-game losing streak. And that's not at all fair. Has he been terrific? No. But he's been OK and hasn't cost this team games, either. There are plenty of reasons the Ducks are not playing well and the blame can go from the top down in the program. I hate to see a one-season transfer who has been in uniform for less than half a season take the rap for this team's problems.

Especially if we're looking at a coaching staff that just flat doesn't know what else to do but change quarterbacks.

Breaking: Oregon planning to start freshman QB Justin Herbert vs. No. 5 Washington

Breaking: Oregon planning to start freshman QB Justin Herbert vs. No. 5 Washington

The time appearantly is now for Oregon freshman quarterback Justin Herbert. 

According to multiple sources, Oregon is preparing for the former Sheldon High School star to make his first career start Saturday against - gasp - No. 5 Washington at Autzen Stadium. The story was first reported by 24/7 Sports.

When asked today if Prukop was still the starter, head coach Mark Helfrich said, "Yeah. I mean we're still competing." 

It didn't sound convincing and it will certainly be a challenge for Herbert if given the nod.

CSN learned on Monday that Herbert was taking first team reps. 

The move comes after senior Dakota Prukop put forth his worst performance of the season during a 51-33 loss at Washington State on Saturday when he completed just 14-of-22 passes for 132 yards with one interception. 

[RELATED: 5 Reasons to remain positive about the Oregon program]

Herbet entered the game with a few minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and led the Ducks on an 85-yard scoring drive that included him completing 3-of-5 passes for 70 yards and rushing for a four-yard touchdown. 

There's always a chance the Oregon coaching staff will change their plans after a full week of work but according to sources, Herbet has looked very good in practice this week. 

Starting Herbert against Washington would be risky

herbert_fallcamp2016_am.jpg

Starting Herbert against Washington would be risky

Update: Sources have indicated the team plans to start Herbert this weekend.

The Oregon Ducks sit at 2-3 with a weak defense and an inconsistent senior quarterback who blew two chances to win games and then put forth his worst effort during a blowout loss Saturday at Washington State. 

Next comes No. 5 Washington (5-0, 2-0) Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

What to do? What to do?

I know. How about starting freshman backup quarterback Justin Herbert against easily the best defense in the Pac-12?

Yeah, that should work (wink).

Then again, what do the Ducks have to lose, other than the confidence of its potential future star quarterback? 

It took all of about an hour after the Ducks (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12) lost 51-33 at WSU for some fans and members of the media to deduce that the Ducks should throw Herbert to the Huskies. 

Memo to Oregon: Don't do it. It wouldn't be fair to Herbert.

The job of any coaching staff is to play the quarterback that it believes gives the team the best chance to win. Through five games the staff believed that man to be Prukop, who won the starting job during fall camp and has been solid with 1,173 passing yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. 

But he struggled wildly at WSU, completing just 14-of-22 passes for 132 yards with one interception. 

Herbert mopped up the mess by completing 3-of-5 passes for 70 yards and rushed for a four-yard touchdown. But he threw three easy passes against backups with tight end Jacob Breeland taking one down the sideline for 63 yards. 

That shouldn't be enough to convince anyone he is ready to start against the Huskies, who rank 15th in the nation and second in the conference in total defense (299.2 yards allowed per game) and lead the conference while ranking eighth in the nation in scoring defense (12.8 points per game). They, oh by the way, also lead the conference in sacks (21).  

Run Herbert, run!

The reality is that none of us know what truly goes on behind closed doors at Oregon. For all we know, the competition has truly been tight between Herbert and Prukop. Maybe Saturday was all the staff needed to see from Prukop to realize that he can't save the season with such a putrid defense allowing oodles of points.

The feeling among the staff could very well be that Herbert, at the very least, could deliver a few more big plays that increase the Ducks' chances of pulling off an upset. Plus, it's far likely that Herbert is far more comfortable now with the offense than he was a month ago, thus making it more likely he is ready from a mental standpoint. 

But it would seem to make more sense, at least from this vantage point, to start Prukop, who has already played solid football against two ranked teams, then should he falter replace him with Herbert. That would take the pressure off of the freshman. And who knows, maybe Prukop has another solid game. He's had four thus far. 

If not, Herbert replaces him, does whatever he does, then could be prepared to start the following game at California with a bye week in between to help him prepare.  

The worst-cased scenario in starting Herbert on Saturday would be that Washington knocks the bejesus out of him. Washington can be tough on quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks playing behind a young offensive line that had trouble run blocking and pass protecting at Washington State, which entered that game with just two sacks and now ranks 11th in the conference in pass defense.

Then again, maybe Oregon looks at what Arizona redshirt sophomore Brandon Dawkins managed to do against UW during his team's 31-28 overtime loss two Saturday's ago at home. Dawkins rushed for 176 yards and two touchdowns while also passing for 167 yards and a touchdown with one interception. 

Dawkins, however, is in his third year in the program. Herbert is a true freshman. Those two years of development matter.

Even the great Marcus Mariota during his career struggled against top-notch defenses, most notably Stanford, which in 2012 and 2013 made the 2014 Heisman Trophy recipient look below average. The Ducks' were held to 33 offensive points over those two games played when Mariota was a redshirt freshman and a redshirt sophomore. 

If Mariota, after a full year of development and 10 starts in 2012, couldn't get it done against Stanford in a 17-14 overtime loss with a shot at a national title hanging in the balance, why would we believe that Herbert, surrounded by a far inferior team, would find success against Washington? 

The danger of staring Herbert is obvious. If he gets destroyed and the Ducks are blown out, then where would you turn next? Back to Prukop, whom you just benched after one bad start?

Then the quarterback juggling act begins and that wouldn't be good for anyone.  

Stay the course with Prukop against Washington. Fall back on Herbert if needed on Saturday. Starting him this week could backfire in a big way and make recovering from a likely 2-4 start even more difficult. 

Just a thought. 

A quick look at Washington:

When: 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: FOX. 

Betting line: Washington by 8 1/2.

Records: Oregon (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12), Washington (5-0, 2-0). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-11); UW coach Chris Petersen (20-12 at Washington, 112-24 overall). 

Last week: Washington won 44-6 at home against Stanford.  

Huskies' impact players: Washington quarterback Jake Browning has come into his own. 

The sophomore, after an up-down-freshman season, is off to a great start. He ranks second in the conference in passing efficiency (196.3) and is second in touchdown passes (17) with just two interceptions. Furthermore, he has completed 70.7 percent of his passes. 

Sophomore Myles Gaskin is providing the rushing attack. He ranks fourth in the conference with 80.4 yards per game and has four rushing touchdowns.

Browning's top targets are Chico McClatcher (16 receptions. 313 yards, four touchdowns), John Ross (21-277-6) and Dante Pettis (15-211-4).

They could do serious damage if the Ducks don't get pressure on Browning. We all saw how little Oregon got on WSU quarterback Luke Falk.  

Linebacker Azeem Victor ranks fourth in the conference with 8.4 tackles per game. Linebacker Psalm Wooching ranks tied for second with 4 1/2 sacks. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): Infinity.  There's no reason to believe the Ducks can stop anybody, let alone Washington, and the Huskies' defense has to be licking its collective chops after watching how WSU rattled the Ducks' offense on Saturday. 

Preliminary pick: Washington 37, Oregon 24.  If the Huskies, who haven't defeated the Ducks since 2003, don't win this game they might never beat Oregon again. No joke. 

 

Justin Herbert's time could be near for Oregon

Justin Herbert's time could be near for Oregon

PULLMAN, Wash. - Everyone usually loves the little-used backup quarterback. 

Why? Because he has yet to fail, and humans typically gravitate toward shiny, brand new objects that hold great wonder. 

Oregon freshman quarterback Justin Herbert is that object of hope at the moment for some Ducks fans, and the team is certainly in need of a bright spot after a 51-33 loss Saturday at Washington State. 

Herbert provided a peek into the future after he entered Saturday's game in place of ineffective starter, Dakota Prukop with a couple of minutes remaining and completed 3-of-5 passes for 70 yards. Herbert ended an 85-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run that made the final score a bit less humiliating. 

Herbert's performance came after Prukop delivered his worst outing of the season, completing just 14-of-22 passes for 132 yards with one interception. 

Still, despite Prukop's poor showing, and his two missed opportunities earlier this season to lead the Ducks to late victories in losses to No. 12 Nebraska and No. 21 Colorado, the UO coaching staff remained steadfast that there would not be a change at quarterback. 

"Dakota is our quarterback," Lubick said. "But we have to go back and look at it. We always evaluate every position after every game."

Oregon coach mark Helfrich also said that Prukop would remain the starter. That's probably a wise choice if just for the fact that Oregon next faces No. 5 Washington and its wickedly good defense at Autzen Stadium. Throwing Herbert to the dogs, so the speak, would probably be unwise for his first start.  

However, if Oregon loses and Prukop again plays poorly, then the job could be up for grabs with the bye week to help prepare Herbert for a potential first start at California on Oct. 15. 

More on that later. 

Herbert, before Saturday, had only appeared in a game once before this season. He handed off the ball on the final play of the game during a 53-28 over UC Davis in the season opener.

Herbert did not get in the following week during a 44-26 win over Virginia because the coaches were never comfortable enough with the lead until the game was over. On Saturday, Herbert was set to enter the game with eight minutes remaining and the Ducks down 44-20 when wide receiver Charles Nelson returned a kick off 100 yards for a touchdown. 

With just under three minutes remaining in the game, Herbert got in and made the most of the opportunity. Though he threw simple, safe passes, Herbert at least appeared to be a talented quarterback.

He certainly has received a lot of hype since training camp, with some observers comparing him to a young Marcus Mariota. But Herbert, who beat out redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and freshman Terry Wilson Jr. to become the starter, didn't have much of an opportunity to prove he should be in a position to the starter right now, not if the coaching staff still believes Prukop gives the Ducks the best chance to win. 

That mentality should continue as long as the Ducks (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12) remain in contention for a bowl game. The goal is to win as many games as possible. That means playing your best players. It's not fair to anyone to deviate from that mentality simply to plan for the future. 

Marcus Mariota, Darron Thomas and Jeremiah Masoli did just fine as first-year Oregon starting quarterbacks with minimal to zero previous FBS collegiate game experience. 

If Herbert is the real deal, he should do just fine next season even if he never plays a meaningful snap this year. 

That all said, scenarios exist beyond injury where Herbert could find himself starting this season: 

  1. If Oregon loses its seventh game, thus losing bowl eligibility, all bets are off. An Oregon team at say, 4-7, would certainly be better off giving Herbert the start at Oregon State.  
  2. Prukop continues to regress and the narrative of which player gives the team the best chance to win changes. The Ducks should make a switch if there is ever a shred of doubt that Prukop is the better quarterback. If that should occur after a possible loss to Washington, then the Ducks would have two weeks to get Herbert ready for California.  

Whenever Herbert sees the field again this season, at least he has the initial butterflies out of his system. 

"I was really nervous because those guys came a lot faster than I was prepared for," Herbert said after Saturday's game. 

Herbert responded well. He threw two quick passes to the left to record his first two completions. The first went to running back Kani Benoit for a gain of zero. The second went to freshman tight end Jacob Breeland, who took the reception down the sideline for a gain of 63 yards to the WSU 22. 

Running back Tony Brooks-James rushed twice for gains of eight and three yards to the 11. Then Herbert hit Breeland again for a gain of seven. 

After a dropped pass by Brooks-James, Herbert scored his first touchdown from four yards out. 

All told, not a bad few minutes for Herbert, who said that he didn't expect to suddenly be dumped into a quarterback battle. 

"One hundred percent (Prukop) is the guy," Herbert said. "I have confidence in him. The team does. So do the coaches."

At least for now. 

Oregon's season starts to unravel after 51-33 loss at WSU

Oregon's season starts to unravel after 51-33 loss at WSU

Washington State 51, Oregon 33 

How Oregon lost: The Ducks (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12) were taken to school by Washington State (2-2, 0-1) for most of the night at Martin Stadium, to put it bluntly.

WSU quarterback Luke Falk had his way with Oregon's defense, which couldn't generate much of a pass rush. On the other side of the ball, Oregon's offense sputtered most of the night other than a brief 14-point burst in the first half. Quarterback Dakota Prukop had his worst outing of the season and the Cougars did a great job against UO's rushing attack despite the return of junior running back Royce Freeman. 

What it means: Oregon is in big trouble. No. 10 Washington visits Autzen Stadium next week, which means the Ducks could very easily be 2-4 very soon.  UO's schedule includes several teams better than the Cougars that could also deal the Ducks losses. It's altogether possible that UO could be in a fight just to become bowl eligible.  

Key sequence: Oregon trailed 28-14 and appeared to be dead in the water when the Cougars drove into the red zone. But the Ducks blocked a field goal and on a later WSU drive held on a fourth-down play from inside the UO 10-yard line.

After the Ducks' offense gave up a safety when Prukop was sacked in the end zone, their defense held again and that led to a 75-yard touchdown run from Freeman to make the score 30-20, WSU.

WSU, however, answered with a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown run by running back Jamal Morrow, his second of the game. 

The Ducks were ill-equipped to come back from a 37-20 deficit that quickly grew to 44-20 in the fourth quarter. 

Play of the game: The Ducks trailed 30-14 and the offense was stuck in mud when Freeman broke into the secondary, juked to the right, hit the sideline, shoved away a WSU defensive back then sped down the field for a long touchdown run to give the Ducks brief hope. 

High flying Ducks: Freeman, held to 49 yards on 13 carries in the first half, finished the game with 138 and scored three touchdowns.  

Linebacker Johnny Ragin II had eight tackles before leaving the game in the second half with an injury. Cornerback Arrion Springs had two tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Defensive end Justin Hollins and defensive tackle Rex Manu each recorded sacks.  

Fowl play: Oregon's defense is simply bad.

The Ducks failed to generate any type of pass rush while allowing Falk to carve them up for 371 yards and one touchdown with no interception.  Even more damning was that WSU also ran the ball well, scoring on four rushing touchdowns while gaining 284 on the ground.    

The UO defense did play better in the second half for a bit but failed to get a stop after the Ducks got back into the game at 30-20. Then the bottom fell out again and the Ducks surrendered two scoring drives. 

Prukop completed 14-of-22 passes for 132 yards and had one intercepted. He rushed for just 13 yards on eight carries and WSU sacked him twice. 

Freshman backup quarterback Justin Herbert played on Oregon's final possession and guided the team on an 85-yard scoring drive that ended with him rushing in for a four-yard touchdown. 

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and Herbert were quick to squelch any potential quarterback controversy by saying that Prukop remains the team's quarterback moving forward.  

Next up: Oregon hosts No. 10 Washington at Autzen Stadium. The Huskies (5-0, 2-0) destroyed No. 7 Stanford (3-1, 0-1) at home, 44-6. 

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

EUGENE - Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop has played some very good football this season. 

Unfortunately for him and the Ducks, two plays separate him from having already earned legendary status rather than simply being a good quarterback who keeps falling short. 

Prukop, during Saturday's 41-38 loss to Colorado at Autzen Stadium, threw an interception in the fourth-quarter on a horribly underthrown pass to wide receiver Darren Carrington II, who ran a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone. Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted the throw with 48 seconds remaining.  

Two games ago in the final minute at Nebraska, Prukop, with the Ducks down 35-32, rolled right and located wide receiver Charles Nelson open running toward the right corner of the end zone. But Prukop underthrew Nelson and the pass was deflected. The game ended two plays later when Prukop rushed for three yards on a desperate fourth down attempt with 18 yards to go for a first. 

Two would-be winning plays. Two underthrown passes. Prukop leads Carrington to the corner of the end zone and it's a likely touchdown. Prukop leads Nelson and it's also a likely touchdown.

That's how close Oregon (2-0) is to being 4-0. That's how close Prukop, a graduate transfer from Montana State, is to having thrown two game-winning touchdown passes for the Ducks already this season. 

Instead he is left to lament what could have been. 

"It's execution," Prukop said following Saturday's defeat. "People are going to say, "nah, it's not one play. It's the whole game.' But it came down to the last play."

It's a tough situation to be in for a quarterback. They're asked to save the the rest of the team from its collective mistakes while minimizing their own. Bottom line, however, is that they are expected to make big plays. Prukop has made plenty. He has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,041 yards and eight touchdowns with just the one interception. He's also rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown. 

Such statistics, however, ring hollow when a quarterback fails to deliver with the game on the line. 

Some fans and members of the media have criticized the play call on the pass intended for Carrington against Colorado. That's largely unfair.

Red zone fade passes are rarely intercepted because they are pretty safe throws. Either the pass is lofted to the corner where only the receiver can get it, or it goes out of bounds. Another option is to throw the ball with great velocity to the receivers back shoulder so that he must adjust to it while the defensive back can't see the ball because he is trailing the receiver. 

"I thought it was a safe play," Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said of the call on first and goal from the Colorado seven. 

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich supported the call. 

"With two time outs, just trying to get a play off quickly and use all four downs..." Helfrich said "In that situation we're obviously trying to give a playmaker a chance. Hopefully it's a safe ball and that turned out differently."

Prukop said he felt good about the play call. 

"When they called that play I was like, 'we're going to get a touchdown right here,'" Prukop said.

His intent, Prukop said, was to throw the ball high and to the corner of the end zone. 

"I should have put it a lot higher," Prukop said. "Give him an easy jump ball. That's what he likes. Just have to learn from it."

The passing combo, Prukop said, has worked on that play extensively in practice with Prukop laying it up for the ultra athletic Carrington to go get it. On Saturday, however, Prukop misfired. 

"I've got to go see it on film but obviously I didn't put enough juice on it," he said. 

Prukop said he ended up throwing the ball a bit more like a back shoulder pass.

"I've got to put the ball in position where only the receiver could get to it," Prukop said. 

The pass lacked the trajectory or velocity of such a throw and instead turned into a lob pass directly to the defensive back. 

"Throwing it like I did, that's too risky," Prukop said. "I paid for it."

The play left Oregon's players and coaches stunned. The Ducks went from having a chance to win, or at least tie with a field goal, to losing after one errant throw. 

Players and coaches said they would rally around one another to right the ship. At the center of that, Lubick said, is Prukop, who demonstrated great leadership in the face of adversity. 

That ability, plus Prukop's talent, could put UO in position to win plenty of games this season. But there are going to be times where Prukop must make the big throws that so far have eluded him.

"I haven't been through something like this before," Prukop said. "It sucks. Just have to eat it and learn from it. 

Extra points doom No. 22 Ducks who can't hold off Nebraska, lose 35-32

Extra points doom No. 22 Ducks who can't hold off Nebraska, lose 35-32

Nebraska 35, No. 22 Oregon 32

How Oregon lost: The Ducks fought hard but were unable to overcome the loss of running back Royce Freeman in the first quarter and lost a back-and-forth affair in front of 90,414 at Memorial Stadium. Backup running backs Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit and Taj Griffin helped Oregon rushed for 336 yards but the Ducks failed on four out of five two-point conversion attempts which cost the team three points.

Oregon led 32-28 with little time remaining before the Cornhuskers drove 80 yards in 11 plays to take the lead on a 34-yard run up the middle on a quarterback draw from Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 2:29 remaining in the game. 

The Ducks mounted a drive that almost resulted in a touchdown when quarterback Dakota Prukop had Charles Nelson open deep down the field. But Prukop overthrew Nelson and the result of the play was a deflected pass. 

Oregon later faced a fourth down with 19 yards to go. Prukop got immediately pressured, tried to run and got tackled for a three-yard loss. 

What it means: A win not only would have lifted the Ducks in the polls, but also would have elevated their perception nationally. Now, the Ducks are 2-1 with Pac-12 play set to begin next week. However, Oregon played well in a hostile environment. Prukop looked very good both as a runner and as a passer. The offensive line, which lost left tackle Tyrell Crosby, did a solid job with four redshirt freshmen in the lineup. Despite being disappointed, Oregon leaves Lincoln, Neb., confident it can build upon this defeat. 

Key sequence: Oregon led 14-7 but Nebraska was driving before Armstrong floated a pass behind a running back swinging out of the backfield from the Oregon 12. The backward pass became a fumble that UO cornerback Arrion Springs alertly scooped it up and ran 34 yards to the 50.  On the next play Griffin raced 50 yards through a huge hole to score his first touchdown of the season and give UO a 20-7 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the half after the missed two-point attempt. 

Oregon's defense held tough again and forced a punt, taking over with 1:05 on the clock. The Ducks were forced to punt after three plays, and that led to a 45-yard punt return from De'Mornay Pierson-El to the Ducks 19. 

Several plays later, Armstrong hit wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp for a three-yard touchdown (his second) to make the score 20-14 at halftime. 

Play of the game: The Ducks trailed 28-26 in the fourth quarter before going on a 97-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 46-yard run from Benoit. He ran right, cut through a hole and then put on the accelerators before being tracked down at the Nebraska 13. Four plays later Brooks-James scored from one yard out to give the Ducks a 32-28 lead with 10:35 remaining in the game. 

High flying Ducks: Prukop had a solid game with his feet, rushing for 97 yards on 20 carries. He threw for just 146 yards on the day as Nebraska did a great job in coverage. 

Brooks-James rushed for 37 yards and three short touchdowns, Griffin had 68 and a score and Benoit gained 100 with a touchdown.

Fowl play: Oregon committed 13 penalties for 126 yards. 

The Ducks attempted five two-point conversions and converted on only the first one.  

The rushing defense began the game well, allowing just 18 yards on seven carries in the first quarter. But Nebraska got things going from the second quarter on and finished with 228 yards on 47 carries. 

Next up: Oregon hosts Colorado (2-1) on Saturday. The Buffaloes today lost 45-28 at No. 4 Michigan. 

Oregon WR Devon Allen back to being Devon Allen

Oregon WR Devon Allen back to being Devon Allen

EUGENE - Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop couldn't believe his eyes. 

The Ducks needed 36 yards for a first down during a drive in the second quarter on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium and Virginia's defense had just one defender lined up six yards off if Allen, aligned far right, with a safety in the middle of the field. At the snap, that safety disappeared. 

"I remember thinking like, 'okay, there's got to be someone deep,'" Prukop said. 

Nope. Clearly the Cavaliers' defensive backs hadn't watched the 110-meter hurdles during the Rio Summer Olympics. Had they done so, they would have watched Allen, the United States champion, place fifth on the planet in the event and deduced that he has superior foot speed. 

Maybe then they wouldn't have allowed Allen, who appears to be back to his former self since undergoing ACL surgery on his right knee in early 2015, to run a post pattern right past a doomed cornerback while the deep safety chased Darren Carrington II, who had aligned next to Allen before running a 10-yard crossing route.

Oops. 

The result: Allen hauled in the slightly underthrown pass as he fell to the ground with the cornerback on top of him for a 55-yard gain that gave the Ducks a first down at the Cavaliers' six-yard line. The play set up a two-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Stanford that made the score 20-6 in what would end up being a 44-26 UO victory. 

“That was a phenomenal play on the third-down conversion," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. 

It was Allen's first play that could be described as such in nearly two years. The play was Allen's longest since scoring Oct. 20, 2014 when he caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota at Washington State where he had a career-high 142 receiving yards on seven receptions.

But Allen wasn't done on Saturday. He got loose again in the third quarter when he hauled in a 77-yard touchdown pass from Prukop to give the Ducks a 37-13 lead in the third quarter. 

His 141 yards on four catches against Virginia composed by far his best outing since at WSU. 

"It's been a year since I really felt good playing football with my knee," Allen said. "My knee feels great now."

Following the touchdown, Allen ran along the back of the end zone while twice pretending to leap over a hurdle. He said the celebration had been planned for about a week.  

"It was pretty funny," he said. "My teammates got a kick out of it."

Allen said he didn't expect to receive a penalty for simply running and jumping. 

"Maybe for excessive running and jumping?" he quipped. "I hope not."

Having Allen back in top form could change the dynamic of Oregon's entire offense. 

Allen became one of the more dangerous deep threats in the nation as a redshirt freshman in 2014 when he caught 41 receptions for 684 yards and seven touchdowns. His season ended during a College Football Playoff game played at the Rose Bowl against Florida State when he blew out a knee ligament while returning the opening kick off. 

Allen worked his way back onto the field for the 2015 season but never regained his previous form while he struggled to regain full comfort in his right knee. Consequently, he caught just nine passes for 94 yards on the season with a long of 23 and never found the end zone. 

Those days appear to be a distant bad memory.

“Devon has practiced well and is getting into the rhythm of football again,” Helfrich said.

Allen's world-class speed will force opponents to respect him deep and help open up underneath routes for other receivers, and it will keep defenders from crowding the box to defend running back Royce Freeman. 

To fully return to his 2014 levels, Allen said he still must work on getting his lungs and legs in shape for playing football at Oregon's pace. Running one 110-meter hurdle event once is tough, but running 60 20-to-50 yard sprints in one game requires more endurance. 

Plus, Allen said he is continuously working on developing timing with Oregon's new quarterbacks, including backup, freshman Justin Herbert. 

"Running is something I'm good at but I still need to get better at catching, need to get better at blocking, knowing my assignment," Allen said. 

For now, he's shown he still knows how to get deep. That alone will help Oregon win games. 

Prukop reaches next level in 44-26 win over Virginia

Prukop reaches next level in 44-26 win over Virginia

EUGENE - Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop had it going on Saturday night.

He was in charge. He led. He meticulously executed the minutia during a 44-26 slamming of Virginia at Autzen Stadium. Most importantly, though, he flashed the undeniable signs of being a sizzling playmaker. Maybe even a championship-level one, at that. 

It's impossible to know how Prukop, a senior transfer from Montana State, will be viewed at the end of the season. Conquering hero, or marginal performer?

What needed to be seen out of Prukop on Saturday were signs that he could be special enough for the No. 22 Ducks (2-0) to overcome their deficiencies on defense and a young offensive line in order to contend in the rugged Pac-12 North Division, and maybe beyond. 

We saw that from him on Saturday. 

For the first time in three public outings at Autzen Stadium (counting the spring game), Prukop looked better than ordinary. In fact, he looked rather amazing while completing 21-of-31 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. 

But it's not the numbers that matter. It's how they were accumulated. The notion that Prukop and Oregon could succeed with him simply playing as a game manager in charge of distributing the ball to the team's playmakers is a joke. UO's quarterback must be a playmaker himself in order for UO to succeed. Prukop was just that on Saturday night. 

Prukop stood in the face of the Cavaliers' pass rush and didn't blink despite the chaos swirling around him. He often scanned the entire field before settling in on fourth and fifth reads sometimes 40 yards away laterally from his original field of vision.

He repeatedly showed great pocket awareness and avoided sacks. On one play he escaped a collapsed pocket and a sure sack to the left, bought some time and found Darren Carrington II for a 22-yard gain to the Virginia 33. Several times he took off running only to make a late, slight-of-hand pitch to another player for more yards. 

And, of course, Prukop executed very well when conditions were optimal. His touch was deft. His decisions were sound. He left very few plays on the field. 

Granted, Virginia isn't exactly a powerhouse. The Ducks will face much better competition down the line, starting with Nebraska (2-0) on the road next Saturday. Nevertheless, despite of the Cavaliers' warts, they are a much better than UC Davis, the Ducks' first victims last week. In that game Prukop looked ordinary, albeit he didn't need to do all that much during a 53-28 win. 

Prukop credited those around him for his success. He said his two main goals this week were to improve on tempo and do a better job of communicating protection calls to the offensive line. 

"I don't think there was a single unpicked-up protection or something that caught us off guard," Prukop said. 

When he did get pressured, Prukop said he tried to sit in the pocket long enough to allow UO's talented receivers time to get open. That worked out well, especially on his 77-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Devon Allen in the third quarter.

The Ducks led 30-13 after a Virginia touchdown and had the ball on their own 23. Prukop took the snap, stood strong in the pocket with heat coming at him from the left and up the middle. A millisecond before getting hit from his left, Prukop launched a near-perfect deep ball to Allen who was running a seam route down the left hash mark.  

Touchdown Oregon. Score: 37-13 with 8:53 remaining in the third quarter. Game all but over. 

Prior to that in the second quarter, Prukop completed a 55-yard pass to Allen on a third and 36. 

"Virginia played man coverage on that," Prukop said with a wry smile, "and, that's good."

Oregon quarterbacks coach David Yost said his pupil did a good job of staying in attack mode and getting the ball to the right guys through making good reads.

"What he's shown us in practice, he is a pretty good deep ball thrower," Yost said. "He gives our guys a chance to go get it."

And he does so with great calm in the pocket. 

"He wants to make the throw so he kind of has it in him that he will stand in there and take a shot," Yost said. 

Yost did say that Prukop got a little sloppy with some reads in the fourth quarter. Hey, nobody is perfect. Most importantly, Yost said, Prukop took care of the football. No turnovers. 

He has yet to throw an interception this season. 

So, where does this performance leave things?

Well, at the very least we know Prukop has the ability to make special plays at this level. He can be Marcus Mariota-like. At least against a team like Virginia, which last week lost to FCS Richmond at home.

Nebraska will be tougher. Colorado (2-0) has looked very good early.  Of course, No. 7 Stanford (1-0) and No. 8 Washington (2-0) will make life difficult for Prukop when they visit Autzen Stadium later this season. Games at Utah, Washington State and USC also loom.  

A simple distributor would have a hard time three of those seven games. At least we now know that Prukop will be able to make the types of plays that will give Oregon a fighting chance to win them all.