Oregon Ducks

Oregon Ducks

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.