When the discussion turned to Dakota Prukop, Oregon’s fifth-year senior starting quarterback, Washington Huskies defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake offered only praise.
He has a “wicked quick” release, Lake said. He has a better completion percentage than any quarterback the Huskies have seen this year, Lake said.
“And you can’t sleep on him when he keeps the ball on the zone read,” Lake said, “because this guy’s an athlete, and he can run.”
He can. He just might not actually play.
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That’s what reports from Eugene indicated on Tuesday, anyway. Duck Territory, a 247 Sports affiliate that covers Oregon football, first reported that the Ducks are “planning” to start true freshman Jake Herbert at quarterback instead of Prukop, who transferred from Montana State during the summer.
It’s a curious decision, if true. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday said only that “we’re still competing” at the quarterback position.
Prukop hasn’t provided the same kind of quarterback wizardry as Vernon Adams, the graduate transfer from Eastern Washington who spent his final year of eligibility at Oregon last season and helped the Ducks to a 9-4 record. But he hasn’t been terrible, either, completing 66.2 percent of his passes for 1,173 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions in five games.
Oregon’s defense has allowed 181 points, an average of 36.2 per game, second-worst in the Pac-12. Last week, the Ducks gave up 651 yards of total offense and six rushing touchdowns to Washington State.
Prukop, it seems, is not the problem.
The only reasonable explanation for the potential switch is that the Ducks, losers of three consecutive games for the first time since 2007, are turning their attention to the future and figure it better to let Herbert get acclimated rather than let a fifth-year senior finish out a season that appears to be going nowhere.
Herbert’s only collegiate experience came in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss at WSU. He led an 85-yard touchdown drive on his only series, completing 3 of 5 passes for 70 yards, capping the possession with a 4-yard touchdown run.
He has ideal size — Oregon’s roster lists him at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds — and threw for 3,130 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior at Sheldon High in Eugene. Oregon was the only power conference team to offer him a scholarship — it didn’t help that he missed most of his junior season because of a broken femur — though the Huskies also showed interest, and he did take an unofficial visit to UW’s campus.
Regardless of whether Herbert ends up starting, and regardless of the doomsday vibe emitting from Eugene this week, the Huskies still hold Oregon’s offense in high regard. After all, the Ducks still average 40 points and 512 yards per game, and those numbers certainly have the Huskies’ attention.
A lot of that has to do with junior tailback Royce Freeman, a 5-11, 230-pound force whom Lake believes to be the best running back in the country. Freeman is averaging 8.27 yards per carry and has seven touchdowns in a little more than three games this season.
“You talk about a guy that’s 5-11, 235 pounds, can run, has vision,” Lake said. “This is a guy that’ll play 10 years in the National Football League. They, right now, lead the Pac-12 in rushing, and it’s because of him. We have to stop Royce Freeman.”
Lake also called receiver Darren Carrington “one of the best receivers in the Pac-12,” lauded Ducks receiver and kick returner Charles Nelson and said “this is the fastest team we’ve faced, in terms of all their skill positions.”
Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski offered little reflection on Oregon’s struggles.
“All I know is,” Kwiatkowski said, “they move the ball, they’re leading the conference in rushing, they’re throwing for over 250 yards a game, and they’re putting up 40-plus points. We have our hands full this week, for sure.”