Oregon's Vernon Adams finding his groove after early injury
The Ducks (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12 ) will no doubt need him in top form on Saturday when they visit No. 7 Stanford (8-1, 7-0) in a game that could decide the Pac-12 North.
Stanford sits atop the standings but Oregon could still defend its division title with victories over the Cardinal and in the final two games of the season, combined with a Stanford loss to Cal in the Big Game. It seems unlikely, but it's still possible.
''We don't want to be just completely thinking about the Pac-12 North, but it's in our minds, definitely,'' Adams said. ''Hopefully, we just get this win and things happen. We've got to win one game at a time and go from there.''
Adams transferred to Oregon for his senior season, looking to pick up where Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota left off.
It wasn't to be. Adams broke his right index finger in the season opener against his former team, Eastern Washington. He struggled with the injury for a time before he retreated to the sidelines for games against Colorado and Washington State.
He returned three weekends ago at Washington, where the Ducks won 26-20 to kick off what is now a three-game winning streak.
Adams threw for 315 yards and four touchdowns in Oregon's 61-55 triple-overtime thriller against Arizona State, and then had 300 yards passing and another four touchdowns last weekend in a 44-28 win over California. His highlight reel from the latter game also includes a dramatic keeper that Adams capped by somersaulting over a defender and into the end zone.
Overall, Adams has thrown for 1,468 yards and 14 touchdowns with five interceptions in six games this season. He's also rushed for 145 yards and two more scores.
''He was pretty much a national story before he got to Oregon,'' Stanford coach David Shaw told reporters Tuesday. ''He is an exciting player with a strong arm. He's a dangerous football player. He is back to doing those things that caught everyone's eye.''
At least for right now, Adams is most concerned about fixing those interceptions. Both of his picks against Cal came in the end zone.
''I've got to clean that up if we want to be a better team,'' he said. ''I've definitely got to clean that up.''
Adams was helped against Cal by his offensive linemen, as well as the Ducks' running game, which churned out 477 yards on the ground - led by Royce Freeman with 180. Overall, Oregon had a school-record 777 yards in total offense.
''Oregon's always been known for having a ton of playmakers, so for us to get that rolling in the past couple of weeks feels great,'' said junior receiver Bralon Addison, who pulled down a pair of touchdown passes from Adams in the Cal victory. ''We're going to continue to get better.''
But that's going to be a challenge against Stanford, which ranks atop the Pac-12 for total defense, allowing opponents just under 339 yards per game and only 20 total touchdowns. Oregon may have one advantage if Adams can keep his upward trend going: Stanford's pass defense is ranked 10th in the league, allowing just over 213 yards a game.
Stanford has won eight straight games and will clinch the North outright with a victory over Oregon.
The Ducks are underdogs on Saturday, but the series with Stanford is marked by a couple of recent upsets. In 2012, Oregon was ranked No. 1 when Stanford and freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan visited Eugene and pulled off a 17-14 overtime victory. The Cardinal went on to win the Pac-12 championship game before beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Stanford played spoiler again the next year, beating the then-No. 2 Ducks 26-20. The Ducks went on to lose to Arizona down the stretch and wrapped up the season in the Alamo Bowl.
Adams said he's feeling more confident in his role since his return, and he's also tried to be a more vocal leader.
''I feel really good; I'm very confident with the offense now. I've got my reads down,'' he said. ''All we can do is just keep it rolling, you know? One game at a time.''