The Oregon Ducks' lone season with Vernon Adams Jr. at quarterback didn't go at all as expected. In fact, it opened a lot like it closed, with Adams injured.
The graduate transfer's finger was broken in a collision in his Oregon debut against his former team, Eastern Washington. He was injured again Saturday night in the Ducks' triple-overtime Alamo Bowl loss to TCU, watching the second half from the sidelines in sweats.
The Ducks, looking to replace Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, brought Adams in with much fanfare after he set records in three seasons with the Eagles. A math final added drama to his eventual arrival in fall camp, but within two weeks he claimed the starting job over Jeff Lockie.
But the finger injury in the opener against Eastern Washington hampered him for the first half of the season. The Ducks, ranked No. 7 in the beginning, fell 31-28 to Michigan State. Losses at home to Pac-12 opponents Utah and Washington State dropped Oregon out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009.
Adams finally returned to lead the Ducks to victory in their last six regular-season games, including key wins over No. 7 Stanford and No. 22 USC. But it wasn't enough to wrestle the Pac-12 North title from the Cardinal and earn a place in the Rose Bowl.
Adams was cruising in the bowl game against TCU, but was injured in a helmet-to-helmet collision at the end of the first half after the No. 15 Ducks built a 28-0 lead. Adams could only watch as the Ducks surrendered the a 31-0 lead and the No. 11 Horned Frogs staged the biggest comeback in bowl history, winning 47-41.
TCU was playing without injured receiver Josh Doctson and starting quarterback Trevone Boykin, who was suspended after his arrest and role in a fight at San Antonio bar.
Oregon went 9-4, the first time since 2007 that the Ducks have finished with fewer than 10 wins.
"To end it this way is tough," coach Mark Helfrich said. "But we will forge ahead, build in every phase, go back to school and move on."
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The Ducks have already begun the rebuild process, and for the second straight year plan to bring in a graduate transfer at quarterback: Dakota Prukop, who played last season at Montana State.
Prukop passed for 3,025 yards and 28 touchdowns with 10 interceptions this season for the Big Sky's Bobcats. He also rushed for 774 yards and 11 touchdowns. Montana State finished 5-6, the team's first losing record since the 2002 season.
Prukop will work with a new offensive coordinator after Scott Frost left to become the head coach at Central Florida. On New Year's Day, the Ducks promoted wide receivers coach Matt Lubick.
Frost is not the only Duck who will be somewhere else next year. Defensive end DeForest Buckner is likely to be a top pick in the NFL draft after staying at Oregon for his senior season. Offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone is also a senior and finishes his career with a loss.
Running back and receiver Byron Marshall, who hurt his leg in Oregon's loss to Utah, told the team's website that he will not pursue a medical hardship waiver for another year of eligibility.
Junior receiver Bralon Addison is reportedly considering whether he should declare for the NFL draft.
But the Ducks should see the return of running back Royce Freeman, a sophomore, who in the Alamo Bowl broke LaMichael James single-season rushing record with 1,836 yards. He finished with 130 yards rushing for three touchdowns in the last game.
His 19 touchdowns this season tied him with himself for fourth on Oregon's single-season list.
"Royce is a stud," Helfrich said simply after the bowl loss.
As for Oregon's collapse without playmaker Adams in the finale, Helfrich took responsibility. And likewise, it will be his responsibility to address the myriad of issues that were exposed by TCU, not just at QB.
"Everybody wants to point a finger at one person," he said. "Point it at me. Blame me. I'm 100 percent good with that."
This article was written by Anne M. Peterson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.