What we learned about Vernon Adams and Oregon in their loss to Michigan State

 

The No. 7 Oregon Ducks pushed No. 5 Michigan State to the very end of Saturday's 31-28 loss in East Lansing, Mich. A loss is a loss ... but this one came early in the season and revealed a lot about the Ducks still can be.

What did we learn? 

Vernon Adams is no Marcus Mariota and that's OK

Remember it's only been a month since Adams became eligible to join the Ducks. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has praised how quickly the quarterback has learned the offense, but an index finger injury suffered last week has reportedly held him back as well.

What we find out on Saturday is that Adams is crafty and competitve.

Adams, who completed 22-of-39 pases for 309 passing yards, orchestrated a rally with 78- and 80-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.

Then, he set up an opportunity for a go-ahead score with minutes left. Adams floated a pass over the head of an open Byron Marshall, then took a sack and threw an incompletion that sealed the win for Michigan State.

On several occasions, he did hold the ball too long and the rushing totals showed it. Adams, who threw and rushed for a score each, had 14 rushes that produced only six total yards. He threw two interceptions -- one pass was wrestled away from the Oregon receiver but the other came on an ill-advised toss by Adams off his back foot. 

While it's easy to compare him to his predecessor, Mariota, Adams clearly is a different animal. Judging him from this game may be harsh, but his grit against the Spartans was enough proof of why he won the starting quarterback gig.

Adams' creativeness showed when, with defenders draped over him, he completed a left-handed pass for a first down. His toughness came out while fighting for extra yards on a few runs.

Oregon's upside for 2015 will be determined by how Adams learns from the loss, not how he played a month into his time with the Ducks and against a top-5 foe.

Oregon isn't out of it

Like Arizona State falling in Week 1 to Texas A&M, a loss to a Power Five conference school doesn't end the Ducks' goal of reaching the College Football Playoff.

It will provide a valuable learning experience, and like the Sun Devils learned about playing with a less-mobile quarterback compared to a year ago (big-armed Mike Bercovici replaces dual-threat Taylor Kelly), Oregon will use the tape to adjust to a quarterback with a different skillset than Mariota.

The same goes for the Oregon defense, which got gashed at times in the running game but earned enough stops to give the Ducks' offense the chance to win it. Not all was bad. Oregon did hold highly-regarded Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook to a 20-for-32 night for 192 yards, two touchdowns and a pick.

Cut out nine penalties, shore up the offensive line problems that held the Ducks to 3.2 yards per rush, and Helfrich's team will be in fine shape for the start of Pac-12 play.

Bralon Addison is back

Oregon Ducks receiver Bralon Addison tore his ACL last spring and missed the entire 2014 season, so his return to the gridiron in the Ducks' 61-42 victory against Eastern Washington last week made for a happy storyline.

But truthfully, head coach Mark Helfrich said Tuesday that Addison wasn't close to 100 percent yet.

Helfrich may have to revise his assessment after Saturday, especially after watching Addison cruise for an 81-yard punt return in the loss.

To refute the coach's claim, take Addison's dirty side-step to slip away from the first Spartan with an angle on the tackle. There was also his speed to turn the corner, and when MSU got an arm around his legs, there was Addison high-stepping out of a tackle without getting close to losing his balance.

It appears the legs are well underneath the junior, who also added seven receptions for 138 yards.

Next up for the Ducks: Georgia State on Saturday in Eugene. We'll learn more then.

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