Vernon Adams leaves, and Oregon loses control of game in 47-41 loss
The Oregon offense was huddled near the sideline, moments away from the fourth quarter beginning, but Vernon Adams Jr. wasn’t the center man inside it. Instead he stood a couple paces away in street clothes, a headset adorned over his buzzed hair, staring aimlessly at the far end zone. A few moments later he patted his replacement, Jeff Lockie, on the helmet and moved back to his home for the second half of the 2016 Valero Alamo Bowl: The sideline.
Adams had electrified the Astrodome crowd in the first 25 minutes, juking and eluding would-be-tacklers before passing for 197 yards and one score as the Ducks built a 31-0 lead. But, on the Ducks’ sixth drive of the game Adams scrambled and turned up field before taking a brutal helmet-to-helmet blow from TCU safety Derrick Kindred. Adams fell limp, and so did the rather bright outlook for Oregon’s bowl game.
Without Adams — as well as starting center Matt Hegarty, who also sustained an undisclosed injury –– the Ducks transformed back into the team that was haunted by the graduate transfer’s absence at the beginning of the season. It lost hold of the tight grip it had on the game and gradually watched as the lead was trimmed drive-by-drive as a rejuvenated TCU offense exploded in the third and fourth quarter. By its conclusion, after the three overtimes and the confetti had settled, Bram Kohlhausen and TCU had overcame what seemed at the surface like an insurmountable lead and beat the Ducks, 47-41.
Adams left with what appeared to be a concussion, and without him, Jeff Lockie and the offense became stagnant. The unit that had gained 376 yards in the first half and executed big play after big play, gained just 19 on 18 plays in a scoreless third and fourth quarter.
“We didn’t execute,” said Matt Lubick, who coached his first game at Oregon as offensive coordinator calling plays in the booth. “Whether it was turnovers, a snap here, a snap there, a drop or two.”
The consistently low and erratic snaps were a product of backup center Doug Brenner, but even when the ball did come to Lockie effectively, the offense, as Lockie said, “couldn’t get it going.” While that was happening, the Horned Frogs, who were starting a backup quarterback of their own because of Trevone Boykin’s suspension, began to show signs of life.
Behind Kohlhausen, TCU had punted five times, turned the ball over on downs and committed one turnover in the first 30 minutes. Even when it did run a play efficiently, there usually was a penalty bringing it back.
But, Kohlhausen guided TCU to six consecutive scoring drives in the second half and finished the game 28-of-45 for 351 yards and two touchdowns. He brushed aside a first half in which he faced constant pressure in the pocket and led the Horned Frogs to the largest come-from-behind victory in a bowl game since 2006.
“We got it together and were able to get rolling,” Kohlhausen said.
On the other side of that was a defense who had been rolling, yet another time this season conceded over 500 yards of offense — this time 545.
“We didn’t finish,” Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. “We didn’t make a play.”
Deforest Buckner, the Ducks’ stout defensive lineman who had a sack in what was a dominant first half, admitted that the Ducks were exposed to a problem that they’ve faced all season.
“It’s been a struggle in the second half to finish games,” Buckner said. “Just like the Oregon State game. We had a 31-0 lead. We gave that all up.”
TCU was a beaten and battered group all season. The defense alone started over 20 different players, but as the game moved into its final stages, it was clear that Oregon was more heavily damaged by injuries than its opponent. Adams and Hegarty were in street clothes, starting guard Matt Pierson was sidelined, Dwayne Stanford was hurt and starting tackle Tyler Johnstone missed time.
As Oregon traded punches with TCU in overtime, they did it with some of its most important members absent. The Ducks did manage to find the end zone in the first extra period, though, after Royce Freeman barreled his way into the end zone to tie the game at 38.
The two teams then relied on their field goal kickers in the second overtime, before Kohlhausen ran in a touchdown in the third on a quarterback keeper to give the Horned Frogs a six-point lead.
The Ducks couldn’t compete in a shootout, however. Lockie’s fourth down heave to Darren Carrington on the subsequent posesssion fell incomplete, and TCU’s players and coaches swarmed the center of the field while many Oregon players quickly headed for the tunnel.
“It definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” Lockie, who finished 7-of-15 for 36 yards, said.
Playing in his final collegiate game, Adams proved to be the difference for the Ducks once again. The offense was a fast-paced juggernaut with him, but a disheveled unit lacking any true sign of life without him. With the additional injury to Hegarty, another graduate-transfer, TCU caught a break that they seemed to desperately be looking for in the second half and took advantage of it.
“Every single person, including me, needs to improve,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. “This kind of game, there were so many odd things that happened.
“They made one more play than we did.”
Follow Justin Wise on Twitter @JustinFWise