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The QB Battle: Talent, Experience, and Dogmas

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With Vernon Adams admitted to Oregon for grad school the quarterback competition at Oregon has become another example of talent against experience in a system. Maybe even more it's become an example of football dogmas rearing their ugly heads.

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Vernon Adams passed a math test that set the world record on people caring about a math test.  Vernon Adams, the two-time Walter Payton finalist (FCS Heisman), has enrolled at Oregon to play quarterback for the Ducks.  Whether he wins the starting job is an entirely different question.

As Tako pointed out there is a strong argument for Jeff Lockie to be the starting quarterback.  He has much more experience in the Oregon offense.  Has looked great in garbage time and while that might not be sexy he did what he was supposed to do.  According to the coaches he had a great spring and was pretty much perfect in the spring game.

The size difference isn't as big as it seems.  Lockie is 6'2" and Adams is 6'0".  Lockie weighs 205 pounds and Adams weighs 190.  Lockie moves very well in the open field and his a higher top-end speed while Adams has impressive agility, especially in the pocket, and is shifty as hell in the open field.

What this competition really boils down to is whether the strengths of Adams, a proven track record in college and a higher ceiling, is better than the strengths of Lockie, experience IN THE OREGON SYSTEM and continuity with the team.  I think Lockie is a much better quarterback in terms of talent than people are giving credit for.  Having said that, Adams is really an amazing passer.  He can throw the deep ball extremely well, he's good throwing on the run, and is very smart with his passes.  His completion percentage has gone up every year and last year was 66.1%.  He threw for 35 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.  We're spoiled with Mariota's numbers but that is a great ratio.

The case for Lockie is that he has the respect of his teammates, the coaches have a lot of confidence in him, he's performed well in the Oregon offense, and he has a better idea of the philosophy of the offense.  But the question marks are around his production on a weekly basis in games and whether his talent will rise to the level it needs to be at.

Adams is a superior passer and has much more experience as a college quarterback and he has a strong track record of excelling as a quarterback.  Against Washington Adams went 31/46 for 475 yards and 7 touchdowns in a 59-52 loss.  Against Oregon State Adams led the Eagles to a 49-46 win going 23/30 for 411 yards and 4 touchdowns.  You can say these weren't great teams he was playing against but he did what you're supposed to do against these teams.  It's not like he has the best teammates that are on the same level as those at Washington either.  He had to make a lot of plays to get his stats and the win against Oregon State.

Honestly, I don't buy the idea that Vernon Adams is that far behind in experience the same way I don't think Lockie is that far behind in talent.  Adams ran a spread offense at Eastern Washington.  A read option is the same in red and white as it is in green and yellow.  Hitting a 10-yard out route in a flood pattern is the same in red and white as it is in green and yellow.  I also don't believe that the Ducks will be at half a playbook going into Michigan State.  Based on interviews of multiple coaches I've read they will only have about 50 plays, 70 max, that they take into a game with them.  Oregon especially has said they run simpler plays so they can run them fast.  There's only so many passing concepts you can use.  I sincerely doubt that Adams will be at a severe disadvantage because he doesn't know the terminology Oregon uses or the timing with the receivers.  Besides, he's been in Oregon all summer and is living with a receiver.  He has some idea going into practice what he's doing.

If Vernon Adams lost the job because Lockie was at 3-4 more practices in the fall then Adams wasn't going to win the job anyways.  His selling point was never the experience and reps at Oregon.  The coaches brought him in because of his talent, reps and performance at Eastern Washington, and the experience he has as a college football player.

Sean and I have discussed on Slingin' Quack that we think QB experience is overrated given the number first time starters winning Heismans, conference championships, and national championships.  If we're going to say Lockie will be very good with experience in the program but not that much game experience then I don't see how we can knock Vernon Adams down for not having experience at Oregon when he has much more experience in games running a spread.

Regardless, whoever wins the starting job this fall is going to keep it the whole season unless they really start sucking.  Once the starter has been named not even Vernon Adams will overtake Lockie when he's getting 50% fewer reps than Lockie and most of that is with the second-team offense.  Once the season starts the named starter is going to get more reps at practice and in games and more experience than the backup as the season goes along.  You don't get better on the bench during games and getting fewer reps at practices.  That's not how sports work.  Saying Vernon Adams needs time to learn the playbook but will start a few weeks into the season and pass Lockie on the depth chart is an idealistic fantasy that also consists of fields of flowers and a level of optimism only matched by the knight from Monty Python who says it's only a flesh wound.

Is this a pure case of talent against experience in the quarterback race?  It is not.  Lockie is a much better quarterback than people are giving him credit for while Adams has a lot more experience than people realize, it just isn't at Oregon because he was tearing up PAC-12 teams at EWU.

(Sidebar: I really having a hard time believing that Oregon would pull a quarterback from a college where he's a legend in order for him to enter a true quarterback battle that he could easily lose to someone else.  I don't think that's how graduate transfers typically work.)

This article isn't "The Case for Vernon Adams" as much as it is trying to sift through the dogmas that people like to create around football quarterbacking because it fits a clean-cut narrative.  In actuality, Lockie and Adams are much more alike than they are different.

The only absolutes that we know is that whoever wins the quarterback battle has truly earned the spot and whoever loses will be the fan's most popular player on the football team.