Dakota Prukop vs Justin Herbert, not so much. You know the Oregon Ducks football program is struggling when they’re searching for a quarterback midway through the season, much less against their rivals and the best team in the Pac-12. Nevertheless, true freshman Justin Herbert will start at quarterback on Saturday against the No. 5 Washington Huskies (5-0) from Autzen Stadium.
Last week, Herbert completed 3-of-5 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown toss. He will look to continue the momentum against another foe from the state of Washington.
The true freshman was a high school football product of Sheldon, where he went 10-2 as a senior. There, Herbert starred in football, basketball and baseball. The multi-sport athlete was actually ranked the No. 4 football prospect in the state of Oregon by ESPN.
So far, not so good. The 2016 season has certainly been quite the rollercoaster ride, and it’s only getting bumpier as we move along. Prukop was named the starter out of camp after defeating Travis Jonsen for the No. 1 spot on the offense. Let me repeat that just so you hear me, Prukop defeated Jonsen for the signal-caller starting spot.
You heard no mention in the previous paragraph about Justin Herbert. As far as we know, he was still getting acclimated to the college lifestyle. The truest of freshman though, after five weeks, is now ready to assume the starting spot at the head of the Oregon table. Get ready for this.
Entering the season, many thought Prukop was the second-coming of Vernon Adams. As a whole, we have witnessed that to not be true in the early going this season.
The 5th-year senior grad transfer from FCS Montana State was favorably compared to Adams when he transferred from Eastern Washington in 2014. Yet, Adams is a freak of nature athlete alongside being an incredibly heady quarterback and hard-worker, which is why he is currently under center in the Canadian Football League.
The reviews on Prukop have been mediocre, at best. Not only is he not what the Ducks expected as an in-game quarterback, but his practice methods have been questioned as has his decision making on the field. There lies the beast known to all as opportunity. They are knocking and won’t stop until someone lets them in the house.
When asked last week after the WSU game, Herbert denied any controversy.
“100-percent he’s the guy (Dakota Prukop). I’m completely confident in him,” said Herbert. “The team and coaches are confident in him."
Starting a relatively unknown freshman against the likes of an AP Top 5 college football program may be crazy to some. However, to Helfrich and Duck fans, it may just be crazy enough to work because what should be working this season, has not been working. Add on, the 12-game losing streak could play mind games with the Huskies.
Duck offensive coordinator Matt Lubick weighed in on Saturday, stating there is no controversy, as well.
“Well first I was very proud of the way Justin (Herbert) came in,” Lubick stated. “But, I’ve been very proud of Dakota (Prukop). As a quarterback, you take a lot of heat you shouldn’t take but that’s the nature of the position, part of the deal. There are a lot of guys out there who dont get the same type of exposure that he does. Dakota is our quarterback. But, we have to go back at look at it. We evaluate every position after every game. I was happy with Justin. To come out cold off the bench to perform, the way he did was impressive.”
Saturday’s starting quarterback for the Ducks, Justin Herbert, has a few factors working for him as he enters the fold. Will those facts matter to Duck fans? Most likely not, but it’s always good to be well-informed.
Herbert is apart of Helfrich’s first recruiting class as the head coach at Oregon. The true freshman quarterback is also a native of Eugene, so his roots in the community are certainly far-reaching. He understands the program’s history and prestige. Honestly, the last part could work to his disadvantage, as he understands how good the Ducks have been for so long, which could add pressure to the youngster.
Is this a ploy by Helfrich to keep his job? If he proves that his recruiting skills outweigh his coaching ability, his time in Eugene may be extended. Yet, could Helfrich be shortening his leash with this move? If Herbert fails early, is Helfrich done with the Ducks? Only time and the Washington game will feed us answers.
More than any other factor, Prukop simply has not been executing the offense. When a player is doing well, controversy doesn’t exist. Questions don’t abound from every media outlet in the area. When you’re playing well, everything is perfect. Nevertheless, that has not been the case this season.
Prukop’s inconsistent play has opened the door to a number of possibilities, all of which end with Prukop no longer being the signal-caller in Eugene. Unfortunately for Prukop, he entered the program too late for his own good.
If he was a sophomore or junior transfer, then playing Prukop would give the program some upside for the future. Yet, the mere fact that this is his last season with shoulder pads on means it is do or die, now or never, insert cliche here.
The ceiling on every other quarterback in the Ducks program, minus Jeff Lockie, is higher and greater than Prukop’s at this very moment. Therefore, Helfrich is playing with house money to start anyone else, alongside a recruit from his own class. As of last week, Helfrich gave no indications of any such maneuver even after benching Prukop in the fourth quarter.
“Not any huge statement, just trying to get him in there in this environment with those guys,” said Helfrich after the Washington State loss.
Starting a true freshman against the Washington Huskies class defense is bold. Is bold the right word? This move could define the coaching career of Helfrich at Oregon, plain and simple.
If the Ducks are blown out, Helfrich will be destroyed by the press and it may spell the end for him. However, if the Ducks by some divine miracle pull it out with a true freshman, he could save his job. If Herbert illustrates star-like quality, then get ready for Helfrich to be riding those coattails for the rest of Herbert’s collegiate career.
Either way, Duck fans will have an answer or two on Saturday. It just may not be the answer you want.
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