The Cougars and Ducks both started their season off on the wrong foot. Both teams badly need a win this week to get things back on track
Washington State never faced Vernon Adams during his one-year tour of duty as Oregon’s quarterback because the former Eastern Washington signal caller missed last year’s Cougars vs. Ducks game with an injury.
But this weekend at Martin Stadium, the Cougars will get to play against Adams’ replacement – Montana State transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop who, like Adams, made a name for himself running a Big Sky offense before joining the Ducks as a graduate transfer.
In the mold of the typical Oregon quarterback, Prukop is known for his athleticism and he’s the Ducks’ fourth leading rusher, having amassed 142 rush yards this season, with one rushing touchdown.
Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud was the last true dual-threat quarterback the Cougs faced this season, and he embarrassed the defense, throwing for 474 yards and five touchdowns, while rolling up 77 rushing yards that included a 30-yard rushing touchdown.
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So to prep for Prukop’s athleticism this weekend, the Cougars turned to freshman defensive back D’Jimon Jones.
Jones was an electrifying dual threat quarterback at Federal Way High, where he rushed for 392 yards and four touchdowns during his junior year and also ran track and played basketball. The Cougars moved him to defense when he arrived in Pullman this summer, but his athletic talents came in handy this week as the scout team quarterback tasked with doing his best Dakota Prukop imitation.
“When he’s playing quarterback, he turns into a different player,” said cornerback Marcellus Pippins.
Added safety Colton Teglovic, “It was great. He’s a good athlete. He’s fast and he throws the ball well. He’s just as athletic, if not more athletic than their quarterback is going to be. He gave us a great look going into the game.”
This game is considered a “must-win” for both teams. Oregon is coming off two-straight losses that have ignited whispers about coach Mark Helfrich’s waning job security The Ducks lost to Nebraska, then dropped their Pac-12 opener against Colorado last week when Prukop’s potential game-winning touchdown pass was intercepted by the Buffalos in their own end zone.
It was a tough moment for Prukop who, to that point, had played 15 quarters of football for Oregon with no interceptions and eight touchdown passes.
“I was kinda in shock, thinking, ‘Are you serious? Did that just happen?’ We fought so hard to get back in the game. It was a bummer,” Prukop said. “I’ve been in that situation before, but it’s always worked in my favor.”
Despite the Ducks dropping to 2-2, Prukop is determined not to let the way his last game ended bleed into how he performs this weekend against WSU.
“I feel the adversity, but at this point, as the quarterback, I don’t have the option to let it take a toll on my confidence or be in the back of my mind,” Prukop said. “It comes down to my resiliency and ‘can I move on to the next play?’
“I think I can. It’s tough when we’re 2-2 and (were) a touchdown away from being 3-1. We know we should be 4-0 if we execute and take care of our business.”
The Cougars know that feeling only too well. After a disappointing 1-2 start to the season, they’re hoping this year’s Oregon game will do what it did for them last year and inject new life into their season.
Last year’s double overtime win in Eugene set the Cougars on their path to the Sun Bowl.
It showed “the resiliency of our team,” said WSU quarterback Luke Falk. “It showed that we’ve got it in us to be a tough group. … That was the turning point for us.”
The Cougs scored 10 points in the final four minutes to force overtime, then scored two more touchdowns to beat the Ducks 45-38 and snap an eight game losing streak to Oregon.
As the Cougars enter conference play, the “1-2” from last month has been replaced by “0-0” – those are the numbers prominently displayed in the football weight room, and they reflect the team’s current mindset.
“It’s a whole new season for us,” Falk said.
Added Pippins, “We’re excited to get it rolling for real this time.”