LINCOLN — Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop paused when asked to recall the biggest game he’s ever played in.
“That’s a good question,” he said to The World-Herald. “Probably the last game, I guess.”
That was Oregon’s win over Virginia. It’ll get only bigger for the 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior this week.
Prukop spent his first four years at Montana State, where he was a first-team FCS All-American. After his junior season at Montana State, he graduated and chose to transfer.
He had plenty of top-of-the-line options, which highlights just how coveted skilled, experienced quarterbacks have become. Prukop had queries from Michigan, Alabama and Texas, among others. UT was interesting because Prukop played high school football in Austin, Texas. Back then he thought he might play safety at the FBS level. But early in his senior year, he changed his mind and decided he wanted to be a quarterback. Montana State was his best offer.
Until, of course, last spring. Prukop is happy he picked Oregon, and he’s the second straight FCS transfer to start for the Ducks, as former Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams made the jump to FBS last season.
Prukop doesn’t know much about Nebraska. He had a childhood friend who liked the Huskers — he’ll also attend the game Saturday — so Prukop watched NU a lot on TV. He’s excited to see Memorial Stadium, which will be the toughest opponent atmosphere he’s played in.
“I won’t really know and truly understand it until I’m in it and playing there,” Prukop said. “I’ve seen some pictures and video of the stadium, and it looks like a really solid, historic place to play. I’m definitely excited and anticipating playing the game for that reason.”
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said Memorial Stadium’s crowd noise will challenge Prukop to communicate with his offensive line when Nebraska’s defense presents a variety of “looks and pressures.”
“Most of the stuff we can do is non-verbal — communication that is built within our system — so hopefully that will be seamless and positive,” Helfrich said. “It will be stressed.”
Ducks skilled, deep at RB, WR
Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker knows more than most coaches about Oregon’s offense, since he faced the Ducks annually as Oregon State’s defensive coordinator.
So, naturally, the topic came up again on Tuesday, during Banker’s availability with the media.
Among his comments:
» One key to Oregon’s offense is the caliber of athletes at running back and wide receiver. Running back Royce Freeman is really good, he said, but “there are probably three other guys who are capable as well.”
As for Oregon’s receivers, Banker said, “all you see is speed, height, good route runners and things like that.”
» The Ducks recruit “good, quality athletes” on the offensive line, but everything starts with Prukop at quarterback.
“If you don’t have somebody to distribute the ball — whether it’s to hand it off or throw it — then that offense is just a bunch of good athletes,” Banker said. “They’ve always been best when the quarterback has good command and control of the ins and outs of the offense.”
» Banker’s knowledge of Oregon’s offense may help, but “there’s been a few times when I know the offense well but I can’t do a damn thing about, because I’m not playing. Knowing is one thing, and then reacting is another thing.”
Helfrich worked closely with former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost for seven years. Both joined then-coach Chip Kelly’s staff in 2009, and Frost became Helfrich’s offensive coordinator.
Oregon’s coach was taken aback when asked Tuesday at Oregon’s press conference about Frost’s apparent “strained” relationship with Nebraska. NU Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst did not offer Frost the head coaching position in 2014, nor did he call him about it, Frost has said.
“Scott Frost’s relationship with Nebraska was strained?” Helfrich said to the reporter in Oregon. A moment later, the coach said: “I didn’t feel any kind of animosity from him. Maybe I’m just unaware.”
Helfrich sees Riley hallmarks
When asked Tuesday in which ways Nebraska’s team under coach Mike Riley is similar to his teams at Oregon State, Helfrich offered two examples.
» Strong special teams. “The special teams are outstanding, very well-coached,” Helfrich said at his press conference. “A bunch of starters on every unit and they play their tails off very soundly.”
» Banker’s defense. “Their base defense is very similar, but the variations of their defense — the pressures, the number of rushers, the looks, the personnel groups — is a lot more diverse. They’ve kind of added a few different layers to that.”
Helfrich said Riley’s offense at Nebraska shows more commitment to quarterback runs and pounding the ball.
Helfrich, Oregon’s fourth-year head coach, said he had respect for Riley and his staff. He knew offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf in high school.
“They’ve done a tremendous job everywhere they’ve been,” Helfrich said. “They’re playing extremely confidently right now in every phase, particularly on defense.”
Kieron Williams a Blackshirt
Nebraska safety Kieron Williams received his Blackshirt. He’s the 14th Husker to get one. Williams leads the team with 15 tackles.
“We talk about it being certain qualities of consistency, the manner in which you play, the time that you put in — whether it’s in the film room or the weight room, on the field — with results, yeah, but everything combined,” Banker said. “In the first two weeks, he’s made a great case for himself. He’s taken advantage of a great opportunity. The door was open for him to do that and he walked right through it.”
Oregon tempo tests refs
Be ready for Oregon’s no-huddle tempo, Nebraska linebackers coach Trent Bray said, and how it affects officiating. Because the Ducks move so fast, Bray said, there are times when pre-snap false starts and illegal formation mistakes aren’t identified and called.
“You watch them on film and they’re false-starting and they’re not set and nothing’s called,” Bray said. “The tempo doesn’t allow the officials to officiate the game. That’s what I think the Big Ten has done a great job of, is managing that stuff. That’s what we hope happens — to allow the procedure of the game.”
Pac-12 officials will work the game.
» Nebraska wide receiver and holder Zack Darlington is serving as a scout team quarterback this week in imitating Prukop.
» Defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg and wide receivers Alonzo Moore and Brandon Reilly didn’t practice Tuesday. Reilly is questionable — at best — for Saturday’s game because of a hamstring injury. In his absence, the Huskers would lean on Moore — if his shoulder is good to go — and sophomore Stanley Morgan. Stoltenberg will be questionable until Thursday, when Riley plans to decide whether he’ll play.