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Just when you think you've got him bottled up, he escapes.

Then you're in trouble.

That's pretty much the book on Vernon Adams, who's totaled nearly 11,000 passing yards and accounted for 125 touchdowns between three years at Eastern Washington and two games at Oregon.

But for Eric Lewis, the problem is different.

It's Lewis who would rather escape Adams.

Lewis was Weber State's defensive coordinator in September 2012, when Adams made his first start and led Eastern Washington to a 20-3 halftime lead at Ogden's Stewart Stadium, before sitting out the second half with cramps.

In October 2013, Adams torched Lewis' defense for five total touchdowns in a 41-19 rout.

Then, as Georgia State's secondary coach, Lewis found himself reliving the nightmare in the buildup to facing No. 13 Oregon.

Has any opposing coach seen so much of Adams?

"Probably, unfortunately, not," he said.

Junior backup Jeff Lockie ultimately got the start against the Panthers and finished with 228 yards and two touchdowns as Adams looked on, resting the right index finger that he broke playing against his alma mater in the opener.

But Utah, as Georgia State did, is preparing for Adams.

Kyle Whittingham said the Utes have a staffer scouring the Oregon media, and on Wednesday they will have seen Adams telling The Oregonian, simply, "The finger's good."

Another man who has some unpleasant history with Adams, Utah linebackers coach Justin Ena, said he didn't see anything during the Ducks' 31-28 loss at No. 2 Michigan State to make him think the damaged digit was a hindrance.

"It really doesn't, because he's such a tough kid," said Ena, the defensive coordinator at Southern Utah in October 2013, when Adams passed for 298 yards and three touchdown in a 34-10 Eastern Washington win. "He's one of those guys that he's not going to bring himself out of a game."

Both Lewis and Ena said they're not surprised to see Adams make a thus-far-successful transition from the Big Sky to the Pac-12, where he won the battle to replace Heisman winner Marcus Mariota roughly two weeks after qualifying to join the Ducks.

"The thing that we were the most impressed with is, obviously, he's a good athlete, but he's most dangerous when he's a drop-back passer and then he takes off to run," Lewis said. "That probably creates more issues for a defense than just someone who can make plays on designed runs."

Oregon is not so different from Eastern Washington: Both are up-tempo, spread offenses that specialize in the zone-read running scheme and exploiting the perimeter of defenses with talented athletes. They're fond of quick, high-percentage passes like hitches and screens.

But "Oregon just takes it to a whole other level," Lewis said.

Still, it's hard to take Adams out of his rhythm. Applying pressure helps, sure, but only if you land it. After leading the nation with 55 last season, Utah has just three sacks through three games.

If Adams sees a lane, he'll get 15 yards "before you even know it," Ena said, and he's such an effective passer on the run ­— especially to his right, but to his left, too — that it's critical for defensive backs to stay in coverage until the whistle.

Unlike the identity of Oregon's starter on Saturday, none of that is secret.

Redshirt freshman tight end Wallace Gonzalez said Adams has been the same since November 2010, when he led Alemany High to a 38-30 win over Gonzalez's Bishop Amat in California. Summarizes Gonzalez: "He just did what he always does."

He's a winner, with the hard-to-explain knack for "making things happen," Ena told his team.

Stopping Adams isn't as simple as understanding him. Ena "kind of tells us what we see on tape," Whittingham said. "That he's a good player."

Asked if he had anything he'd tell Utah coaches, Lewis first said that he considers Whittingham's staff to be one of the nation's most underrated, and that they have his utmost respect.

Then, he added: "Good luck."

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

No. 18 Utah at No. 13 Oregon

P Saturday, 6:30 p.m.


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