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Adams takes blame for Ducks' loss

The index finger on Vernon Adams’ throwing hand was taped to a splint and appeared to be painfully swollen.

As the 76,526 witnesses to the first top-10 matchup here in 49 years spilled out into the night for a celebration, Adams pointed the injured finger at himself as the reason No. 7 Oregon’s fourth-quarter comeback fizzled in the closing moments of a 31-28 loss to No. 5 Michigan State on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.

“I’m putting this game on myself because we had so many opportunities,” Adams said. “I just missed people, I threw interceptions, so I’m putting this game on myself.”

The magic isn’t completely gone.

But it did disappear for Adams on the final drive. He overthrew an uncovered Byron Marshall in the end zone for what would have been a potential game-stealing touchdown.

Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Adams could have made an easy throw to the tight end for a first down, but he also appreciated his new signal-caller’s fearlessness.

“I wasn’t excited when he threw it. Then I saw how open (Marshall) was, and I was excited,” Frost said. “Then it was a yard-and-a-half too far. Games like this, a yard-and-a-half makes all the difference.”

With Oregon trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, Royce Freeman was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1. The defense allowed the Spartans to convert two fourth-down attempts. Ian Wheeler had two 25-yard punts. Oregon was called for nine penalties totaling 56 yards.

“There are a million little tiny things you can point back to,” coach Mark Helfrich said. “I look in their eye. They fought to the end against a really good team on the road. We can build on that.”

Adams’ injury, which occurred during the opener against Eastern Washington, meant that Oregon spent time during practice making sure Jeff Lockie was also ready for the Spartans’ stout defense.

“We prepared for the game not knowing if (Adams) would be able to go or not,” Frost said. “But we feel good about Jeff Lockie running the same things. We just game-planned for them, and we were going to trust whoever we had at quarterback to play.

“I thought he played a whale of a game considering.”

After missing the pass to Marshall, Adams was sacked for an 11-yard loss on the next snap and then threw an incompletion on fourth-and-17. He completed 22-of-39 passes for 309 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions.

“He plays hard,” Marshall said. “He wasn’t fully healthy like he wanted to be. He still came out, he battled through it, he threw some good balls, he threw a ball with his left hand. He played real hard. He did all he can.

“We’re proud of him. We’ve just got to go back and get better with timing and execution.”

Adams’ counterpart, senior Connor Cook, was 20-for-32 for 192 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

But Michigan State’s quarterback was hardly touched all night. Adams was sacked four times.

“If I would have made the protection changes, we would have been all good,” Adams insisted. “I’ve got to be a better quarterback and leader and make those changes.”

With Oregon trailing by 10 points and facing a fourth-and-7, Adams dropped a gorgeous 25-yard pass between two defenders and into Marshall’s hands to set up his own touchdown run to get the Ducks within 24-21 with 12:20 remaining.

Freeman, who went to the locker room with 8:10 remaining, returned to the game and had a touchdown run called back by a holding penalty. Adams threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Marshall two snaps later to cut the deficit to 31-28 with 3:25 remaining.

“We love our young players in this program, and we love the fight in our players in this program,” Frost said. “I thought we fought unbelievably well, and I think this team is going to continue improving.”

Bralon Addison’s 81-yard punt return touchdown tied the score at 14-14, but the momentum was short-lived.

Cook converted a fourth-and-6 with a 20-yard pass to Aaron Burbridge, and LJ Scott capped the 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown to give the Spartans a 21-14 advantage.

The Ducks (1-1) must now turn the page to Georgia State and then defending their Pac-12 crown. All was not lost at Spartan Stadium.

“The goal is to win, we should have won and we didn’t,” Marshall said. “So we’ve just got to make sure we don’t feel like this ever again.”