The wait is over.
After 8 painful months of anticipation, we finally got to see the Ducks in action. It was back to business as usual. Oregon came out early on their way to a 21-3 lead by the end of the first quarter.
A minute in a half into the game on the first drive Marcus Mariota connected with Dwayne Stanford for a 62 yard score and the rest was history. The 3 first quarter touchdown drives were done in 1:24, 1:04, and 2:12 and Mariota seemed to be in perfect rhythym, using the tune-up game to take a look at all three of their speedy backs. Mariota seemed please to have the help.
"They're going to make an enormous amounts of plays for us. As we continue to move forward, we're going to find ways to use those guys and hopefully we'll have success with that."
They certainly had a lot of success today. The trio of Junior Byron Marshall, Sophomore Thomas Tyner and true Freshman Royce Freeman combined for 229 yards, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry. Marshall pulled the most weight with 90 yards and added 138 receiving yards and 2 TDs through the air. Tyner added 64 yards of his own, but it was Freeman who got to make his Oregon debut, stealing the show while drawing cheers from the fans at Autzen Stadium. The Freshman scored 2 TDs on his first 3 carries for 35 yards, and proved why he was a such a highly-touted recruit.
Freeman finished with 75 yards.
The speed was just too much for the Coyotes, who play in the FCS Missouri Vally Conference. They did all they could to slow the pace of the game, waiting till the last second on several plays to snap the ball. South Dakota succeeded at times in controlling the pace when they had possession, on their way to a very respectable 370 yards of offense. Ducks' Coach Helfrich seemed to notice, too.
"I just didn't like our urgency, thought we needed to create some of our own energy. When they're sapping the play clock down to one second, when the ball snaps, we need to strap it on and play. And that didn't always occur. "
The offense hasn't exactly been the problem for the Duck's in barely missing the mark these last few seasons. The defense has been a fine-tuning process, and still shows signs of lacking a top level defense. Yesterday's game was a good chance to see them at work. Upfront, the Ducks allowed 172 yards rushing, an area they will need to crack down on if they hope to contain No. 8 Michigan State's power running game next week. The Defensive Backs, led by Senior CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, held their own, limiting Kevin Earl to 198 yards passing. Ekpre-Olomu, who forwent the NFL Draft, left in the second quarter limping on his left ankle.
"I'm feeling alright. I'm kind of battling an ankle injury...I'm fine. Just a little extra precaution coaches wanted to. I'm alright, I'll be fine."
The leader of the defense should be back for next week's showdown against Michigan State.
For all the talk of the running backs and defense, let's not forget the star of the show. Mariota looked very impressive. Before being taken out in the third quarter, he pieced together six touchdown drives. He was directly responsible for four of those, three through the air. He looked like his usual, efficient self, going 14-20 for 267 yards, on his way to breaking Joey Harrington's All-Time Oregon touchdown record with 79. He tied Darron Thomas' record for the all-time passing TD mark at 66.
After Byron Marshall, Darren Covington and Dwayne Stanford were his favorite targets, going for 68 and 62 yards, respectively.
Mariota and company are excited next week for the challenge of facing their first of what could be several top 10 teams this season.
"We are very excited. It poses a good challenge for us. It poses a good challenge for the entire team. They're coming in as one of the best defenses in the country and any offense would love to face that challenge."
Oregon hosts No. 8 Michigan State next Saturday at 3:30 P.M. PDT