Ducks fly in Helfrich's debut as head coach

Unless you noticed the head coach on the sideline wasn't wearing a visor, things weren't much different offensively Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium where the No. 3 ranked Oregon Ducks stomped Nicholls State University 66-3.

In Mark Helfrich's first game as the main man on the sidelines, and former wide receiver coach Scott Frost's first as the offensive coordinator, the Ducks performed with about as much efficiency and intensity as they had under previous head coach Chip Kelly.

Oregon set a school record by amassing 772 total yards from scrimmage over 71 plays, including 500 on the ground. Also a first, three separate Ducks ran for over 100 yards individually, which included running backs De'Anthony Thomas (18 carries, 128 yards) and Byron Marshall (eight carries, 124 yards), and quarterback Marcus Mariota (five carries, 113 yards).

"We have a pretty good backfield," Thomas said. "Hopefully we make history like that every game."

"I think we all need to get a couple mental errors fixed," wide receiver Bralon Addison said. "Some alignment things and stuff like that. Overall I think our effort as a team was great today and that's always a coaches dream in the first game because in the first game there's going to be mistakes. I think we'll get back on Monday and fix those things."

Mariota went 12-for-21 for 234 yards in addition to his groundwork, throwing a first quarter touchdown to Addison and running for two more, helping the Ducks build a 38-3 lead at halftime. The quarterback had trouble at times finding the open receiver, but made plays when he needed to, including a 46 yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

"I kinda started the game off juiced a little bit," Mariota said. "I missed a couple of throws high and once the game started flowing, I thought I threw the ball a little better."

Thomas added on two scores of his own and took a majority of the carries over the first three quarters of play. Marshall struggled on his first couple of carries, but was able to build momentum with a 49-yard touchdown run for the Ducks lone score in the third quarter. The offense was able to string together some lengthy plays through the air as well, with both Josh Huff and Keanon Lowe hauling in 40-plus yard grabs from Mariota. Eight different Ducks hauled in receptions, led by Huff who finished with five catches for 118 yards, the only player with over 100 yards receiving on the day.

"Offensively and defensively, we got off to a great start," Helfrich said.

Though the reserves didn't get as much time as some would've expected heading into a game that became so lopsided, some made the most of their limited playing time. Chance Allen hauled in a late 23-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Jake Rodrigues, Ayele Ford had three carries, but took one for 45 yards that set up a Colt Lyerla touchdown run, and Jeff Lockie, while only completing one pass was a part of two successful scoring drives, the last of which he finished himself with an eight yard touchdown run.

Essentially nothing was out of the ordinary offensively. Helfrich and Frost settled into their roles, with Frost heading up to the booth and Helfrich transitioning to the sidelines, without issue and some of the players noted how, for the most part, everything seemed familiar.

"I thought overall the pace was pretty similar and that offensively, aside from a few miscues, I thought we played pretty well today," Mariota said. "We're going to clean those up and get ready for next week."

What about those miscues? At times the Ducks did seem stagnant against the Colonels defense. They went 20:31 seconds in between scores from the second quarter through the third, and Thomas mentioned after the game that the Ducks could work on their blocking as a collective unit. While it doesn't matter much given the final score, it is something the coaches will take away as something to work on.

"I just told the team 'Welcome to Oregon football'," Helfrich said. "We win 66-3 and there was some element of disappointment or desire to be a little bit better, and that's a good thing."

The Ducks travel to take on Virginia next Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m.

Other notes -

As alluded to previously, Saturday saw the return of Lyerla, a bruising 6-5, 250-pound tight end, at running back. Used as briefly last season with Bryan Bennett at quarterback, Lyerla lined up with Lockie in the backfield in the fourth quarter and amassed 17 yards on three carries.

Mariota mentioned during his press conference that the team awarded Helfrich the game ball for his first victory as head coach.

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