Veteran play sets tone against South Dakota

While speculation centered on the performance of certain freshmen heading into Oregon's season opener on Saturday, veteran leadership set the tone for the Ducks in their 62-13 win over South Dakota.

EUGENE — It only took 1:34 for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to remind the nation of why the Ducks’ offense is one of the most potent in the country.

On the fourth play from scrimmage on Saturday, Mariota found sophomore wide receiver Dwayne Stanford for a 62-yard touchdown pass, setting the tone for a 41-point first half that culminated in a 62-13 win over South Dakota (0-1) at Autzen Stadium.

The No. 3 ranked Ducks (1-0) racked up 465 total yards in the first half and 673 for the game. They seemingly did whatever they wanted to on offense during the first thirty minutes, outside of one three-and-out drive, and did it all behind veteran leadership.

“For us to come out and start out fast and do what we are able to do,” Mariota said. “We just have a good foundation for the rest of the season.”

Mariota, protected by a strong and experienced offensive line, finished 14-of-20 for 267 yards and three touchdowns through the air and added 43 yards rushing and another touchdown in a single half of play. In the process, he broke Joey Harrington’s school record for total touchdowns (79) and tied Darron Thomas’ school record for TD passes (66).

Despite much speculation on which of the young wide receivers would make the biggest impact, Mariota’s favorite target was veteran running back Byron Marshall. The junior had 228 all-purpose yards in the contest, leading the Ducks in both rushing and receiving. His 138 yards receiving and two touchdowns on eight receptions, most of which came in the first half, spurred the Ducks forward early.

But, it wasn’t all rosy for the junior though. An embarrassing error cost Marshall a rushing touchdown in the second quarter after he escaped for a 53 yard run and headed for the end zone, but dropped the ball before crossing the goal line.

The ball rolled out of the end zone and was ruled a touchback after review, but South Dakota coughed the ball back up on the very next play, setting up a chance for Marshall to redeem himself with an 11-yard touchdown catch from Mariota.

“He’s very versatile,” Mariota said. “We have an opportunity to use him where we need him and he’s done a great job of being able to make the most of his opportunity whenever he has it.”

The Ducks operated at maximum efficiency, scoring in an average of 1:20 on each of their six first half scoring drives.

A few freshmen were able to make leave their mark, some in bigger ways than others. Freshman running back Royce Freeman lived up to the lofty praise he received during fall camp, scoring two first half touchdowns on five carries, and finishing with 75 yards total. Between him, Thomas Tyner and Marshall, Oregon racked up 230 yards on the ground.

“We’ve got a lot of talent in this backfield,” Marshall said. “Some of the best Oregon has had. So we’re trying to get a fix on how to get everybody in and get reps.”

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Darren Carrington had four catches for 68 yards in the first half and set up a Freeman goal line touchdown in the first quarter. Even newcomer Charles Nelson got a chance to showcase his speed and elusiveness on a 50-yard punt return that he took to the house after zig-zagging across the gridiron in the third quarter.

“I thought our team handled the day pretty well,” head coach Mark Helfrich said. “They’ve been waiting the entire season to get back out there and the anxiety of sitting around all day, multiple days, watching all these other games and then finally getting to play, I thought we handled it ok.”

In the end, it was the consistency of guys like Mariota, Marshall and even sophomore Thomas Tyner, who led the backfield with 11 carries, that kept Oregon in rhythm. What’s more important is that they’ll need to find that rhythm again next weekend with No. 8 Michigan State coming to town for a marquee matchup at Autzen.

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