Freeman leads highlight heavy Ducks over UW

EUGENE — Oregon may have played its most complete football of the season on Saturday night in a 45-20 rout of rival Washington at Autzen Stadium.

The ninth-ranked Ducks put together three long touchdown drives in the first half, two of 81 yards and an additional 99-yard drive to push the Huskies on their heels, and they refused to let off the gas the rest of the game.

Freshman running back Royce Freeman, who was suffering slightly from asthmatic issues according to running backs coach Gary Campbell, led the way with four touchdowns and 169 yards rushing on 29 carries, further cementing his status as the go-to running back for Oregon as the season progresses.

Freeman’s 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was opened up by great blocks from Hroniss Grasu and Hamani Stevens and gave the Ducks the spark they needed after a flat opening drive. From there, the Huskies defense that came into the game having stifled Cal’s high powered offense the week before, suddenly looked helpless as Oregon racked up 554 yards of total offense.

“He’s starting to play free of thought and letting his natural gifts take over,” UO head coach Mark Helfrich said of Freeman.

Freeman found pay dirt twice more in the first half, accounting for three of the Ducks four first half scores. Byron Marshall’s slippery 23-yard touchdown reception was the other, and gave the Ducks a 28-6 edge at the break despite the efforts of a front seven led by Hau’oli Kikaha (10 tackles), Danny Shelton (8), and Shaq Thompson (7).

The play on the offensive line was certainly the key to opening up the ground game. The Ducks finished with 218 yards rushing, with Marshall contributing 30 yards and Kenny Bassett carrying the ball six times for 21 yards, even after losing Stevens for a period of time due to a leg injury.

After the game, Grasu said that the line still has room to improve even though they've gotten back on the right track the last couple of weeks.

“We've just got to be more nasty,” he said. “Keep coming off the ball and finishing blocks, finishing plays, because as you could tell our playmakers are skill guys. They’re running backs. They’re quarterbacks. They’re going to break tackles, they’re going to make the defenders miss and they’re going to keep making the play go. We’ve got to do our job of finishing our guys so that a D-lineman doesn’t make a play 20 yards downfield. We’ve got to keep working on finishing.”

Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota still exploited a youthful Huskies secondary to the tune of 336 yards and 2 touchdowns, completing 24-of-33 passing attempts. Without senior wide receiver Keanon Lowe, Mariota connected with eight different receivers on the night and hit Darren Carrington, Dwayne Stanford and Marshall five times apiece.

All three of those receivers turned in highlights plays on the night. Stanford accounted for the other Mariota touchdown with an acrobatic leaping catch in the corner of the end zone on the first drive of the second half. Carrington, who had five catches for 79 yards, had an impressive 23-yard grab on the sideline while falling out of bounds that led to a missed field goal.

“These guys all have the ability to make plays,” Mariota said. “We trust them and we have all the confidence in the world."

Outside of those three, there were plenty of highlights turned in elsewhere starting with tight end Pharaoh Brown’s 66-yard reception in the second quarter. Even though Brown was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after, it was the play broke open the 99-yard touchdown drive. He led the Ducks with 99 yards receiving on three receptions.

Even Freeman turned in a highlight on a 20-yard run that saw him shed a tackle and spin around Huskies defensive back Marcus Peters in the third quarter in video game-like fashion.

It all seemed fitting, given that the day celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ultimate highlight play in Oregon football history, “The Pick”, and honored the 1989 Independence Bowl team that is largely credited for being the team that revitalized the program and turned it in the right direction.

“Everything that we’re able to pay homage to was really cool,” Mariota said. “These are the reasons you come back to school is to enjoy experiences like this.”

However there was no need for heroics on this night. The Ducks pushed their winning streak over the Huskies to 11 straight games and started the second half of the season on the right note. And the way this college football season has been going, that’s all they need right now.

NOTES — Running back Thomas Tyner didn’t see much of the field following a solid hit from Thompson on the opening kickoff. He finished with three carries for zero yards and one reception for 13 yards. Campbell said he was held out for precautionary reasons.

“He was okay,” Campbell said. “But I just didn’t want to aggravate it or anything.”

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