Ducks: Three backs, one dropped ball, but lots of yards
EUGENE Oregon junior Byron Marshall showed off his new receiving role Saturday against South Dakota, catching eight balls for 138 yards and two scores and adding eight carries for 90 yards as part of the Ducks' three-headed rushing monster along with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.
But it was his embarrassing, intentional drop of the ball before he crossed the goal line on a certain TD run – that he dwelled on after the Ducks' 62-13 win at Autzen Stadium.
"Huge mental mistake," said Marshall, a 1,000-yard rusher last season. "Never really made a dumber play in my life, so all the good that may have happened (Saturday), that's the only thing that I will be replaying through my mind. Stuff like that shouldn't happen. ... A mistake like that could be costly in a different game. I gotta be better than that."
He apparently scored on a 54-yard TD run, but officials reviewed the play, based on the possibility of Marshall dropping the ball. The review showed the drop, and it was ruled a 53-yard run and a touchback, giving South Dakota the ball.
After lectures by running backs coach Gary Campbell and coach Mark Helfrich, Marshall returned to the game and scored his second touchdown reception.
Helfrich called the play "inexcusable" and "we had a good discussion. (At Oregon) we give the ball to the official, which he did after the next touchdown."
Freeman, the 5-11, 230-pound true freshman running back from Imperial, Calif., had 10 carries for 75 yards and two scores in his college debut and, most importantly, seemingly played without nerves or hesitation.
"I think I performed well out there," he said. "I just calmed myself out before the first game, especially being a late game at home. Just try to relax and not do too much out of my element. Just go out there and run like I know I can run the football."
Tyner added 11 carries for 64 yards.
So, combined, it was 29 carries for 229 yards for the three backs.
"I knew it would be balanced," Marshall said. "We've got a lot of talent in the backfield; we're trying to get a fix on working everybody in and getting reps.
"I get just as excited seeing them making plays and score (as myself)."
Many times the Ducks played with Marshall and another back in the game, Marshall being used as a receiver. With Bralon Addison (knee) out, UO coaches want to put the best playmakers on the field.
"It was fun," Marshall said. "Felt like a lot more ways of getting the ball. We had worked on (him receiving) during fall camp and even more last week. It was something I expected."
Said QB Marcus Mariota: "He's very versatile. We have an opportunity to use him wherever we need him. He's done a great job of making the most of opportunities. He's very sure-handed and learning as much as he can at receiver, so he can be a key for us."
Charles Nelson, a 5-8, 170 true freshman from Daytona Beach, Fla., had quite a debut himself with a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown. It sure looked familiar, a player wearing the No. 6 jersey running through defenders for a touchdown (see: De'Anthony Thomas).
"My main focus was just catching the ball," Nelson said. "I was inconsistent during camp catching the punt."
Said Mariota: "He's special. De'Anthony was the same way. Hopefully he can be half the guy that De'Anthony was. De'Anthony was very special."
Nelson has "come a long way already," Mariota says. "He's done a magnificent job learning the offense, and he's on numerous special teams. He's a very team-oriented guy."
Freeman and Nelson were among numerous true freshmen to play Saturday.
The Oregon offense looked good with 673 yards 293 on the ground and 380 in passing by Mariota and Jeff Lockie.
Mariota went 14 of 20 for 267 yards and three touchdowns and added six carries for 43 yards and another score establishing the UO record for total career TDs (82) and tying Darron Thomas with 66 career TD passes.
Lockie went 11 of 12 for 113 yards and a touchdown in his best performance in a Duck uniform.
The QBs spread the ball around to several receivers; Pharaoh Brown and Dwayne Stanford (a 62-yarder to start the game) also scored TDs on receptions.
But, the defense looked shaky, although Helfrich says the Ducks played pretty basic on that side of the ball. South Dakota had 370 yards offense 172 on the ground and 198 through the air, led by QB Kevin Earl.
Helfrich says the Duck defenders need to play with more urgency especially considering Rose Bowl champion Michigan State visits Autzen at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6.
Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu left the game in the first half, tweaking his already sore left ankle. He stood on the sideline in the second half.
"I'm feeling all right," he said. "I'm battling an ankle injury. I'm fine, taking a little extra precaution. I'm all right."