Football, you old so-and-so. You've been away for a while, and it hasn't been the same around here without you. The parlor isn't as lively, filled with old songs, and drunken declarations of love. We missed laughing with you, crying with you, and throwing things and turning red in the face when you became confusing and unreasonable. Sure, we've been more productive at work, and we lost a bunch of weight from not drinking beer and eating wings once a week for four months. But we weren't happy about it. We missed you, dear friend. Why don't you stay a while?
There was a lot we knew going into Oregon's season-opening tilt against South Dakota. Marcus Mariota is otherworldly; there is an abundance of elite running backs; half the field will be covered by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. But this was a team without De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff, without Taylor Hart, Boseko Lokombo, and Terrance Mitchell. And we still weren't 100% sold on Mark Helfrich yet, not after losing to Arizona and almost losing the Civil War at home. How would Year 2 of the Helfrich Era fare? Would we even recognize football when it showed up in front of us?
Four plays into the season, we remembered, as Marcus Mariota found Dwayne Stanford for a 62-yard touchdown strike; Taylor Alie ran it in for two. It was 8-0 Oregon. The band played the fight song. A man in a fluffy suit did pushups, while drunken teenagers counted along like a frathouse Sesame Street. And it was like football never left.
South Dakota got the ball, and eventually kicked a field goal. Three plays later, Marcus Mariota found Byron Marshall on a wheel route for a 41-yard touchdown. And then, we were right back in it, beer in hand, unreasonably jumping around our living room while our dog becomes convinced that we are in peril, and our cat rolls her eyes knowing we've been batshit insane for years. It felt like football had been here the whole time.
It was 41-13 Ducks at halftime; some things were going right (Mariota to Marshall, the pass defense, great debut games from Darren Carrington and Royce Freeman), and others seemed lacking (linebacker play, tackling, special teams execution). The Ducks offense racked up 465 relatively easy yards in the first thirty minutes. The second half was a chance for the backups to get reps; #6 showed up to return a punt, and I had a heart attack. Alas, it was true freshman Charles Nelson, with his first career punt return. His second career punt return ended in the endzone, a 50 yard dash up the right side of the field with a nifty cutback to finish off the score. Everyone got involved: Johnathan Loyd and Devon Allen got the first catches of their careers, Pharaoh Brown had a touchdown, Kenny Bassett ran one in for a score. It was a family affair, and we got to see even the most distant of relatives.
Football is a many talented thing. It is Marcus Mariota the dancer, doing the watusi around the pocket before finding Byron Marshall for a second-quarter touchdown. It is Charles Nelson the woodcarver, deftly whittling away and creating something beautiful out of something plain. It is Byron Marshall the improv comic, doing things we'd never seen done on that stage before. It is Juwaan Williams the inspector, making sure the job was completely done before we all got to go home. Football has it all, and it was all on display on Saturday night in Eugene.
This game was never in doubt; South Dakota were paid handsomely for the beating, and fought it out for all sixty minutes. This game was about rediscovering Oregon football, and seeing the beginning of what this Oregon team could become over the next four months. There were old faces we'd missed, like Mariota, Tyner, and a healthy and brilliant Dwayne Stanford. There were new names to rave about, like Freeman, Carrington, Nelson and Reggie Daniels. Put it all together, and the 2014 Oregon Ducks are starting to find themselves. This was a good first step for the Ducks, full of both things to love, and things to improve upon. The big test now looms next week, with Michigan State - and ESPN Gameday - coming to town. But for tonight, I'm gonna go paint the town with our old pal football, because I'm so happy she's back in town, setting fires and raising hell.