The Oregon Ducks opened up the season Saturday night with a record setting performance by the man running the plays for the Oregon offense. On the first possession of the game junior quarterback Marcus Mariota threw a 64-yard pass to Dwayne Stanford. Not only was this play the first touchdown of the season by the Oregon offense, it was Mariota's 79 touchdown of his career which set the record for most career touchdowns by an Oregon player. The record was set at 78 by one of Oregon's all-time greats, Joey Harrington.
Perhaps one of the loudest cheers of the game from Autzen Stadium's 97th consecutive sellout crowd was when walk-on Taylor Alie ran in a two-point conversion after the first touchdown of the game. As Alie celebrated with teammates on the goal line, the stadium erupted with applause for the redshirt freshman who attended local Sheldon High School.
The junior wasn't done ye't, on the next offensive series Mariota threw another long ball to junior running back Byron Marshall. The touchdown brought Mariota one more passing touchdown closer to the record for most passing touchdowns in a career by an Oregon quarterback.
Freshman running back Royce Freeman got in on the action late in the first quarter as he scampered into the end zone after another long bomb by Mariota. Freeman's first touchdown his career was also the first touchdown by Oregon's three-headed rushing attack. A couple drives later Freeman hit the corner for a 26 yard rush which gave the Ducks a comfortable 28-6 point advantage.
Early on the kicking game for Oregon struggled as Aidan Schneider failed to kick it to South Dakota's end zone. South Dakota in the first quarter never felt the pressure of having to go the length of the field as they started no closer to their own end zone then their own 28.
After Freeman's second touchdown of the game, the Autzen crowd started to thin out as fans made their normal trek to the Moshofsky Center to enjoy some beverages. The crowd did stay longer than last years opener when the Ducks hosted Nicholls State. A reason for this was because of fans curiosity with the dynamic freshman and wanted to see first hand what he brings to this crowded Oregon backfield.
Senior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu never seemed to get comfortable returning punts as he had zero net yards after his first two returns. Ekpre-Olomu was pulled from returns after his two opportunities and Portland native Keanon Lowe took over duties as head return man. What Ekpre-Olomu lacked in the return game, he made up for it with his defensive play. The defensive coordinator for Oregon, Don Pellum, seemed to not only use Ekpre-Olomu as a coverage guy, but as a new weapon to bring pressure on South Dakota quarterback Kevin Earl. Ekpre-Olomu was very active in the backfield as he blitzed Earl multiple times, forcing the quarterback to make quicker decisions with the ball.
Oregon went into halftime leading 41-13 and the second half wasn't any easier for the visiting Coyotes. The defense shutout the Coyotes in the third quarter and Mariota did not play in the second half. Freshman Charles Nelson who made headlines this week by being one of five freshman making the two-deep scored his first touchdown as a Duck when he returned a punt 50-yards. It was the only score in the third quarter and proved to be the last snap a majority of students would see before making their way across the river for watered down drinks at the campus bars.
Oregon scored two touchdowns in the closing quarter as Oregon ended up winning the game 62-13. After the game head coach Mark Helfrich felt very good about his offense, but still had some concerns about his defense.
"Offensively we got off to a really good start. Defensively we didn't get off to as good of a start, you know we will make some corrections," said Helfrich after the game. "We will have recovery time tonight and we will wake up tomorrow and get started for next week."
Helfrich's defense will need to make vast improvements as they will host Michigan State next weekend in what looks like to be a matchup between two top 10 programs in the nation. ESPN has already announced that College Gameday will be making a stop at Eugene next week.
During the game I was fortunate enough to sit by an NFL scout, here are some thoughts from one of the National Football League's minds:
- Mariota is as good as we think he is. The scout believes he is the best quarterback in the nation at this point of the year.
- Although Oregon fans might be concerned over Ekpre-Olomu returning kicks, the scouts love it. "It shows that he is competitive and wants to be out there to help this team," said the scout.
- The scout also praised the two for returning to school for another year because as a football player there are always areas to improve on, an example of this is Ifo becoming more involved in the blitzing.
- Tony Washington was another player that the scout was looking at and he described the senior as very long. For him to have a shot at a first or second day pick in the draft, Washington will need to have a standout senior campaign.