EUGENE, Oregon - The No. 24 Oregon Ducks (2-0) vaulted past the winless Virginia Cavaliers (0-2), 44-26, under the lights from Autzen Stadium on Saturday night. Oregon running back Royce Freeman and quarterback Dakota Prukop combined to amass 586 total yards and five total touchdowns together, as the offense was on full display during ESPN’s broadcast amidst 53,574 paid attendance.
As Freeman galloped 85 yards to the house in the third quarter for the longest run in his storied Duck career, you just knew it was his game on Saturday. In total, the Heisman candidate rushed the ball 21 times for 207 yards, alongside two scores. With this performance, Freeman may see himself moving up the ranks of the Heisman watch.
“Initially the hole opened up pretty wide. I knew I had one person to beat, it was probably going to be a safety or corner,” said Freeman. “Jalen was really blocking his tail off and I honestly wouldn’t have made that run without him. So, I came to the sideline and showed him some love. Plays like that are what make our receiving core the best.”
It was Freeman’s 18th career 100-yard rushing game. With his performance, the Duck workhorse passed Derek Loville for No. 3 on the Oregon all-time rushing ranks. LaMichael James’ (5,082) rushing record is getting closer and closer with each Freeman carry. As it stands now, the current Duck high flyer has rushed for 3,492 yards in his three-year Oregon career and is now 1,587 yards behind James.
“Definitely found a little rhythm,” stated the Heisman candidate. “There was a lot of times out there where Virginia wasn’t even set and we were snapping the ball, so that always works to our benefit. If we could go even faster from here on out, that would just be great.”
Needless to say, Prukop has only gotten better with each passing quarter this young season. In fact, combined with last week’s totals, the Duck gunslinger has passed for 602 yards, including seven total touchdowns with no interceptions. Saturday, the transfer looked even more comfortable in the offense, completing 20-of-30 passes for 331 yards and three more touchdown passes and no turnovers.
“I just have complete faith in my offensive line. I don’t ever really expect to get hit, but there is a defense, it happens,” said Prukop. “When you have receivers out on the edge like that, you know that if you can just hold in for that extra second, buy a little more time for them, they’ll usually get themselves open.”
The Ducks second drive of the second half exemplified the type of football their offense is playing currently. Rio ’16 Olympian Devon Allen wasted little time acclimating himself back into the offense with his 77-yard touchdown reception from Prukop. The drive lasted for three total plays, eclipsing just 1:29 off the clock.
“I was shocked (Devon Allen had single coverage). I should have released that ball a lot sooner,” Prukop stated. “I’m pretty positive he had to run back 15 yards to get it because he’s so fast. Virginia played man coverage on that, that’s good.”
Aside from the third down conversion, the play of the night nobody is talking about came from Prukop who somehow evaded oncoming defenders with his Russell Wilson-echelon escape move to complete a 22-yard pass down field to Darren Carrington. Back-up running back Tony Brooks-James then scampered to the house for his second touchdown of the year, as Oregon went back on top, 13-6, with 1:02 left in the first quarter.
On Virginia’s second drive of the game, a fake field goal attempt was sniffed out by the Oregon special teams unit, as the offense fortunately regained possession. Plays later, Pharaoh Brown rumbled 21 yards to the Cavaliers 2-yard line, setting up Freeman’s touchdown score, at the time, his third score of the young season and first of the game. Oregon took the early 6-0 lead following an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt.
Virginia running back Albert Reid rushed into the end zone from seven yards out to knot the game up, 6-6. The Cavaliers missed their extra point attempt.
As we spoke of last week, the Ducks main vulnerability this season is their “iffy” at best run defense. UC Davis gashed Oregon last Saturday and tonight was no different. Reid looked like an All-American candidate or even the former Cavalier legend Tiki Barber with 92 yards on 12 carries, alongside his score in the half.
“Too many runs that got out there, they were in streaks,” said Ducks’ defensive coordinator Brady Hoke. “Part of it is tackling, part of it is fitting the defense the right way.”
The senior from Washington, D.C. impressively rushed seven times in the first quarter for 66 yards and a touchdown. He finished the game with 126 yards on 15 carries and joins Manusamoa Luuga of UC Davis as the second consecutive back to eclipse 100 rushing yards against the Ducks this season.
“From that standpoint, we just have to play smart, keep our composure,” Hoke said. “It really goes back to fundamentals in the things we didn’t do well.”
On the Ducks fourth drive, Prukop hooked up with Allen for 55 yards on third down and 36 yards to go. The Duck signal caller completed the drive with a rocket two-yard pass to Dwayne Stanford in the back of the end zone for a 20-6 Oregon lead midway through the second quarter. It was Stanford’s first score of the 2016 campaign.
“He has a cannon for an arm,” Allen said. “I talked to him a little bit on the sideline, ‘Hey, throw it a little bit earlier and I’ll run underneath it and catch it.’ Like I said earlier, we still have to work on timing. That comes with practice and time together. I think we’ll get that down in the next couple weeks.”
Allen led all receivers in the game with four catches for 141 yards and a touchdown.
The monster tight end, Brown, then caught his first touchdown since 2014 when Prukop found him from 11 yards out, boosting the Duck lead to 27-6. Their fifth drive of the evening lasted 12 plays, traveling 80 yards as they accumulated 3:15 off the clock.
After not playing all of the 2015 season, Brown received an incredibly warm welcome back to the fray tonight from the Oregon faithful. He will be invaluable to the Duck offense, should he stay healthy. Not to mention, he is this writer’s pick for Duck x-factor for the 2016 season.
Virginia running back Taquan Mizzell scored from four yards out to open the second half strong for the Cavaliers, 30-13. On the night, Mizzell rushed 10 times for 48 yards and a score in a complimental role to Reid.
The Cavaliers continued to fight throughout the night and even showed some signs of life moving forward. Virginia starting quarterback Kurt Benkert completed 20 of 39 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns, including two interceptions.
Next on the docket for the Ducks is their very first road trip of the season, as Oregon travels to Lincoln where they will be opposed by the B1G 10 Huskers from Nebraska. Prepare yourself for a quick turnaround, as kick-off is set for 11:30 a.m. from the central timezone (9:30 a.m. local kick-off). Hopefully the Ducks set their collective alarm clock’s for their first true test of the 2016 season.