LINCOLN, Nebraska - The No. 22 Oregon Ducks, as a whole, have rushed 24 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns as they lead Nebraska 20-14 at halftime from Memorial Stadium. Losing their Heisman hopeful Royce Freeman to injury early in the game, the Oregon running back depth has overcome in a big way on Saturday.
In his first road game with Oregon, quarterback Dakota Prukop is being tested with the largest crowd he has ever played in front of amidst his four-year collegiate career. For the most part, he is handling his own at a very high level. The Ducks’ gunslinger rushed for 26 yards on four carries during their second drive, alongside converting a third down and nine when he rushed for 10 yards to set up the score.
After Freeman hobbled off the field with an apparent lower leg injury, Tony Brooks-James took over impressively. On his first carry of the afternoon, TBJ scampered 20 yards to the house for the first score of the game. The Ducks converted their two-point attempt with a fake kick, handoff to Charles Nelson who leapt over the goal line for the early 8-0 lead.
Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong hooked up with Jordan Westerkamp for a 22-yard touchdown minutes later, as the Huskers trailed, 8-7, by a point following their score.
Nevertheless, Prukop and the Duck attack is relentless as they illustrated on their fifth possession of the game. On fourth down and four yards to go while in field goal range, the Ducks went for it. Prukop secured his receiver Dwayne Stanford for 23 yards, down to the Nebraska 2-yard-line. The fourth down conversion set-up Brooks-James for his second score of the half, replacing Freeman with great fluidity.
The game-changing play of the half came with less than three minutes left in the second quarter and the Duck defense on the field. The first turnover of the game occurred in Oregon’s red zone, as Armstrong pitched an errant backward pass, which was a live ball that the Ducks pounced on and returned 34 yards to the 50-yard-line.
The very next play, running back Taj Griffin raced to the end zone for Oregon’s third rushing touchdown of the half, lifting the Duck lead to 20-7.
Currently, the Oregon backfield has been called the fastest group of running backs in Ducks’ history by the coaching staff. Only time, yards and touchdowns will tell how true that statement becomes this season.
When speaking of his backfield without Freeman, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich expects much of the same from his unit minus the Heisman candidate.
“Just keep playing. Whoever is in there, we expect them to play great. Not the ideal end to the first half, kept things interesting. Got to keep playing,” said Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich at halftime.
With the half drawing to a close, the Huskers special teams’ and kick returner De'Mornay Pierson-El saved the day with a 45-yard return, placing Nebraska at the Oregon 19-yard line.
A few plays later, the Huskers faded their way in as Armstrong and Westerkamp connected again, this time with :05 seconds left on the clock. Following the Huskers’ score, the Ducks enter halftime leading by a slim margin of six points, 20-14.
A very difficult second half lies ahead for the quack attack.