LINCOLN, Nebraska - The No. 22 Oregon Ducks fell to Nebraska, 35-32, from Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Tommy Armstrong led the way in his finest collegiate hour. The Cornhusker quarterback rushed 16 times for 96 yards and the game-winning score. He also completed 17-of-33 passes for 200 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Armstrong galloped 34 yards for the game-winning touchdown and a three-point Nebraska advantage, 35-32, with 2:32 left in regulation.
Losing your Heisman Trophy candidate and star running back, Royce Freeman, on just their second drive of the day, Oregon superseded expectations on the road. In fact, the running back trifecta that replaced Freeman, including Dakota Prukop, rushed for 296 total yards and five scores.
The Ducks failed all but one two-point conversion attempt on Saturday. Clearly, these missed opportunities came back to haunt Oregon, yet once they started missing, they continually were trying to make it back with the following try.
“With the skill-set of Charles (Nelson) and still being able to hold, it’s a rare combination out of something teams have to prepare for,” stated Ducks’ head coach Mark Helfrich. “That’s something we’ll continue to do.”
Oregon looked more like a desperate Las Vegas gambler at the Flamingo Casino, trying to hit the jackpot instead of taking what the “table” gives you in the form of free extra points from a kicker that has a career conversion rate of 92-percent.
“We got to learn from it,” said Prukop. “That’s the kind of team we have, so we’ll see kind of guys we have, how resilient we are.”
With 10:31 left in the fourth quarter, the Ducks pulled ahead once again, this time leading 32-28 following their fifth rushing score of the day, but it would be their last lead of the day. Tony Brooks-James rushed in for his third touchdown Saturday afternoon. TBJ finished with 37 yards on seven carries, including those TD plunges.
“You know, next man up,” Prukop said. “We got a lot of depth all over the field, a lot of guys that aren’t ’starters’ who all made unbelievable plays today.”
As the first half was drawing to a close, the Huskers special teams’ and kick returner De'Mornay Pierson-El saved the day for big red 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 for their second score, this time with :05 seconds left on the clock.
Following the Huskers’ score, the Ducks entered halftime leading by a slim margin of six points, 20-14. Westerkamp caught three balls for 39 yards and two scores.
After receiving the second half kick-off, Nebraska took the lead for the first time on Saturday when Bryan Reimers grabbed a 22-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong. The failed two-point conversion attempts finally caught up with Oregon, as they trailed 21-20.
Arrion Springs’ 15-yard pass interference penalty set up the next Cornhusker score, as Devine Ozigbo rushed in from seven yards out for a 28-20 lead.
“We let it get away at the end," said Helfrich.
Yet again, the Ducks’ defensive discipline has reared its ugly head as Brady Hoke is literally pulling his hair out trying to find answers. The Ducks were penalized 13 times for a total of 126 yards, which is inexcusable at the collegiate level. It turned out to be the deciding factor in the game, as Oregon had multiple opportunities to right the ship but kept shooting themselves in the foot.
“There is an evaluation for everybody, starting with me,” Helfrich said. “Everybody is evaluated every single game. That’s what makes it fun to second guess. Makes it fun to, we call that evaluate and we will in every realm. Special teams had a couple of huge impact plays.”
Aside from the terrible officiating which was complimented by undisciplined play, the Ducks vulnerable run defense allowed 47 carries for 228 yards, 4.9 YPC, alongside two touchdowns. Ozigbo carried the ball 21 times for 98 yards and a score.
“We obviously have to address all those penalties,” said Helfrich. “It’s on me. We’ll take care of it."
Possibly the player of the game was Nebraska punter Caleb Lightbourn who continually placed the Huskers in great field position, while pinning the Ducks’ offense back. With five punts on the day, he averaged 47.2 yards per punt, amassing a total of 236 yards.
Even the lone veteran on the offensive line, Cameron Hunt, made an unthinkable mistake with his late hit that cost Oregon 15 yards after picking up a first down.
Left tackle Tyrell Crosby, the other veteran of the o-line, went down with an injury in the first half and was seen in a walking boot on the sideline in the second half.
“For some of those guys, its their first big game, they did a great job,” remarked Prukop.
The Oregon Ducks, as a whole, rushed 47 times for 336 yards and five touchdowns. Kani Benoit led the way with 100 yards on six carries. When Freeman went down with an injury to his right shin, the Oregon running back depth overcame in a big way. Stay tuned to ATQ moving forward for all injury information pertaining to Freeman and his fellow Duck teammates.
“We thought there would be opportunity with how their backside end played, so scheme-wise we put ourselves in position to use that to our advantage, which I think made some good plays for us, but it wasn’t enough,” said Oregon quarterback coach Davis Yost.
Prukop rushed the ball 20 times for 51 yards. Meanwhile, Griffin toted the rock eight times for 68 yards and a score of his own.
“When we come in here and have to use a silent count, that slows things down a little bit,” Prukop stated. “The offensive line has to be on the same page of just getting a call and going with it.”
In his first road game with Oregon, Prukop was tested early and often with the largest crowd (68,588) he has ever played in front of amidst his four-year collegiate career. He played better than his stats would indicate.
“Dakota was playing well, making decisions, responsible for the football,” said Yost. “Drives to score touchdowns. I thought he was our best option.”
Prukop’s results were a mixed bag of inconsistency. He looked brilliant on drives and then the “deer in headlight” routine showed up on other possessions. Overall, it was a solid game that could have been in a winning effort minus the Oregon penalties.
The Ducks had gone 82 straight games with a touchdown pass, but that streak was halted on Saturday with Prukop’s scoreless contest.
Charles Nelson led the Duck receivers with eight catches for 80 yards.
Mike Riley was 4-10 against Oregon in his career, including losing seven straight entering Saturday. Most of that was in his time with Oregon State, yet the streak has been snapped as he grabs win No. 5 of his career against the Ducks.
“We had a couple miscues but nothing terrible, nothing that just killed us. Nebraska is a good football team,” said Prukop.
No. 22 Oregon (2-1) will play host to Colorado (2-1) next Saturday. Kick-off is slated for 2:30 p.m. local time from Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks will be looking to get back on track against the Buffaloes who suffered a tough loss to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday.
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