EUGENE, Oregon - The No. 24 Oregon Ducks (1-0) cruised past the UC Davis Aggies (0-1) 53-28 from Autzen Stadium on opening day of the college football season. Oregon may have stalled out the gate, but certainly found their stride in the second quarter when they began their barrage of 33 consecutive points.
The story of this game was Charles Nelson and his do-it-all ability. Sure, Dakota Prukop and Royce Freeman combined to score six total touchdowns, but it was Nelson setting up everything for the quack attack. On the day, Nelson amassed 288 total yards, alongside two 2-point conversion scores and eight jaw-dropping returns.
"I would bet my mortgage and everything I have on Charles Nelson every time out," said head coach Mark Helfrich.
He went on to say, "That guy is going to make a million plays for us. He tried to make more out of what was there on one and turned it over, but that's another guy that's anxious to be back out there and make up for some of the things toward the end of last year."
In total, the difference maker averaged 38.3 yards per kick return on his four returns for a total of 153 yards, with a long of 62 yards. On punt returns, he returned four punts for 98 yards, averaging 24.5 per return including a long of 46 yards. Nelson also caught four balls for 31 yards and ran the ball once for six yards. Overall, he attempted three two-point conversions, succeeding on two of them.
Not bad for a guy who started in the Ducks secondary eight straight games to end last season. But, it wasn’t all roses for the lightning quick athlete, as he fumbled twice on Saturday. Ball security will be his prime focus entering the Virginia game.
"I had the first-game jitters. I just took my eye off the ball for a second and fumbled it," said the supremely talented Nelson. "Second time, I just tried to make extra yards. I should have run out of bounds. I had the ball in the wrong hand, and the other guy made a great play. I'll be looking to correct that next week."
Prukop, the Montana State transfer quarterback, had many people questioning his ability entering the season. This performance will not change the minds of many, but it was the showing the Oregon coaching staff was looking for when he signed on this offseason. Prukop certainly ended his day on a high note as he found Darren Carrington for a 55-yard touchdown strike to open the fourth quarter. The final score of the day for the Oregon QB placed the Ducks ahead at the time, 46-21.
"It's a dream come true, you know?" Prukop said about playing with the Oregon high octane offense. "It's like you go from driving a car that no one really talks about to driving a Ferrari."
In total, Prukop completed 21 passes on 30 attempts for 271 yards. Alongside those three passing scores, he also threw no interceptions and rushed for a touchdown. Prukop finished Saturday with 29 yards on 10 carries.
"I don't think we ever really got into the true mojo we've been getting into in practice," said the Duck signal caller. "I still don't think we fully put the gas pedal all the way down."
Carrington was the lead receiver for the Ducks, as anticipated. The explosive athlete registered seven catches for 117 yards and that touchdown score to open the fourth quarter. He is going to be a major problem for opposing secondaries.
UC Davis running back Manusamoa Luuga rushed 22 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns. His second and third of the afternoon actually cut the Oregon lead to just 18 points at two different moments in the fourth quarter. The Aggies possessed the ball for 11:45 during the third quarter, while Oregon handled the rock for just over three minutes (3:15).
As evidenced by this performance, the Oregon run defense needs a great deal of improvement over the coming months. If they can not bridge the gap with this deficiency, the run defense could be the downfall of the Ducks this season.
Royce Freeman plunged in from five yards out for his second score of the afternoon following another brilliant return by Nelson. Proceeding a failed fake point-after kick, the Ducks lead rested at 39-14 midway through the third quarter.
The Heisman candidate wasted little time acclimating himself to the 2016 campaign, jaunting for a 6-yard touchdown run amidst a host of video game moves with just under a minute to play in the first quarter for his first score of his 2016 Hesiman candidacy.
Freeman recorded 87 yards on 11 carries, including those two touchdowns. Yet, head coach Mark Helfrich was not going to push his star unnecessarily on the first day of work.
Back-up running back Tony Brooks-James continued to impress the Duck coaching staff, as he galloped to the end zone to push the Oregon lead to 25 points, 53-28, with 3:33 remaining in the contest. The 33-yard run gave the back 57 yards on just five carries as he leads the charge to be Freeman’s top back-up.
Just before the halftime whistle, Prukop found receiver Jalen Brown wide open in the end zone to enhance the Oregon lead to 25-7, before the Ducks failed their first two point conversion attempt of the young season.
Jalen Jelks caused the first turnover of the season for the Ducks, intercepting UC Davis quarterback Ben Scott on the Aggies side of the field. The pick led to a Prukop bullet pass touchdown in the back of end zone to Johnny Mundt. The 10-yard completion was the first TD pass by the Ducks’ transfer.
Following their first touchdown of the season, in typical Duck fashion, Oregon ran the no huddle for the two-point conversion and were successful as Prukop hooked up with Nelson for his first of two Saturday. With the successful two-point conversion, the Ducks took their first lead of the season, 8-7.
No “expert” on the planet predicted the Ducks to be trailing 7-0 with less than one minute remaining (0:25) in the first quarter, but that is exactly the start UC Davis was seeking. Scott slithered through the Oregon defense for a 9-yard run to the end zone for the first score of the Aggies season.
UC Davis head coach Ron Gould was extremely impressed with Prukop’s performance on Saturday. He could not help but gush over the improvement he has seen in the quarterback over the last year since transferring to Oregon.
"You know, he's a special young man. I told him after the game that I got a lot of respect and admiration for him," said Gould. "He's a lot bigger than he was. He's just as fast, just as athletic and he's starting to come into his own."
The last time the Aggies played a ranked team was in 2014 to open their season against then ranked No. 11 Stanford. The Cardinal rolled to the tune of a 45-0 bloodbath.
UC Davis will try to get back on track with someone their own size next week against Southern Oregon. The game will take place at home for the Aggies at 9:00 p.m. ET.
After wrapping up their first win of the 2016 campaign, Oregon sets their sites on Virginia next. The Ducks will welcome the Cavaliers to Autzen Stadium on September 10 for a clash with the Atlantic Coast Conference. The game will be televised live on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. local time.
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