EUGENE Other than experiencing the NCAA's new targeting rule thanks to a Terrance Mitchell hit on the opposing quarterback, and ejection the Oregon Ducks might not have gained much from a 66-3 blowout of lowly Nicholls State on Saturday.
The school-record 772 yards offense seemed hollow, considering much of the yardage came with the game firmly in Oregon's favor and Nicholls State wilting. Same with three ball carriers topping 100 yards in a game for the first time in UO history De'Anthony Thomas, 128 yards on 18 carries, two touchdowns; Byron Marshall, 124 yards on eight carries, TD; Marcus Mariota, 113 yards on five carries, two TDs.
Nicholls State was the same team that Oregon State beat 77-3 last season. So, beating the Colonels by 63 points wasn't a big deal for the country's No. 3-ranked team.
Still, Mariota, who also went 12 of 21 for 234 yards and a score, after struggling early, said the game will go far in helping the Ducks, who play at Virginia next, Sept. 7.
After all, nobody apparently got hurt, and only Mitchell's play served as bad news for the Ducks. It was Mark Helfrich's first game as head coach, and his first win. Mariota and others presented him with the game ball.
"Anytime you're able to get game-time experience, it's very crucial," Mariota said. "We have a lot of young guys, and those young guys were able to step up. The two young quarterbacks (Jeff Lockie, Jake Rodrigues) went in, and each had touchdown drives. Very pivotal.
"It's all confidence boosting. As long as we can stay on a roll, we'll be successful this year."
Clearly, Nicholls State will go down as UO's weakest opponent of the season. And, the Ducks struggled at times; Mariota played three quarters, and Nicholls State twice stopped the Ducks on fourth-down attempts. The defense allowed 343 yards offense and 40 minutes possession time.
"The last drive before halftime, we got stopped on fourth down," said Mariota, who led the Ducks to a 38-3 halftime lead. "The first-team guys didn't want to finish that way. Then, we started off the second half, we got stopped again on fourth down. Again, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. I'm glad Coach Helfrich left us in. We were able to iron it out, and we ended up finishing with a touchdown," as Marshall came off the bench and scored on a 49-yard touchdown run, making the score 45-3.
The interesting thing was the Ducks actually trotted out a kicker Alejandro Maldonado for a field-goal try on fourth-and 6 at the Nicholls State 12 in the first quarter. He made it from 29 yards. Time was under coach Chip Kelly the Ducks would have surely gone for a first down.
And, Oregon stumbling on two later fourth downs? Interesting stuff.
The other surprise from Saturday's game, other than Mitchell's hit, was that Thomas carried the ball 13 times for 112 yards in the first half and Marshall only three times for 22 yards. A steady dose of the 5-9, 170-pound Thomas at running back rather than in his traditional hybrid role helped produce five first-half touchdowns two by him and begged the question: Why?
"De'Anthony's a dynamic player," Helfrich said. "We're going to feature both (Thomas, Marshall) in different ways. The game plan will dictate that. I love Byron Marshall."
Said offensive coordinator Scott Frost: "I've said this when people asked if we were going to throw the ball more we're going to call what we think gives us the best chance to be successful. 'DAT' does some freaky things with the ball in his hands. He took advantage of the opportunities, made big plays early."
Thomas, who called his early workload "surprising," has bulked up some a few pounds and he welcomed the opportunity to run in traffic, after scoring lots of touchdowns with his outside speed and moves. The Ducks didn't exactly tear it up with interior running, although they rushed for 500 yards (11.1 yards per carry).
Thomas said Oregon's communication and push in the running game both need to improve.
"We still have work to do," he said. "Our chemistry is going good, but I feel like we can get better. Basically, it's just guys staying on their blocks and driving them down the field."
Mariota ran free on options and scrambles, and he did connect downfield with Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe among his 12 completions. Huff had five receptions for 118 yards. The Ducks showed plenty of offense, albeit against a weak team.
"It's more of a balanced attack," Addison said, of UO's 2013 offense. "That's what scares most defensive coordinators about this offense."
The Mitchell play came in the second quarter, as Nicholls State was driving for its only points. Quarterback Beaux Hebert was sliding after carrying the ball for yards, and cornerback Mitchell hit him high in the head and shoulders and received a personal foul and ejection. The NCAA has added an ejection to the existing 15-yard penalty for striking a defenseless player.
Hebert didn't return to the game.
"It looked like a foul from my angle," Helfrich said. "We need to coach it better."
Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti whose unit forced two fumbles, allowed only 87 yards rushing and recorded six sacks didn't take the diplomatic approach about the Mitchell hit.
"I would've given him a 15-yard penalty. I don't think he should have been ejected," Aliotti said. "The quarterback was sliding as (Mitchell) was coming up. I don't think he was trying to maliciously hurt the guy.
"I hope there's a lot more common sense in the calling of those kinds of penalties. ... Can I get fined for this? You know what? I don't care. They're wrong. If they're wrong, they're wrong."
Aliotti questioned the officiating: "We had 87 snaps on defense? Is Nicholls State that good that they can block you 87 times and only hold (for a penalty) once? Think about it. That's pathetic. And, I don't mind saying it. Everybody calls pass interference; everybody knows that call. Eighty-seven snaps, one holding call? ... I wish those officials would have some more common sense."
NICHOLLS ST. 0 3 0 0 -- 3
OREGON 24 14 7 14 -- 59
OREGON -- De'Anthony Thomas 4 run (Alejandro Maldonado kick), 13:29
OREGON -- Bralon Addison 27 pass from Marcus Mariota (Matt Wogan kick), 10:29
OREGON -- Thomas 22 run (Maldonado kick), 6:28
OREGON -- Maldonado 29 FG, 5:04
NICHOLLS ST. -- Andrew Dolan 35 FG, 14:16
OREGON -- Mariota 12 run (Wogan kick), 1:18
OREGON -- Mariota 46 run (Maldonado kick), 6:20
OREGON -- Byron Marshall 49 run (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- Colt Lyerla 3 run (Wogan kick), 11:20
OREGON -- Jeff Lockie 8 run (Maldonado kick), 6:42
OREGON -- Chance Allen 23 pass from Jeff Rodrigues (Maldonado kick), 3:45