3 and Out: Oregon beats South Dakota, 62-13
EUGENE - Oregon's victory over South Dakota Saturday night at Autzen Stadium was about as assured as any game ever played here.
The only uncertainty surrounding the event could be contained to whether or not we would see any tangible signs that the No. 3 Ducks (1-0) are indeed national title contenders.
To that end, the 62-13 victory over the Coyotes (0-1) certainly didn't add to any doubt. But it also shouldn't have raised expectations.
Essentially, we're right where we were before the game started. Believing this team has potential to be great. But also wondering if it is destined for a fall.
What we did learn is that Oregon indeed has some young playmakers capable of keeping UO's high-powered offense humming. That's all one could really hope for in a game against an FCS program in rebuilding mode.
[WATCH: RB Royce Freeman after Oregon debut]
We saw redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dwayne Stanford, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, stretch the legs on his 6-foot-4 frame to haul in the first touchdown of his career on a 62-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota in the first quarter.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Darren Carrington caught a nifty 32-yard pass from Mariota to the one-yard line, setting up the first touchdown from freshman sensation, running bak Royce Freeman.
Freeman finished with 75 yards on 10 carries and also scored in the second quarter on a 26-yard touchdown, displaying the speed that makes this 6-0, 229-pound running back special.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Devon Allen didn't catch a pass, which proved disappointing, given his blinding speed. But tight end Pharaoh Brown, one of the more physically gifted players on the team, scored on a touchdown pass in the red zone.
True freshman wide receiver Charles Nelson, wearing De'Anthony Thomas' former No. 6, did his best DAT impression by returning a punt 50 yards for a touchdown.
On defense, sophomore safety Reggie Daniels started and tied for the team lead with seven tackles while also forcing a fumble.
Junior defensive tackle Alex Balducci, a full-time starter for the first time, got off to a strong start with four tackles, two for loss including a sack.
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None of this proved exactly eye-popping given the competition. But none of these players were huge factors last season, raising hopes that they could be missing ingredients to a national title push this year.
What makes that more possible, beyond their talent, is their collective intelligence, especially on offense. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said he expected to see more mistakes today from the more inexperienced pieces of his unit. Instead, he left pleasantly surprised that he had been wrong.
"As far as getting lined up and executing, I thought we did well," he said.
Paying attention to detail is a reflection of preparedness and confidence. Most mistakes come from nerves or a lack of focus. For this collection of young players to avoid such follies is impressive.
However, again, they were playing South Dakota.
The real test will come Saturday against No. 8 Michigan State. A team that also won big on Saturday, 45-7 over Jacksonville State. The Spartans defeated Stanford in last season's Rose Bowl and come equipped with a rugged defense and a top-notch quarterback of their own in Connor Cook.
MSU can defeat the Ducks. It is a team that in many ways mirrors the few teams that in recent years have taken down the Ducks.
LSU. Auburn. Stanford. USC. You know the list.
It's a scary matchup for Oregon.
But it's also one that the 2014 Ducks need to win in order to validate themselves early, out of the gate, rather than wait for a big showdown later in the season.
We will know where the Ducks stand after week two. A win makes them legit, and will send notice across the country. A close still leaves hope. A blowout loss all-but ends UO's hopes of doing much more than winning the Pac-12.
"I'm very excited to see what else is going to happen," Nelson said.
So should we all.