EUGENE – Oregon Ducks sophomore running back Byron Marshall readily accepted returning to a backup role when starter De’Anthony Thomas jumped back into the starting lineup Saturday after essentially missing four games with an ankle injury.
“I was just there to fill in, really,” Marshall said.
Let it be known: Marshall is no mere backup or a “fill in.”
The sophomore flexed his enormous array of running skills Saturday, gaining 133 yards on 19 carries and scoring three touchdowns in No. 2 Oregon's 42-14 win at Autzen Stadium.
His act was needed when Thomas removed himself from the game after experiencing soreness in his right ankle, injured on the opening kickoff against California on Sept. 28.
“I gave it the best should I can just trying to go out there and contribute to the team,” Thomas said.
The junior rushed for 31 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against UCLA’s talented and often brutal defense.
“It’s the most athletic team we’ve seen this year for sure,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said.
Thomas decided not to push it, knowing that Marshall and freshman Thomas Tyner could get the job done.
“Just let the young guys go out there and make plays,” Thomas said.
Oregon’s offense found scoring drives tough to come by in the first half. The Ducks’ first was set up by a fake punt that produced a 66-yard run by linebacker Rodney Hardrick.
UO’s first legitimate scoring drive didn’t come until late in the second quarter.
“UCLA had a great defense,” Marshall said. “It’s not going to be easy to go out there and score on every possession like we do on other teams.”
A big play finally came though when Marshall ran behind some great blocking to the right, hit a lane and raced down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown run that made the score 14-7, Oregon with 2:57 left in the first half.
It was Marshall's game from that point on. His 11-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gave the Ducks a 21-14 lead they would never relinquish.
At the 8:47 mark of the fourth quarter, Marshall iced the game with a three-yard touchdown run that made the score 35-14.
Along the way, Marshall’s 5-foot-10, 201-pound frame came in handy on tough, inside runs against UCLA’s defense.
Freshman Thomas Tyner got in on the act, as well, contributing 77 yards on 14 carries and a two-yard touchdown run that set the final score.
Although Oregon won by 28, the feeling on the team was that they had been truly tested by a strong UCLA defense that forced the Ducks to dig deep in the second half.
“No one’s heads were down or nothing like that,” Marshall said of the team’s halftime demeanor. “It was different being tied. But that’s what we like. People were excited that we finally had a game, that we had to come back out and work hard for it in the second half. To earn a win like this definitely feels nice.”