RB Royce Freeman after Oregon debut
EUGENE - Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman received his first collegiate carry one yard from the end zone Saturday night against South Dakota at Autzen Stadium.
Tough to fail from there, and he didn't, scoring easily on a one-yard touchdown to make the score 14-3 in the first quarter of a 62-13 victory.
The debut play appeared somewhat fitting for the 6-foot, 229-pound battering ram with open-field speed and moves that belie his size.
But the touchdown certainly didn't define Freeman's evening.
Freeman, much hyped throughout fall camp because of his rapid ascension up the running backs depth chart, showed off his versatility with a variety of runs, including a 26-yard jaunt around the right side for a touchdown in the second quarter. Freeman finished thee game with 75 yards on 10 carries.
"I think I performed well out there today," he said. "It felt pretty good to get out there and to see what it was like."
Freeman said he wasn't aware of much of the hype surrounding him entering the game.
"It didn't affect me at all," he said. "I try not to pay attention to any of that. Tune it out. And coach (Gary Campbell) does a great job of keeping us focused."
The running backs coach shocked some by announcing mid-way through camp that Freeman had moved into contention for the starting running back job with proven talents, sophomore Thomas Tyner and junior Byron Marshall.
Tyner started the game and rushed for 64 yards on 11 carries. Marshall came in next and finished the day with 89 yards on eight carries.
Freeman said that playing alongside two talented and experienced running backs only helps him improve.
"Them being veterans, they can teach me a lot, help me out with my game, as well," he said. "And I can give them breaks when they need it and come in and contribute."
The challenge for Oregon will be figuring out ways to utilze the talents of three running backs. It's been done before. LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas proved to be a great trio in 2011.
"We're going to have to find ways to split those carries up, or find ways to get those guys the ball cause they are going to make an enormous amount of plays for us," UO quarterback Marcus Mariota said.
Mariota said he first knew Freeman could be important this season during a summer 7-on-7 drill.
"He juked a couple of linebackers out and I was like, 'wow, that was pretty special,'" Mariota said. "For a guy his size to be that elusive, and to have the kind of abilities he has, it's special for us."
Mariota added that Freeman's confidence has helped him develop so quickly.
"He stepped on campus with a confidence that you could tell right away that he believed in himself that he could do whatever he needed to do," Mariota said.
Freeman is also filled with composure. He said he calmed any nerves he had before his debut by focusing only on what he could control and preparing himself mentally to do his job.
"I say a little prayer," he said, "and then come out here and focus on what I've got to get done."