by Rob Moseley
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Mark Helfrich played a little defense Saturday when asked about sophomore running back Byron Marshall's day.
"Byron Marshall is a great tailback," Helfrich said after Marshall ran 15 times for 31 yards in the Ducks' 59-10 win at Virginia.
"It's an 11-man job, running the ball. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Byron Marshall."
Marshall, of all people, begged to differ.
"I think my performance today was pretty bad," Marshall said. "I've just got to go back to the drawing board, have a good week of practice and get ready for Tennessee."
On a day when Thomas Tyner made his much anticipated debut and Marcus Mariota became the first UO quarterback to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games, Marshall's struggles were a rarity for the Ducks. Mariota ran four times for 122 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown, and De'Anthony Thomas led the Ducks with 11 carries for 124 yards and three scores.
For a time, it looked like Oregon might have three 100-yard rushers for the second straight game, after doing do for the first time in school history a week earlier against Nicholls. Marshall wasn't able to match the production of Mariota and Thomas, however.
Left tackle Tyler Johnstone sided with Helfrich in saying Marshall's struggles were the fault of all 11 guys on offense, saying that if the unit didn't execute with 100 percent precision against the Cavaliers, they paid the price.
Helfrich said often last week that Virginia's four-man front stood out to him on film, and indeed the Cavaliers had their moments Saturday. They're a big, mobile group that's active after the snap, which the Ducks countered on Mariota's long touchdown run.
The Ducks got one defender out of position, lured the rest in other directions and Mariota was off to the races, a brilliant third-down conversion that yielded a touchdown.
"It was just something were we thought we had a shot to kind of spread the field and let Marcus go," Helfrich said. "Kind of use their aggression against them."
Marshall's struggles weren't due to a lack of opportunity. Unlike a week earlier, in which Thomas carried a big, 18-carry load, the Ducks used both backs often Saturday.
That meant moving around Thomas in more of an all-purpose role, which is to the junior's liking.
"I love it," Thomas said. "I just want to lead by example and contribute to the team."
While there may indeed have been some breakdowns up front, as Johnstone cited, there were also some highlight-reel moments for Oregon's offensive line. Both Hroniss Grasu and Hamani Stevens in particular had multiple plays in which they were 10 or 15 yards down the field blocking on run plays or screen passes.
"That's what those guys need to do," Helfrich said. "They need to run and just be big, run through guys and make the defender change direction, to get our guy in space."