by Rob Moseley
After Mark Helfrich's post-game comments to the UO football team each week, a player or two is called to the front of the locker room to lead the team's singing of "Mighty Oregon."
The honor is bestowed upon a guy or two who just had a big game. On Saturday, following the Ducks' 62-13 win over South Dakota, the first nominee to lead the singing of the fight song was receiver Charles Nelson. The second was Royce Freeman — another true freshman.
Nelson and Freeman were two of 10 true freshmen to play Saturday for the Ducks, illustrating the talent and maturity of Oregon's newest class of newcomers.
"Guys that come in ready to learn and ready to attack and have a mature attitude have a chance to play early," UO offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "Charles is definitely one of those guys; Royce is definitely one of those guys."
Nelson, a speedy wideout from Florida, returned a punt 50 yards for a touchdown against the Coyotes, among the biggest of several notable contributions by freshmen Saturday. Freeman ran for two touchdowns, Aidan Schneider handled all the Ducks' placekicks and nose tackle Austin Maloata had four tackles.
Long snapper Tanner Carew and offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby joined Schneider on the placekicking team. Linebacker Justin Hollins played first with the kickoff team and later on defense, where he was joined in the fourth quarter by linebacker Jimmie Swain and cornerback Arrion Springs. Henry Mondeaux and Maloata both played on the defensive line.
"At first I was nervous," Nelson said. "First game of the season, never played in college before. After the first play, everything went away and it just felt like another football game."
Watching Nelson run through the South Dakota punt team felt a little like watching another Oregon football game from the last year or two. Like De'Anthony Thomas before him, Nelson is a speedy little back who wears No. 6, and wears out the opposition.
Nelson had been inconsistent fielding punts in practice, struggling to secure the ball. So he was the third player used as a punt returner Saturday, before fielding a kick at midfield and taking it to the house.
"My main point was just to catch the ball, and then trust my blockers," said Nelson, who added two tackles on the kickoff team, and caught one ball for eight yards. "I had to set up a little something (with a cutback) to get things going, and once that happened I just had to run."
Big night for quarterbacks: Marcus Mariota set one major school record Saturday, and tied another. Mariota's four total touchdowns against South Dakota gave him 82 for his career, breaking Joey Harrington's record of 78. Mariota now has 66 career passing touchdowns, tying Darron Thomas' UO record.
The Ducks also liked what they saw Saturday from backup Jeff Lockie, who finished 11-of-12 for 113 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought he managed the game really well," Frost said. "Any time he's in the game we're going to have a lot of talent around him. He doesn't have to be Marcus and make a million plays with his legs; he just has to manage the game and get the ball to the right spot."
Settling on starters: Saturday's first quarter brought resolution to several position battles that were undecided as of the start of the week.
Dwayne Stanford started at receiver, though Darren Carrington played extensively as well. Pharaoh Brown took the first reps at tight end, Jake Pisarcik started at right guard and Reggie Daniels was one starter at safety.
Gameday Coming to Town: During the game, ESPN officials announced that their "College GameDay" pregame show would be produced on location next week in Eugene, for Oregon's nonconference showdown with Michigan State.