by Rob Moseley
The general assumption is that a team makes no bigger improvement during the season than from week one to week two. That's something Mark Helfrich would like to see apply in No. 3 Oregon's case, as the Ducks move on from their 62-13 win over South Dakota and look forward to hosting No. 8 Michigan State in Autzen Stadium on Saturday (3:30 p.m. PT, FOX).
The Ducks won their third straight season opener Saturday, but were far from perfect. Penalties and a boneheaded fumble hurt the offense, and the defense allowed a few big plays by the Coyotes, though rarely when the starting 11 were on the field together.
Bring on the week two bump, Helfrich said. "That's usually the trend, and we sure hope that takes place," the UO coach said Sunday in reviewing Saturday's game with local media.
Michigan State, which beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl in January, opened the 2014 regular season with a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State. Though neither side returned totally intact this fall, the game matches last season's fifth-best rushing offense in terms of yards per carry, Oregon (6.26), against the No. 2 rush defense in the Spartans (2.85).
Like the Ducks, Michigan State returns a veteran offensive backfield, but has contended with losses on the offensive line entering this season.
"We'll be excited to compete," Helfrich said. "They played great in every phase in their opener. And we're excited to get back out in front of the Autzen fans as well. We'll need them as we get ready for these guys."
Mariota became Oregon's all-time leader in touchdowns during the game, Dargan tied for the team lead with seven tackles, and Nelson became the first true freshman in modern UO history to return a punt for a touchdown.
Going deep into the bench: Helfrich said the Ducks used 70 players on offense and defense against the Coyotes, rotations that now presumably will be tailored for a top-10 showdown with the Spartans.
Players have every chance to improve their playing time going forward with big performances in the opening game, Helfrich said. He noted true freshmen Arrion Springs, Justin Hollins, Jimmie Swain and Nelson as guys who stood out on special teams as well as offense/defense, perhaps signalling roles for them this week despite their youth.
Followup on two freshmen: For as good as running back Royce Freeman looked in the opener, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and scoring twice, Helfrich said the freshman actually ran a bit "tentative" compared with his preseason camp performance. "His tentative is pretty good," Helfrich said. "Once he cuts it loose, we're really excited about that guy."
Also among the 10 true freshmen to play Saturday was offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby, who was mentioned by offensive coordinator Scott Frost in a postgame interview. "He did some good things," Helfrich said Sunday. "He's very athletic, he's naturally explosive. He made a bunch of mistakes and did a bunch of good stuff. So it's a bit of a mixed bag."
Competition at kicker: Yet another true freshman to play Saturday was placekicker Aidan Schneider, who handled kickoffs and extra points but didn't attempt a field goal. Sophomore Matt Wogan, who won the kicking job last season, was in uniform but did not play.
Helfrich was asked about Wogan's status Sunday. "We're always going to play the best guy available, in every positional situation for that week, for that game," he said.