ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer
Freshman running back Royce Freeman made his anticipated debut for the No. 3 Oregon Ducks and showed a glimpse of the talent that was kept behind closed doors all summer.
Poised and confident, the 6-foot, 229-pound back is so far handling all the expectations heaped on him as a five-star recruit.
Freeman ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries for the Ducks in Saturday’s 62-13 victory over South Dakota. He also caught a pass for 11 yards.
There was a lot of buzz about Freeman during camp but the praise came from coaches and teammates since the Ducks practice in private.
Out of high school in Southern California, he had drawn early comparisons to former Oregon backs LeGarrette Blount and Jonathan Stewart. He wears No. 21 for the Ducks, which was worn by former standout LaMichael James.
Freeman said he tuned out all of the hype leading into the opener.
“It didn’t affect me at all. I try not to pay attention to any of that, tune it out. Coach Cam (running backs coach Gary Campbell) does a great job of keeping us focused,” Freeman said. “I wasn’t really aware of it. We pay attention to what we have to do.”
Freeman and the rest of the Ducks’ offense will be tested on Saturday when they host No. 7 Michigan State and the Spartans’ stout defense. The defending Big Ten champions, who went 13-1 last season, easily took care of Jacksonville State 45-7 in their opener last Friday night and moved up a spot in this week’s AP Top 25.
Last season, Stanford’s vaunted defense helped pave the way for a 26-20 victory at home over the Ducks during the regular season. But the Cardinal went on to face the Spartans in the Rose Bowl, falling 24-20.
Oregon showed glimpses in the season opener of the “three-headed monster” option of running backs Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Freeman.
Together the three accounted for 412 yards of offense and four touchdowns against South Dakota.
Marshall was the Ducks’ top receiver with 138 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 90 yards on eight carries. Tyner had 11 carries for 64 yards.
“We think those guys are really good players. Byron had a little bit different role tonight as more of a hybrid, downfield threat. That was by virtue of how they defended those formations,” coach Mark Helfrich said following the game against the Coyotes. “I think Royce has that ability, he just hasn’t been here long enough to add that next layer of development to his repertoire. Thomas (Tyner) has that. They’re all just good thumper running backs.”
Freeman showed two sides of his ability: He powered over the goal line for a 1-yard score and then dashed for a 26-yard TD against the Coyotes.
He didn’t look nervous.
“I tried to calm myself out before my first game, especially it being a late game at home. I just tried to relax and not do too much out of my element,” he said. “I just wanted to go out and run as hard as I could.”
Freeman hails from Imperial High School. As a senior, he ran for 2,824 yards and 41 touchdowns, prompting offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Stanford.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said he first noticed Freeman’s ability this summer.
“He stepped on the campus with kind of a confidence that you could tell right away that he believed in himself that he could do anything he needed to do,” Mariota said. “For me, it was probably in a 7-on-7 this summer. He caught a little out-route and cut up real quick and juked a couple of linebackers out. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty special.’ For a guy of his size to be that elusive and have the kind of abilities that he has is pretty special for us.”
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)