De’Anthony Thomas sat on the sidelines for the fourth straight game, but the Ducks showed zero signs of missing the junior tailback during their 62-38 win over Washington State on Saturday. As a team, Oregon rushed for 383 yards, good for their second-highest rushing total this season.
“De’Ant’s a huge part of our offense, a huge play-maker,” running back Byron Marshall said, “so every time he’s not on the field, everyone has to step up.”
Marshall certainly stepped up in Thomas’ absense. The sophomore rushed for a career-best 192 yards on 21 rushes and caught two passes for 54 yards. He also contributed three touchdowns.
After the game, Marshall said he knew his performance against the Cougars was one of, if not the best he’s ever had.
“I never rushed for 190 before,” Marshall said. “I just felt like I was hitting the holes well today. I was running hard and a lot of the game was just coming to me, and I was just taking what they gave me. I definitely felt like it was one of my better performances.”
Marshall obviously wasn’t the only contributor in the run game, as the 383 rushing yards illustrated. Freshman Thomas Tyner rushed for 99 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts, and quarterback Marcus Mariota added 67 yards on eight rushes, including a 57-yard touchdown run less than four minutes into the game that put the Ducks up 6-0.
“I’ve been really pleased with both running backs,” offensive coordinator Scott frost said of Marshall and Tyner. “DAT’s been hampered a little and we’re looking forward to getting him back, but with these guys running that well, it gives a big boost to our offense.”
Maybe the most important contributor to the huge rushing performance was Oregon’s blocking. Both the offensive line and the receivers had good blocks against the Cougars’ defense, highlighted by a huge block from Keanon Lowe that sprung Tyner for a 66-yard touchdown run near the end of the first half.
“He knocked him,” Marshall said regarding Lowe’s hit. “It was a solid block, really came out of nowhere. I didn’t see it until the last second. Really great block. Keanon’s one of the hardest working people we have on this team and we know he’s going to sell out even when he’s not always getting the ball, so to see that kind of effort, it’s exciting.”
Frost said there’s a certain mentality Oregon’s receivers must possess in order to play for the Ducks. They have to be committed to blocking.
“The biggest thing about receiver’s blocking is establishing that mentality,” Frost said. “Our guys are not only willing to do it, but they understand the importance of it and they take pride in it.”
Marshall agreed, saying blocking is just as important as catching for the receivers.
“You’ve got to block before you can catch,” Marshall said. “To get on the field, you have to block.”
The blocks, the schemes and the hard running from the tailbacks culminated in one terrific game on the ground Saturday night at Autzen Stadium, and they didn’t even need De’Anthony Thomas to do so. That should give future Oregon opponents a ton of fear, knowing that an already elite running game will plug Thomas back into the mix.
“We want to get De’Anthony back as soon as possible,” running backs coach Gary Cambell said, “but obviously those guys have carried the load and we feel good about that. We have a couple of extra backs that we can plug in and still get good results.”