Oregon RB Royce Freeman picks up where he left off
ANNE M. PETERSON
Sep. 10, 2015
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. was undeniably impressed by new teammate Royce Freeman after only one game.
"Royce, my gosh, he's really good," Adams said this week as the No. 7 Ducks prepared to visit No. 5 Michigan State.
Freeman ran for a career-high 180 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's season-opening win over Eastern Washington. Adams, who played for the Eagles for three seasons before transferring to the Ducks, threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns in the 61-42 victory.
While the opener last Saturday went a long way in answering questions about how Adams would mesh with the Ducks after the departure of Marcus Mariota, Freeman was no such mystery.
Except maybe to Adams, who was clearly dazzled.
"Once I saw him breaking tackles and running it was crazy. I was excited," Adams said. "I was like, 'Man, I love this dude.' I'll give him the ball every time. It was awesome playing with him."
Freeman, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound power back, made a splash early last season as a freshman, running for 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the opener against South Dakota. He upped his total to 89 yards and two scores against this week's opponent, Michigan State.
The Ducks won that game over the then-No. 7 Spartans 46-27 in Eugene.
Michigan State defensive back RJ Williamson said Freeman proved that Oregon wasn't just about Mariota.
"I thought he was a good player — a great athlete for Mariota to look to. Catch the ball, run the ball, had nice speed, a very strong physical guy. It's not just one person that makes a team. Marcus Mariota, of course, Heisman Trophy winner, best player in college football last year, but he had special talent around him," Williamson said this week.
Freeman's best outing last season came against Washington, when he finished with 169 yards on 29 carries and four touchdowns. There were other memorable moments along the way, including his 26-yard touchdown pass to Mariota in the game against Arizona, the lone loss of the regular season.
He finished with 1,365 yards rushing — a Pac-12 true freshman record — and 18 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass. He was named the league's freshman of the year on offense.
It was hoped that he'd be part of a two-pronged Oregon ground attack — recalling LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner — with Thomas Tyner, and both were named to the Doak Walker preseason award watch list.
But Tyner, who was hampered last season after injuring his shoulder, unexpectedly dropped out of the plan when he had shoulder surgery before the start of fall camp. It is unlikely that he'll return this season.
Without their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, it is expected that the Ducks will run the ball a bit more this season. Oregon's rushing offense was ranked in the top 10 in the nation for seven straight years until last season when Mariota broke out.
Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit and Taj Griffin are all vying for roles in Oregon's backfield.
And add Adams to that rushing attack: last weekend in his debut, the dual-threat QB rushed for 94 yards, second on the Ducks to Freeman.
"You better be ready for them to run the ball in a two-minute situation. Because they're going to line up with 14 seconds to go and run a simple zone play. But they get the ball in Royce Freeman's hands and he can make a 20-yard gain like that," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
While Eastern Washington's defense was not quite the caliber of Michigan State's, Freeman said he was just getting started.
"I'm just trying to take it to a different notch this year," Freeman said following the game.
And as for his take on Adams, there's mutual admiration there.
"He's just a baller. Point blank. Period," Freeman said. "Vernon's going to go out there and get his, and he's going to help the team just being the guy he is."
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