EUGENE — Mike Riley enjoyed the moment, even if he wasn’t thrilled with the result.
The former Oregon State coach brought Nebraska to Autzen Stadium Saturday for a nonconference showdown against his old nemesis and after 30 minutes of play, his team trailed by four touchdowns in an eventual 42-35 loss.
“As disappointing as a lot of that was, we’ll have a hard time watching film,” Riley said. “The football was really inconsistent today but the team is good and they kept playing and we had a shot. As bad as it was, we had a shot.”
Riley is now 1-7 all-time at Autzen Stadium, with his only win coming in overtime in 2007 when he was with the Beavers.
Of all those unpleasant experiences, Saturday’s 42-14 first half, no doubt, ranks right up there, though the second-half rally helped put a positive spin on what could’ve been an embarrassing loss in front of old friends and family.
“You know what, I consider it a privilege to coach football, to coach college football,” said Riley, who was raised in Corvallis. “I loved all my time at Oregon State coaching, but all these games are about the team, about the team I’m coaching and it’s really fun to be where I am. … but I still embrace these moments personally. It’s pretty neat for me.”
CATCHING ON: Coming into the season, the Ducks were so thin at wide receiver behind senior Charles Nelson, they moved starting safety and 2016 interception leader Brenden Schooler to the position.
On the Ducks’ opening possession on Saturday, the sophomore caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert — then was tackled in the end zone by his QB.
"I told him on his first touchdown, he better be ready because I am coming down there and I'm going to crack him," Herbert said.
Schooler finished with three catches for 41 yards.
"A big reason why we moved him to receiver is because we knew he had great ball skills that he showed on that play," Oregon coach Willie Taggart said. "He's a football player. Not only the touchdown, but going down on kickoffs to make tackles, he does it all for us. He loves to compete and those are the kind of guys we want on this football team. We will find a place where they can help us and that is what we did with Schooler. He did a great job to go out and get the touchdown."
Schooler wasn’t the only young receiver who had a strong day. Freshman Johnny Johnson III had four catches for 80 yards, including a diving grab on a 51-yard bomb, and freshman Dillon Mitchell had five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
"I told everyone from when fall camp started that these guys will be special," said Nelson, who had eight catches for 117 yards and a TD. "They all did great things when they got the ball, they are all out there making plays."
SEEING RED: Nebraska’s well-traveled fanbase showed up in force at Autzen Stadium on Saturday, with approximately 15,000 Cornhuskers filling the stadium.
Most of the seats behind the west end zone were filled with red-clad Nebraska fans, and patches of red could be seen throughout the stands.
“I’m not surprised any more,” said Riley, who is in his second season in Lincoln. “I think it’s beautiful, I think it’s awesome, and I’m really proud with those fans out here. I think it’s great that they came to Oregon to watch this game. Every time it happens I think the whole country sees the loyalty and passion of this fan base. It’s pretty special.”
SEEING YELLOW (FLAGS): After getting flagged 12 times for 115 yards in the season-opening win against Southern Utah last week, Taggart said last Monday that getting fewer penalties would be a focus this week.
The added attention didn’t help.
Oregon was again flagged 12 times for 103 yards on Saturday. Nebraska had only three penalties for 25 yards.
NOTES: With two TD runs, Royce Freeman now has 50 career rushing touchdowns to pass former USC great Charles White for fourth all-time in the Pac-12. … Freeman also moved into fifth-place all-time in the conference with 4,450 yards rushing. … The Ducks’ four interceptions were the most in a single game for Oregon since picking off four in a win against Washington State in 2013. … The announced attendance of 58,389 was a sellout.