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One to grow on for Ducks

EUGENE — Dakota Prukop wasn’t exactly in 2014 form. Neither were the Ducks.

Considering some of the circumstances — debuting two first-time coordinators, starting four redshirt freshmen on the offensive line, unveiling a new 4-3 defense and having its streak of 110 consecutive home sellouts end — No. 24 Oregon can build on Saturday’s 53-28 victory over UC Davis in the season opener at Autzen Stadium.

Prukop, who piled up 509 yards of total offense and six touchdowns to lead Montana State to a 77-37 romp over the Aggies two seasons ago, finished 21-for-30 passing for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for another touchdown, in his first start for the Ducks.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has turned the keys to the offense over to a graduate transfer from the Big Sky Conference for the second consecutive season. Prukop wasn’t as electrifying as Vernon Adams Jr., but the 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior didn’t walk off the field with a bag of ice taped to his throwing hand as the Eastern Washington import did a year ago after breaking a finger in the opener.

“I don’t think we ever really got into the true mojo we’ve been getting into in practice,” Prukop said after Oregon ran 67 plays, compared with 80 by the visitors. “I don’t think we fully put the gas pedal all the way down.”

Royce Freeman rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries (7.9 yards per attempt), and Darren Carrington had seven receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown to pace Oregon.

With first-year offensive coordinator Matt Lubick and quarterbacks coach David Yost in the press box, the Ducks produced 520 total yards of offense.

“I think we’re definitely going to get better and I’m excited to go look at the film to see how we can get better,” Lubick said. “We had a lot of new guys out there. They’re the ones that are going to improve the most because that was their first experience.”

The Ducks were without standout left tackle Tyrell Crosby, who had a foot injury, and lost senior right guard Cameron Hunt to a leg injury in the third quarter.

Four members of the 2015 recruiting class — Calvin Throckmorton (right tackle), Jake Hanson (center), Shane Lemieux (left guard) and Brady Aiello (left tackle) — started together. The offensive line committed three penalties and allowed three sacks.

“Obviously it was not up to our standards, but I saw some good things out there,” offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. “Our communication was pretty good. I’m not happy with three sacks at all, but I see there’s room for improvement and I know these kids are hungry for improvement.”

Prukop connected with tight end Johnny Mundt and wide receiver Jalen Brown on touchdowns passes in the second quarter before the 55-yard dagger down the field to Carrington with 13:13 remaining.

“I think we were a little conservative today,” Carrington said. “We can only go up from here and we’ve got a bunch of playmakers that you saw little hints of today.”

Freeman broke off a 49-yard run on the first drive of the second half, and Prukop ran for a 1-yard touchdown on the next snap. Oregon led 33-7 after defensive end Justin Hollins took a pitch and bulled over the goal line for the two-point conversion.

UC Davis answered with a three-play drive in which quarterback Ben Scott completed a 53-yard pass to Keelan Doss, and Manusamoa Luuga rushed for a 20-yard touchdown.

Every time Charles Nelson touched the ball, something exciting happened. The junior was 2-for-4 on two-point conversion attempts, finished with 288 all-purpose yards and lost two fumbles.

“I would bet my mortgage and everything I have on Charles every time out,” Helfrich said. “That’s another guy that’s anxious to get back out there and make up for things from toward the end of last year.”

Luuga rushed for 96 yards and three touchdowns to help keep the score respectable. First-year Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke’s unit allowed 392 yards to the team picked to finish last in the 13-team Big Sky.

“I think Brady Hoke is a great coach,” said defensive end Jalen Jelks, whose interception set up Prukop’s first touchdown pass. “He’s happy, but I walked up to him afterward on the field and said, ‘We have a lot of work to do.’

“We just have to keep pushing and strive for greatness.”

The Ducks will try to recapture the old Autzen magic against Virginia, which lost its opener against an FCS foe (37-20 to Richmond), next Saturday.

“A lot of growth and development will take place in the next few days,” Helfrich said.

Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop (9) avoids a collision as UC Davis linebacker Russell Reeder (53) and Oregon offensive lineman Cameron Hunt (78) tangle during Saturday's season opener. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS