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Nebraska tries to stop Ducks' Freeman

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska certainly took note when Oregon's Royce Freeman got his season rolling last weekend with more than 200 yards rushing.

"Just one missed assignment or one missed tackle and he's hitting his head on the goalpost," Huskers linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey said.

The No. 22 Ducks (2-0) visit Memorial Stadium on Saturday to face the Huskers (2-0), the biggest nonconference game of the season for both teams.

After 87 yards rushing with two touchdowns in Oregon's opener, a 53-28 victory over lower-tier UC Davis, Freeman collected 207 yards on 21 carries and two scores against the Cavaliers last Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks won 44-26.

The highlight was an 85-yard touchdown run, a career best.

"I don't feel I have to prove myself to anybody," Freeman said afterward. "But against UC Davis last week, I fell short of my standards."

It was the second time that Freeman broke the 200-yard mark in his career. It was his 18th career game with 100-plus yards, and the 10th time he's gone over 100 in his last 11.

The effort moved him into third on Oregon's career rushing list with 3,495 yards, passing Derek Loville's 3,296 set from 1986-89. He needs 129 more to move into second.

Freeman epitomizes the speed in Oregon's hyperdrive offense, which he says looks like its hitting a stride.

"We've definitely found our rhythm. There were a lot of times out there where Virginia wasn't even set and we were snapping the ball," Freeman said. "That always works to our benefit. If we can go faster from here on out, that'd be great."

The 230-pound power back ran for 1,836 yards as a sophomore last season to break LaMichael James' season record at Oregon. If he can duplicate the effort, he would break James' career mark (5,082).

Freeman, who hails from Imperial, California, burst on the scene as a true freshman, rushing for 1,365 yards — a Pac-12 true freshman record — and 18 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass. As a result, he was named the league's freshman of the year on offense.

Now a junior, Freeman is getting some Heisman buzz along with plenty of speculation he may bolt early for the NFL.

"It's pretty amazing," Freeman said about making his way to the top of Oregon's record lists. "It's a good feeling knowing the previous backs that came before me and all the hard work they put in at this university. Knowing of those guys and actually talking to some of them personally, to have the ability to pass them makes me feel good."

Just as Nebraska will be Freeman's biggest test, Freeman and the Ducks will be the Huskers' biggest challenge of the season. The defense was sound in the first two games of the season against overmatched Fresno State and Wyoming. The Huskers rank in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense (13.5 points per game) and against the run (81 yards per game), and they are tied for the national lead with seven interceptions.

Oregon's offense is averaging 276 yards on the ground. And Freeman isn't the lone weapon for the Ducks: Olympian Devon Allen is starting at wide receiver, and new quarterback Dakota Prukop has thrown six touchdowns this season, while averaging 301 passing yards a game.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley was coach at Oregon State Freeman's freshman year when he gained 140 yards against the Beavers in a 47-19 Oregon victory in the state's 2014 Civil War rivalry game.

"They want to give them the football," Riley said this week. "And you have to stop him, otherwise that's what you're going to see all the time."

Things to know about the matchup:


Since 2000, Oregon is 6-3 against opponents from the Big Ten and Nebraska is 12-10 against current members of the Pac-12. Oregon is playing Nebraska for the first time since 1986, when the Huskers were in the old Big Eight. The Huskers have won five of six meetings with the Ducks.


The Ducks plan to use silent counts on offense to counter the noise of Nebraska's 350th consecutive sellout crowd.

Prukop, the first-year starter who is a graduate transfer, played before about 20,000 at Montana State, and his first two games at Autzen Stadium in Eugene drew about 54,000. "I've never been in front of 90,000," Prukop said. "I'm sure there'll be a big difference at Nebraska."


Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have known each other since they were contemporaries as star high school and small college quarterbacks in the Beaver State. Nebraska special teams coach Bruce Read's father, Don Read, was Oregon's head coach from 1974-76.

And both schools have Tom Osbornes. Oregon's Osborne is a longtime assistant, Nebraska's is the College Football Hall of Fame coach and then a congressman.

"We always say 'The Tom Osborne' around here," Helfrich said, adding that Nebraska's Osborne "set a lot of standards" during his 25-year career.

"We know whose stadium we're going into," Helfrich said.

Oregon running back Royce Freeman (21) runs against Virginia during the second half last Saturday in Eugene. CHRIS PIETSCH/EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD