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Big Red up next

EUGENE — Willie Taggart enjoyed every second of Oregon’s overwhelming victory on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.

It sure beat playing the role of underdog and the job of rebuilding a program from scratch.

The first-year coach was presented with the game ball by Royce Freeman after notching his first win with the Ducks, a 77-21 shellacking of Southern Utah.

Taggart lost his debuts at Western Kentucky (49-10 at Nebraska in 2010) and South Florida (53-21 at home to McNeese State).

“It’s my first ‘W’ taking over a program,” Taggart said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Oregon’s celebration was short-lived as the team turns its attention to Nebraska, though Sunday’s scheduled practice was canceled due to the bad air quality in Eugene from the nearby forest fires.

Labor Day Weekend indeed.

“So it’s back to work,” Taggart said.

“I think it will be another one of those games that’s really hard,” Riley said. “We look forward to the process of getting ready for the game. We’re looking forward to it. It will be great.”

OPENING SCARE: Mike Riley’s Cornhuskers held on for a 43-36 win over Arkansas State on Saturday night in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“I think we ran into a buzzsaw tonight,” Riley, the former Oregon State coach, said after nearly getting bitten at home by the Red Wolves. “They played really well against us.”

Nebraska’s defense gave up 497 yards and 32 first downs. Oregon piled up 703 yards, including 348 on the ground, and a program-record nine rushing touchdowns on Southern Utah.

Riley told reporters after the opener that he’s “excited” about bringing Big Red to Autzen.

“I think it will be another one of those games that’s really hard,” Riley said. “We look forward to the process of getting ready for the game. We’re looking forward to it. It will be great.”

REDSHIRT WATCH: Nine members of Oregon’s 2017 recruiting class played during the Ducks’ opener. Six other true freshmen did not suit up, an indication that the coaching staff may redshirt them.

Wide receiver Johnny Johnson, nose guard Austin Faoliu and punter Adam Stack started. True freshmen Jordon Scott (nose guard), Thomas Graham (cornerback), Nick Pickett (safety), Billy Gibson (safety), Deommodore Lenoir (cornerback) and Darrian McNeal (receiver) came off the bench.

Demetri Burch, an “athlete” who took snaps at quarterback and wide receiver during fall camp, was among the true freshmen not in pads. Wide receivers Daewood Davis and Jaylon Redd, defensive lineman Popo Aumavae and inside linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia were also held out.

True freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister was in uniform but senior Taylor Alie replaced starter Justin Herbert in the fourth quarter.

Taggart said he went with Alie as the backup because the competition was so close and he’s an upperclassman.

“It was good to see Taylor get in there and move the ball and get in the end zone,” Taggart said. “Right now we’re not thinking about redshirting anybody.”

TRAINING ROOM: Starting safety Khalil Oliver suffered an injury to his lower left leg in the first quarter but returned. Juwaan Williams, who played with a club on his injured hand, went down with a lower-leg injury late in the second quarter and was wearing a protective boot after the game.

Inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu, outside linebacker Justin Hollins, wide receiver Alex Ofodile and running back Tony Brooks-James were also shaken up.

Defensive linemen Scott Pagano and Malik Young and safeties Tyree Robinson and Brady Breeze did not suit up.

Pagano, a Clemson graduate transfer, is recovering from foot surgery. Young joined the team at the end of fall camp and is still working on his conditioning.

Taggart said leading into the game that Robinson and Breeze are “still healing” from injuries.

NOTABLE: Freeman is now seventh on the Pac-12’s career rushing list with 4,296 yards. His 48 rushing touchdowns are tied for fifth all-time with Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (2011-13) and UCLA’s Skip Hicks (1993-97). … Brenden Schooler, the first true freshman to lead Oregon in interceptions with four last season, made two receptions for 12 yards in his debut at wide receiver. Malik Lovette, who played cornerback in 2016, added a 27-yard reception. … Tony Brooks-James’ 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown marked the first time Oregon scored on an opening kickoff since 1997 (Saladin McCullough, 93 yards).

Oregon coach Willie Taggart, center, throws the 'O' to fans as he celebrates with his team after a 77-21 victory over Southern Utah Saturday in Eugene. [CHRIS PIETSCH/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]