It was that kind of day for the Ducks, who opened their 2023 season with an 81-7 victory Saturday before 45,723 fans in Autzen Stadium. The UO offense set a modern program record for points scored, the defense bounced back from an early scoring drive to lock down the Vikings, and nearly the entire 2023 recruiting class made their collegiate debuts for the Ducks.
No doubt, film review by the coaching staff will reveal some flaws. But from the stands in the stadium, it was just about a perfect afternoon.
“Certainly some things that we can clean up and things that we can improve on,” said second-year UO coach Dan Lanning, whose team had no penalties in the first half and just two in the second. “But overall, was glad to see Autzen bouncing today — had great energy from the crowd.”
Senior quarterback Bo Nix kicked off his Heisman Trophy candidacy by going 23-of-27 for 287 yards and three touchdowns, leaving after the first series of the second half. New offensive coordinator Will Stein’s system showcased a legion of playmakers — both Troy Franklin and Gary Bryant Jr. hit 100 receiving yards with two touchdowns, while four different backs combined to run for seven touchdowns.
Overall, the Ducks threw for 381 yards and ran for 348. Their 81 points surpassed the modern record of 77 set against Southern Utah in 2017 and tied against Nevada two years later.
“That’s special, for this offense, for this group,” Nix said. “It’s definitely something that means a lot to us.”
Nix helped the Ducks score touchdowns to cap each of their first nine possessions, with Ty Thompson directing the ninth after Nix was pulled. Thompson and fellow backup quarterback Austin Novosad combined to go 10-of-11 passing for 94 yards, with a touchdown.
Backup running backs Jordan James, Jayden Limar and Dante Dowdell combined to rush 26 times for 192 yards and five touchdowns — three by James. They backed up Bucky Irving, who had rushing touchdowns of 52 and 56 yards in the first half, behind an offensive line that had to replace four starters from last year but didn’t appear to miss a beat.
“I expect us to operate with that sort of efficiency throughout the year,” Lanning said. “But I also know we’re gonna play some teams that are gonna make it difficult for us to operate that way in the future. So we’ve got to work, keep challenging ourselves and making sure that our standard is the secret to our success.”
Portland State’s only scoring drive came in the first quarter, after Oregon’s opening touchdown. The Viks’ option rushing attack produced runs of 20, 22 and 12 yards on the possession.
“We had a couple guys not do their job early in that series; it led to a long drive,” Lanning said. “And I think we all settled down after that and realized hey, all I’ve gotta do is my part, my one-eleventh, and the rest will take care of itself.”
The Ducks outscored PSU the rest of the way, 74-0. The Viks finished with just 200 yards of offense, averaging 3.5 yards per play. That was despite Oregon rotating liberally on defense from the start of the game, and playing as many as 10 true freshmen at a time late in the fourth quarter.
“Tip the hat off to the coaches — that’s good coaching,” veteran safety Steve Stephens IV said. “Where you’re able to get a lot of guys in and know what they’re doing, and are able to execute and uphold the standards that we set as a team. So I feel like that’s just good coaching.”
In all the Ducks played some 25 true freshmen. Dowdell and Limar each ran for over 50 yards with a touchdown, Novosad completed all three of his passes — including a completion to fellow freshman Kenyon Sadiq initially ruled a touchdown before video showed that Sadiq stepped out of bounds — and both Daylen Austin and Tyler Turner had pass breakups.
“Some of those guys that got out there getting that early experience, those are gonna be guys we’re relying on later in the season — and some of those guys, we’ll be relying on every single game,” Lanning said. “So it’s good for them to get some early opportunities out there in the field.”
For those freshmen, it was an unforgettable afternoon. For everyone else in Autzen Stadium on Saturday, it was pretty darn memorable as well.