EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon running back Byron Marshall has picked up where De’Anthony Thomas left off.
The speedy Marshall showed a new dimension in the No. 3 Ducks’ opener, leading the team with eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
His expanded responsibilities in Oregon’s hyperdrive offense are reminiscent of Thomas, who was a versatile threat for the Ducks before going to the NFL.
“He has great hands. We had to find ways to get that guy on the field,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said about Marshall. “He’s done a great job. He’s still learning out there.”
Marshall, and the rest of the Ducks’ offense, will face a considerable challenge Saturday when Oregon hosts No. 7 Michigan State in one of the more anticipated nonconference games of the season.
The defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Spartans are known for their stalwart defense, which was ranked fourth in the nation last season, allowing opponents an average of just over 274 yards of offense per game.
Marshall, the Pac-12’s top returning rusher, has embraced his new role.
“He has done a great job on being able to make the most of his opportunity,” Mariota said. “He has done a great job trying to learn as much as he can and be a key for us out there. We are very fortunate to have him.”
Marshall enjoys veteran status among Oregon’s group of running backs, joining sophomore Thomas Tyner and true freshman Royce Freeman.
The trio has been dubbed the “three-headed monster” after accounting for 412 yards of offense and four touchdowns in Oregon’s 62-13 victory over South Dakota on Saturday.
The Ducks even used all of them all at once, with Marshall in the slot.
“All of three of our backs have exceptional hands, and it gives us the ability to use them in different ways,” Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost said this week.
In addition to his receiving numbers, Marshall led the team with 90 yards rushing on eight carries. Tyner had 64 yards on 11 carries, while Freeman ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
“We never know specifically how many carries we’re going to get before the game starts, and that’s not really for us to worry about,” Marshall said. “We just go out there, wait for our number to get called, and go play.”
Thomas showed similar versatility with the Ducks, thriving in the offense devised by former Ducks coach Chip Kelly.
Thomas ran for nearly 2,000 yards and caught more than 1,200 yards worth of passes during his three-year career, despite missing time his junior season with an ankle injury. He also led the nation in yards per carry as a sophomore and played a big role for the Ducks on punt returns.
Thomas was taken in the fourth round of the NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Marshall admits he’s still growing into the expanded role, as evidenced by a mental error last week against the Coyotes. Midway through the second quarter, Marshall’s 54-yard dash for the end zone ended with a fumble at the goal line for a touchback.
South Dakota couldn’t capitalize, however, and fumbled after getting the ball, leading to Mariota’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Marshall.
“Huge mental mistake,” Marshall said about the touchback. “I’ve never made a dumber play in my life. ... It happens, no one’s perfect. But a mistake like that could be costly in a different game, and I’ve got to be better than that.”
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