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Balanced offense serves Oregon in push for playoffs

True freshman running back Royce Freeman has provided balance to the Oregon offense in its pursuit for a national playoff spot. (Associated Press)
True freshman running back Royce Freeman has provided balance to the Oregon offense in its pursuit for a national playoff spot. (Associated Press)
Michael Wagaman Associated Press

BERKELEY, Calif. – Marcus Mariota took another step toward the Heisman Trophy and positioned No. 6 Oregon to get serious consideration when the playoff rankings come out next week.

Freshman running back Royce Freeman also came up big for the Ducks, giving some much-needed balance to coach Mark Helfrich’s offense.

Freeman rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s 59-41 win over California at Levi’s Stadium on Friday night, the third consecutive game in which he has rushed 100 yards or more.

That kept the 5-foot-11, 229-pound running back on pace to reach the 1,000-yard mark, something the Ducks have done every season since 2006.

More importantly, Oregon’s success running the ball has taken some of the pressure off its dual-threat quarterback and the rest of the Ducks’ high-octane offense.

“It benefits us a lot,” Freeman said while standing outside Oregon’s locker room Friday night. “At first, we weren’t starting off with the running game very well. We picked it up so it’s opening other things in the offense for us.”

Freeman’s recent surge came almost without warning. He averaged only nine carries through the Ducks’ first three games while Thomas Tyner shouldered the brunt of the workload in the backfield, but has since picked up the pace.

While Tyner – who was injured in Oregon’s 45-20 win over Washington on Oct. – stayed at home, Freeman put together another solid night’s work.

A true freshman who was heavily recruited by the likes of Alabama, Florida State and USC, Freeman gouged the Golden Bears for big gains all night. He scored on a 4-yard run in the first quarter to tie the game at 14 and added a 2-yard score in the third that put the Ducks up 52-28.

Freeman finished with 22 carries, one week after running the ball a season-high 29 times against Washington.

The increased work and production from Freeman has allowed Mariota to ease up a bit when it comes to his own running. After rushing for 1,467 yards during his first two seasons in Eugene, the Heisman hopeful has backed off. He’s averaging only 40 yards a game on the ground and is on pace for a career-low in rushing attempts.

Not that he’s complaining.

“It’s fun because this entire offense is starting to click,” Mariota said following the win over the Bears.

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