EUGENE — Dakota Prukop expected to be nervous Saturday.
He waited for those pesky nerves to show up as he prepared for his first game at Autzen Stadium.
But somehow, they never came.
“Surprisingly, I didn’t have any nerves. I thought I was going to be nervous. I was waiting for it all day,” said Prukop, who led Oregon to a 53-28 victory against UC Davis in his first career game with the Ducks. “I definitely felt more comfortable throughout the game.”
Prukop, a graduate transfer from Montana State, wasn’t the only person in Oregon’s program who made their debut on offense in front of the home crowd, and it showed.
In addition to Prukop, the Ducks had four redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line, plus quarterbacks coach David Yost and offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, who was promoted before the Alamo Bowl last season.
With so many new faces, the tempo on offense wasn’t nearly up to Oregon’s standards.
In past years, Saturday’s game was one in which the Ducks would put the team away by halftime, and then empty the bench in the second half.
But not this time.
The starters played throughout, and although they scored 53 points, that’s will be a concern moving forward. I mean, the lead was only 39-21 after three quarters.
The opponents on Oregon’s schedule get much better than UC Davis.
“The first thing you think of is penalties. That’s the No. 1 drive-killer,” said Prukop, who was 21 of 30 for 271 yards and three touchdowns. “The offense started clicking, but I don’t think we ever got into the true mojo that we’ve been getting into in practice. I don’t think we fully put the gas pedal all the way down.”
Prukop, who was thought to be more of a runner than Vernon Adams last season, didn’t show a lot with his legs, finishing with 11 carries for 36 yards and one touchdown.
Prukop runs hard, but he didn’t seem to be too fluid in how he did it. Granted, we might all be spoiled from watching Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
But still, Prukop’s effort was underwhelming.
Coach Mark Helfrich said he thought Prukop’s performance was “solid.”
“We just want those guys, an analogy we always use is to make layups, make the routine play over and over again,” Helfrich said. “The great play comes out of the byproduct of a bunch of routine plays. He had a couple that were great, and he had a couple that immediately afterward, he’s going ‘oh shoot, I should have.’ Obviously the missed throws are easy, as far as the one over Darren (Carrington), that’s something that we just need to get our eyes somewhere faster.”
Speaking of new faces, there was something else that was new about Saturday’s game — it wasn’t a sellout.
For the first time since 1999, Oregon did not sell out a home game, ending a streak of 109 games at Autzen Stadium.
With a crowd of 53,817, the Ducks fell just shy of the 54,000 capacity.
Is that a sign of the times, or more a sign of the state of Oregon football.
It’s tough to criticize the program too much about having 183 unsold tickets. However, this was the hottest ticket in the state.
No question, the fact that so many games are on television these days, and the couch can look much more appealing than lines, noise, traffic, food prices, ticket prices, etc., could be the driving force behind the streak ending.
But also, perhaps fans aren’t sure what to expect from this team?
“I’m unsure too, and it’s exciting, I would say. Royce Freeman is worth the price of admission for anything,” Helfrich said. “I know that college football is a tough business these days in a lot of ways. There’s HDTV, everybody likes their cold beverages and man caves and all that stuff. But there’s nothing like seeing those guys in person. The atmosphere was great today for an early season game without the students. Hopefully they’ll come out next week.”
However, the way Oregon’s season went last season, it left the impression of instability.
Right now, I believe that impression is overblown by a fan base that has grown accustomed to winning at a high level.
But there is no question that the program is going through some rebuilding, and that’s never easy.
Both Prukop and Helfrich believe the problems we saw on Saturday are fixable.
“We’re a real competitive team, I’m a real competitive person. The only thing I’m thinking about right now is the overthrow to Darren Carrington,” Prukop said. “But the most important thing is that a win is a win. You can’t take those for granted. The only thing you can’t correct on Sundays is a loss.”