Special teams play gives Oregon a boost in victory

EUGENE — In order to be successful in the Pac-12 Conference, Oregon coach Chip Kelly believes games are won and lost with the turnover battle and special teams play.

On Saturday, the seventh-ranked Ducks excelled in those facets of the game, scoring two special teams touchdowns en route to a 43-28 victory over Washington State, improving to 7-1 overall and 5-0 in league play.

Oregon sophomore Boseko Lokombo returned a blocked punt 25 yards for a touchdown to give the Ducks the lead early in the first quarter. Washington State went three-and-out on its opening possession, forcing a Daniel Wagner punt that was blocked by sophomore safety Avery Patterson and scooped up by Lokombo for his second touchdown of the season.

"Avery's the perfect guy for that role to do that," special teams coach Tom Osborne said. "You gotta get the right guys in the bus and sit them in the right seats, and that's always our challenge. Full credit goes to Avery, he did an awesome job, he took the right angle, he did exactly, exactly what we wanted to do. And that was a big play for us."

Lokombo, a 6-foot-3, 232-pound linebacker, also returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown against Nevada earlier this season, and returned a fumble 32 yards for a score against Arizona State a year ago.

On the ensuing point-after attempt, placeholder Jackson Rice threw a 2-yard jump pass to kicker Alejandro Maldonado for a successful two-point conversion, putting the Ducks on top 8-0 before their offense took the field.


IN THE RETURN GAME true freshman De'Anthony Thomas took back his first career kickoff return for a touchdown, going 93 yards to the end zone with 3:39 left in the third quarter. That touchdown followed Thomas' 45-yard touchdown reception on the third play of the third quarter, giving the Los Angeles native 11 touchdowns on the season, which broke the true freshman school record set by Derek Loville in 1986.

"He's a special player when we can get the ball in his hands," Kelly said. "Our job is to try to figure out a couple different ways to get him in there. He's just a talented, talented kid."

Thomas led the Ducks with 262 all-purpose yards, and he now leads the team with 1,262 this season, just ahead of LaMichael James' 1,201. James did get the start on Saturday, but was used sparingly against the Cougars with 53 yards on 13 carries to his credit. In his place, junior Kenjon Barner eclipsed the century mark for the third straight game, taking the ball 11 times for 107 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and one touchdown.


A PAIR OF FRESHMEN CORNERBACKS got the starting nod for Oregon's defense against a Washington State passing attack that's averaged the second most yards through the air in the Pac-12 with 313.1 entering Saturday's contest.

Redshirt freshman Troy Hill started ahead of regular starter Terrance Mitchell, while true freshman Ifo Ekpre-Olomu started in place of injured senior Anthony Gildon.

Both freshmen finished with six tackles, and Ekpre-Olomu broke up two passes along the way. The Chino Hills, Calif., native said he anticipated being a target for Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael to pick on early.

"Of course I'm expecting it," Ekpre-Olomu said. "Because I'm a true freshman and it's my first start so they're going to come right after me no matter what. (But I) just kept playing."

Mitchell recorded his first career interception in the first quarter and returned it 36 yards to the Oregon 38, while senior rover Eddie Pleasant also intercepted his first pass of the season midway through the second quarter. A year after leading the conference in interceptions with 21, Oregon now has eight on the year.

"It was exciting," Mitchell said. "You just get another opportunity to show what you can do. You've just got to be ready all day."


AFTER SITTING OUT THE FIRST HALF, backup quarterback Bryan Bennett returned to the field for Oregon's first possession of the third quarter. The redshirt freshman promptly led the Ducks' offense on a three-play, 58-yard drive, capped by a dazzling 45-yard touchdown catch and run by Thomas.

Bennett went on to connect with senior Lavasier Tuinei for his second touchdown grab of the game, a 23-yard strike to the left corner on the Ducks next possession. Tuinei finished with a season-high 86 yards on four catches with two touchdowns, including a 55-yarder strike late in the first half on an exceptional throw from Darron Thomas.

Kelly said the decision to play Bennett in the second half was "performance-slash-injury based," but would not elaborate on who the starter will be heading into a road game at Washington next week.

"It's just football," Bennett said. "No one's said there's going to be a quarterback controversy yet. I don't know what the coaches have planned. Darron and I — I'm sure I can speak for him — are just gonna go in and continue to get better each week."

Bennett completed 4 of 7 passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns, while Thomas went 8-of-13 for 153 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

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