Although quarterback Marcus Mariota continued to put up gaudy numbers, throwing for 327 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-32 passing, it was the ground game, and more specifically sophomore Byron Marshall, that stole the spotlight from Mariota against the Cougars.
Marshall racked up a career-high 192 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 21 carries, scoring from 1, 26 and 30 yards, as well as hauling in a pair of catches for 54 yards with a fumble.
His 37-yard run to open up the second half set the tone for the Ducks going forward after a sloppy end to the first half that included Mariota's first two turnovers of the season on fumbles, one of which was brought back for a score to cut the Ducks lead to 10.
Saturday marked Marshall's fourth consecutive game with at least 100 yards on the ground and fifth overall this season. With the dynamic De'Anthony Thomas still recovering from an ankle injury, Marshall has stepped up to become the reliable feature back to complement Mariota's arm in the backfield and he's showing his growth with each passing game.
"It was a different process when I first started," Marshall said. "But as it keeps happening I'm definitely getting a lot more comfortable back there."
After the game, Marshall admitted that he was trying to make too many of the "right plays" early on in the season, which affected his play. His 31 and 41 yard performances against Virginia and Tennessee were evidence of that. But, even though he's responded by playing the best football of his career over the last four games, he said his mindset isn't any different than it was when he was struggling.
"It hasn't really changed too much," Marshall said. "I've always had a mindset when I go in there to dominate and play like I know how. The fact that I'm in there more, I guess I just get more of an opportunity."
This season Mariota has garnered much of the praise for the success of the Oregon offense and deservedly so. However, Marshall has been building a steady resume and is doing much of his damage in conference play. Through four contests, Marshall has 550 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. In three of the four games, he has at least two touchdowns.
His progression hasn't come as a shock to offensive coordinator Scott Frost.
"I've been saying since fall camp that I thought he had one of the best fall camps of anybody on the team," Frost said. "We've been looking forward to seeing these things from him. We feel great about our backfield.
"Week in and week out, he's been getting better every time he gets a chance this year. He's going to be a great player."
Marshall hasn't been the only back showing improvement. Freshman Thomas Tyner had 99 yards rushing and two touchdowns on seven carries Saturday night. He also had three catches for 42 yards, including a 20-yard grab to set up his own touchdown in the first quarter.
With the level at which Marshall and Tyner are playing it opens up more opportunities for Oregon offensively when Thomas does return.
"It juste gives us more weapons," Frost said. "We don't need to leave De'Anthony in the backfield. We'll be able to move him around and feel good about other running backs in the backfield too. I think the more that these two young backs play, the more it frees us up to use De'Anthony in a lot of ways."
Heading into the meat of their schedule with contests against No. 9 UCLA, No. 13 Stanford, Utah and Oregon State looming, any extra wrinkles to the offense would benefit Oregon in trying to keep opposing defenses on their toes. If anything, Frost is happy that the running back position shouldn't be a concern for Oregon going forward, no matter who's carrying the football.
"We have three guys that we can count on right now at the running back position," Frost said. "That's a luxury."