EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — While Oregon’s coaches believe something has clicked for Royce Freeman in the past two games, the Ducks’ true freshman running back considers his recent success more a natural progression.
Freeman ran for 169 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday night as No. 9 Oregon extended its winning streak over Washington to 11 games with a 45-20 victory.
“A turning point?” Freeman asked. “I’m just trying to go every each and every week and improve and get a breakthrough. I’m just trying as hard as I can.”
Marcus Mariota threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12), who won their second straight game as they distance themselves from a loss at home to Arizona on Oct. 2.
Freeman’s four TDs were the most rushing touchdowns in a single game for a Duck since Kenjon Barner had five against USC in 2012.
“You saw some of his elusiveness that was legendary in fall camp,” said coach Mark Helfrich, who said Freeman is playing freer.
Offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Freeman has turned a corner after becoming the team’s first 100-yard rusher with 121 yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s victory last weekend against UCLA.
“If he just runs downhill — as big and as strong as his is — he’s a force,” Frost said.
Cameron Van Winkle hit a pair of field goals for Washington (5-2, 1-2), which hasn’t defeated Oregon since the 2003 season. Sophomore Cyler Miles struggled to find a rhythm, throwing for 147 yards and a touchdown with an interception and a fumble.
“That’s very tough. It’s a rivalry. Some people don’t think its rivalry, but it is a rivalry and it means a lot. It means a lot to us and we really wanted this game but unfortunately, the Ducks prospered today,” Huskies receiver Jaydon Mickens said. “They were the better team today so hats off to them.”
Oregon celebrated the 20th anniversary of “The Pick,” Kenny Wheaton’s 97-yard interception return for a game-saving touchdown over the Huskies in 1994 that helped send the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl in 37 years.
Many Oregon fans believe that play was the spark for the Ducks’ rise to national prominence.
Oregon players wore bright green throwback jerseys with yellow pants in commemoration of The Pick, and Wheaton himself retraced the path of his interception sitting on the back of a bright green motorcycle in pregame ceremonies.
“The atmosphere of this game, everything we paid homage to, is really cool, ” Mariota said. “These are the reasons why you come back to school, is to enjoy experiences like this.”
Washington’s opening series was capped by Van Winkle’s 33-yard field goal. After Oregon went ahead on Freeman’s 37-yard touchdown run up the middle, the Huskies narrowed it with Van Winkle’s 40-yard field goal.
Early in the second quarter Oregon went for it on fourth down and Freeman scored on a 3-yard option pitch from Mariota to make it 14-6. The Ducks extended the lead with Freeman’s 1-yard touchdown.
Oregon kicker Matt Wogan missed a 33-yard field goal wide left, but Erick Dargen intercepted Miles on Washington’s ensuing series and two plays later Mariota hit Byron Marshall with a 23-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-6.
It was Miles’ first interception of the season.
Dwayne Stanford leaped above two defenders to pull down a 16-yard touchdown pass from Mariota that put the Ducks up 35-6 in the third quarter.
Washington scored its first touchdown of the game with 4:45 left in the third when Miles connected on a 3-yard scoring pass to Deontae Cooper to make it 35-13.
Freeman’s fourth TD came on 3-yard run early in the fourth before Washington replaced Miles with redshirt freshman Troy Williams, who capped his first college drive with a 7-yard keeper to make it 42-20.
Freeman appeared to get his fifth touchdown on a 2-yard run late, but a holding penalty on the offense called it back. The Ducks settled for Wogan’s 26-yard field goal for the final margin.
“Royce is Royce,” Mariota said. “I don’t know how to explain it. He’s done amazing things all year.”
Oregon finished with 218 yards rushing, and 554 total yards of offense.
“I could only see what you guys can see. It was too easy,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said of the Ducks’ ground game. “They’re very good at running the ball and they’re one of the top teams in the country in terms of doing those things. If you can’t somehow slow them down and make them a little bit one dimensional, it’s going to be problems.”
Mariota needed just one more touchdown to pass Stanford’s Andrew Luck (82) for fifth on the Pac-12’s career list. Mariota has 19 passing touchdowns and five rushing scores this season.
The Huskies were coming off a 31-7 rout of California last Saturday in Berkeley. Miles threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and Shaq Thompson returned a fumble 100 yards for a score.
Oregon’s last outing was the 42-30 rebound victory over the Bruins, which popped the Ducks back into the top 10 after their loss to Arizona the previous week.
Overall, Washington still owns a 58-44-5 advantage in the series that goes back 113 years.
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