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QB Justin Herbert returns to lineup for Oregon as Ducks bottle up Khalil Tate and Arizona

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Oregon has been listless offensively the past few weeks without starting quarterback Justin Herbert but his return to the lineup injected plenty of life into Willie Taggart’s team in a 48-28 win over Arizona that also made the Ducks bowl eligible at the same time.

Herbert’s numbers were not flashy or spectacular given the offense he plays in but they were a huge boost given how poorly backups played in his absence after breaking his collarbone early in the year. He finished the night with just 235 yards through the air (along with an interception) and a touchdown pass while also making an impact with his wheels, surprising nearly everybody in Autzen Stadium with a 40 yard scramble for a touchdown in the first quarter.

As nice as it was to have the signal-caller back, his teammate Royce Freeman did most of the heavy lifting as he no longer faced a loaded box full of defenders. The senior made his first trip to the end zone since September (coinciding with Herbert’s injury) to move past LaMichael James as Oregon’s all-time leader in total touchdowns. He also passed TCU legend LaDainian Tomlinson for 10th on the FBS career rushing yards list early in the game and managed to end the night with 134 on the ground and a total of four scores. Backup Tony Brooks-James added another 124 yards as the Ducks’ rushing attack was humming like days of old.

Perhaps the more eye-opening aspect of the victory was the UO defense though. The bottled up dynamic Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate better than just about any Pac-12 defense has this year and held him to only 32 yards rushing. Forcing the dual-threat star to become a passer was the game plan and the Ducks executed it at a high level, limiting him to 159 yards passing with a score and a pair of interceptions.

Running back Nick Wilson rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats, whose most notable play was probably a pick-six by Dane Cruikshank that was negated by a taunting penalty in the first half as he finger-waged his way to the end zone. The offense later punched it in but it was emblematic of a frustrating night for Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff.

Both teams have gone through their up’s and down’s this season and while it looked as though Arizona was on the upswing entering Saturday night, perhaps it’s Oregon who can claim the same thanks to their starting quarterback looking healthy and as back in business.

Royce Freeman eschews NFL, returns to Oregon for senior season

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Willie Taggart has in part himself to thank for his first significant “recruiting” win since taking over as Oregon’s head coach earlier this month.

Coming off a season in which injuries played a role in slowing him down, Royce Freeman announced Wednesday that he has decided to return to the Ducks for his senior season.  While the running back thanked his formed head coach in a statement, Freeman stated that Taggart “was certainly a factor in my return.”

Below is the back’s statement, in its entirety.

After consulting with my family and giving this considerable thought, I feel this is the best decision for me in regards to my future on and off the field. My education was one of the most important reasons I chose to come to Oregon and that priority hasn’t changed.

“I wish to thank Coach (Mark) Helfrich and the entire coaching staff for the roles they have played in my success thus far. I am extremely grateful to Coach (Gary) Campbell for everything he has taught me and the influence he has had in my life over the last three years.

“However, the prospect of playing for Coach (Willie) Taggart my final year here was certainly a factor in my return. His enthusiasm and vision for this program are contagious. I am excited to be coached by him and to enhance my development.

“All praise to the Most High; and Go Ducks.

Despite the injury issues, Freeman led the Ducks in rushing for a third straight season with 945 yards.  He rushed for 1,365 as a freshman in 2014 and a school-record 1,836 last season.  He’s less than 1,000 yards away from breaking LaMichael James‘ school record for career rushing yards (5,082) and needs 10 rushing touchdowns to break James’ mark of 53.