Memorable Moments Dot Ducks Victory
EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon's home opener was overflowing with meaning Saturday night.
The Ducks bounced back from a dispiriting first game by beating Eastern Washington, 70-14. They earned Dan Lanning his first victory as head coach of the program. They scored 10 touchdowns, including one on defense and one that had tears in the eyes of fans in Autzen Stadium and even players on the sideline.
The game began with a bouquet of flowers laid at the 4-yard line at one end of Oregon's sideline, in honor of former UO tight end Spencer Webb, who passed away over the summer before he could wear No. 4 on the field this season. The night ended with Webb's friend and fellow tight end, Cam McCormick, returning to the locker room with that bouquet in hand, after McCormick scored one of Oregon's 10 touchdowns on the night — McCormick's first trip to the end zone since 2017.
"It's been a long journey for myself, but I'm glad that I was able to score a touchdown tonight wearing his jersey," said McCormick, who has endured an injury ravaged career. "Because it felt like he was right there with me."
McCormick was followed into the locker room soon after by Lanning, who addressed the team following Saturday's victory. He then invited them, per tradition, to sing "Mighty Oregon" in celebration of the win. But first, players made sure to acknowledge Lanning's first win with the Ducks.
"Give it up for coach real quick," one yelled, spurring cheers for Lanning and then the singing of the fight song.
Moments later Lanning met with media to discuss the game. He was short on sentiment, and long on wanting to see even more from his team as the season progresses.
"We're not playing our best football yet by any means," said Lanning, whose offense scored on its first nine possessions Saturday, and whose defense did a much better job of containing the perimeter and of tackling than the week before. "I think the ceiling's really high, and there's a lot we can still improve on. … I don't know if we know exactly where we're at yet."
To be sure, the Ducks went from playing the defending national champions in week one, a 49-3 loss in Georgia, to turning the tables on Eastern Washington of the FCS on Saturday. When BYU comes to town next week, that might be the truest gauge yet of how this Oregon team stacks up.
But Saturday's game wasn't so much about matching up with an opponent as it was exorcising some demons from week one. And that was largely accomplished.
Bo Nix bounced back from an uneven opener to complete 28-of-33 passes for 277 yards Saturday, with five touchdowns and no turnovers. Troy Franklin caught 10 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown, Terrance Ferguson had two touchdown receptions and Byron Cardwell also scored twice, including one of Oregon's four rushing touchdowns.
"I think just after last week, we wanted to come in this week and have a great week of focus, get back to the basics," Nix said. "Be great on the fundamental side of the ball, and then just come out here and perform and be pretty sharp."
Defensively, nearly everyone who dressed for the game was able to get some reps; nobody on the UO defense had more than three tackles. One of those was Casey Rogers, who was in the end zone to jump on a fumbled interception return by Trikweze Bridges in the third quarter, a touchdown that gave Oregon a 56-7 lead.
The Georgia game had been a frustrating one for an interior lineman like Rogers, with how much the Bulldogs attacked the perimeter. Saturday was more enjoyable.
"This week we got to see the ball run into the box a little bit more," said Rogers, who helped the UO defense hold Eastern Washington to 187 total yards. "And then we knew they were going to run on the perimeter too. They were going to do a lot quick passes. So we were able to do the things that we needed to fix from last week, and execute them."
The touchdown by Rogers followed the most meaningful one of the night, the TD reception by McCormick that opened scoring in the second half and put Oregon up 49-7. The touchdown was the second of McCormick's career, and his first since Oct. 28, 2017.
In between, McCormick endured a string of lower leg injuries that sidelined him for all but three games between 2018-21. But he was in the starting lineup Saturday, after playing in Georgia for his first appearance since being hurt last year at Ohio State.
"It just shows that my hard work doesn't go unnoticed," McCormick said. "I can still play. That's kind of what I've wanted to show a lot of people, that through all the injuries I still have it. I know it's been a while, but I'm knocking the rust off and I'll be better every week."
With McCormick wearing Webb's old No. 18 jersey, offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham was hoping for the opportunity to create a memorable moment. That opportunity presented itself when the Ducks reached the red area to open the second half. McCormick caught a short pass and crossed the goal line just before a defender popped the ball out. Replay confirmed that it was a touchdown.
As McCormick went to the sideline to celebrate with coaches and teammates, there were tears in his eyes.
"Him wearing the 18 while doing it, it just felt right," Ferguson said. "It's really emotional for all of us."
Time will tell what about Oregon's performance Saturday will prove resonant over the course of the 2022 season. But the touchdown by McCormick will forever remain meaningful, for the player who scored it, the team and fans who celebrated it, and the player's memory that it honored.
"I'm super thankful that I was able to share that moment wearing his jersey," McCormick said. "Because I felt like he was there watching over me."