Justin Herbert threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns, and the Oregon Ducks spoiled Mike Riley’s homecoming with a 42-35 victory over Nebraska on Saturday.
Royce Freeman rushed for 153 yards and two scores while Charles Nelson caught eight passes for a career-high 117 yards as the Ducks handed first-year coach Willie Taggart his second straight win to open the season.
The Huskers (1-1) rallied from a 42-14 halftime deficit with three unanswered second-half touchdowns to close the gap, but ultimately fell short.
Tanner Lee finished with 252 yards passing and three touchdowns for Nebraska, but he was intercepted four times, including on the Huskers’ final drive. Tre Bryant ran for 107 yards and a score but had to be helped off the field because of an injury early in the fourth quarter.
Riley had two stints as coach at Oregon State between 1997 and 2014. Saturday was his first trip back to the state for a game since he took over as head coach of Nebraska two seasons ago.
Riley grew up in Corvallis, some 50 miles north of Eugene, and played quarterback for Corvallis High School. His dad was an assistant at Oregon State. During his time with the Beavers, Riley was 1-6 at Autzen Stadium in Civil War rivalry games. The only win was in 2007 when the Beavers beat the Ducks 38-31 in double overtime.
Autzen was certainly inhospitable to Riley in the first half on Saturday. The Ducks got off to a quick 14-0 start, scoring on their opening drive when Herbert hit Brenden Schooler with a 32-yard touchdown pass, and then some two minutes later when Herbert found Charles Nelson with an 8-yard scoring pass.
After De’Mornay Pierson-El’s stunning TD catch on Lee’s 23-yard pass narrowed it for Nebraska, Freeman ran for a 2-yard touchdown to put the Ducks up 21-7.
Bryant rushed for a Nebraska score before Freeman extended Oregon’s lead with a 1-yard TD dive. The Ducks’ running back, who decided to stay for his senior season after meeting with Taggart, rushed for 150 yards and four scores in Oregon’s 77-21 season-opening win over Southern Oregon last weekend.
The Ducks added a pair of touchdowns to go into the half with a 42-14 lead but Lee threw a pair of scoring passes, of 18 and 28 yards, to Stanley Morgan Jr. to close the gap in the second half. The rally energized the big travelling contingent of Husker fans.
Mikale Wilbon ran for a 2-yard touchdown with 2:47 left in the game for Nebraska. The Huskers’ next drive was thwarted when Lee was picked off by Ugochukwo Amadi.
Freshman Thomas Graham Jr. finished with two interceptions for the Ducks.
The Huskers were coming off a 43-36 victory over Arkansas State last Saturday. They went 9-4 last season, their second under Riley. Taggart took over at Oregon in December after the Ducks went 4-8 last season and dismissed coach Mark Helfrich.