EUGENE, Ore. — Dakota Prukop sees plenty to fix after his debut for No. 24 Oregon.
Prukop threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns as the Ducks overcame a both a rocky start and a determined UC Davis team for a 53-28 season-opening victory on Saturday.
“Our tempo wasn’t where it needed to be and that’s mainly due to me,” he said. “That’s one of our biggest weapons and as soon as we start using tempo I think the offense will click even more.”
Royce Freeman rushed for 87 yards and two scores for the Ducks, who have won five straight season openers. Darren Carrington caught seven passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Prukop, a graduate transfer from Montana State, completed 21 of 30 passes for the Ducks, while also scoring on a 1-yard keeper. He follows in the footsteps of Vernon Adams, a graduate transfer out of Eastern Washington who started for the Ducks last season but was dogged by injuries.
“It’s a dream come true, you know?” Prukop said about his first game with the Ducks. “It’s like you go from driving a car that no one really talks about to driving a Ferrari.”
Ben Scott completed 27 of 47 passes for 303 yards and ran for a 9-yard touchdown for UC Davis. Manusamoa Luuga rushed for 96 yards and three scores.
UC Davis coach Ron Gould had faced Prukop before. Two years ago while he was a sophomore for the Bobcats, Prukop completed 17 of 22 passes for 361 yards and four touchdowns against the Aggies while rushing for 148 yards and two more scores. Montana State defeated UC Davis 77-37.
“You know, he’s a special young man. I told him after the game that I got a lot of respect and admiration for him,” Gould said. “He’s a lot bigger than he was. He’s just as fast, just as athletic and he’s starting to come into his own.”
The Ducks got off to a slow start, allowing Scott’s rushing touchdown on the first series of the game and then punting on their first two possessions. But they pulled it together by the end of the first quarter with Freeman’s 6-yard scoring run.
The turning point for the Ducks came with about 10 minutes left in the first half, when Jalen Jelks intercepted Scott and four plays later the Ducks scored on Prukop’s 10-yard pass to Johnny Mundt. A second successful 2-point conversion put the Ducks ahead 19-7.
Oregon also introduced its revamped defense under new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, and a star emerged in freshman Troy Dye, who had 11 tackles, including seven solo, a sack and a blocked field goal.
While Oregon’s lead was never really threatened, the Aggies hung tough until the end.
“They embraced the moment, they knew it was going to be a challenge and they went out and put their hearts out there,” Gould said.
Saturday marked the end of Oregon’s 110-game sellout streak. The announced attendance was 53,817, while capacity is listed at 54,000.
UC DAVIS: After keeping their choice under wraps all week, the Aggies started senior Scott at quarterback over sophomore C.J. Spencer. Scott started the first eight games last season before he was hampered by injury and threw for 1,595 yards and 11 touchdowns.
OREGON: Charles Nelson stood out on special teams, but he made a couple of first-game mistakes, too. Nelson finished with 288 all-purpose yards, including a 48-yard punt return and a 62-yard kickoff return. He also was the rusher for a pair of successful 2-point conversions in the first half.
Nelson, has moved back to offense after switching to safety for a time last season, went into the game needing 591 kick return yards to match all-time leader De’Anthony Thomas.
But he was by no means perfect. He struggled at the start, fumbling on his opening punt return. He also fumbled on a kickoff return at the end of the third quarter.
“I had the first-game jitters. I just took my eye off the ball for a second and fumbled it,” he said. “Second time, I just tried to make extra yards. I should have run out of bounds. I had the ball in the wrong hand, and the other guy made a great play. I’ll be looking to correct that next week.”
The victory against lower-tier UC Davis isn’t by itself enough to mean movement for the Ducks in the Top 25, but upset losses elsewhere among ranked teams — including No. 16 UCLA’s loss to Texas A&M — could push the Ducks up a bit.
UC DAVIS: The Aggies get another Oregon team next weekend, this time Southern Oregon. It will be the ninth meeting between the two teams, but the first since 1953, with UC Davis holding a 6-1-1 series lead. Southern Oregon was the NAIA champion in 2014 and last year it was runner-up, finishing 11-3.
OREGON: The Ducks face Virginia in a night game at Autzen next Saturday. Oregon’s only other meeting with the Cavaliers came in 2013, when sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota led the Ducks to a 59-10 victory.
Virginia lost to Richmond 37-20 earlier Saturday.
“From an effort standpoint I thought we were solid. There were just a thousand other things we can clean up. That happens a bunch in a first game, whether you’re a veteran or not — just the head-slapping, ‘I can’t believe I did that’ moments. … You just own it and move forward.” — Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.
Follow Anne M. Peterson on Twitter: @anniempeterson