EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — With fifth-ranked Oregon heavily favored in its nonconference schedule, Ducks coach Chip Kelly must strike a balance between playing his starters and giving his backups valuable live-game experience.
In the opener against Arkansas State, most of the Ducks' first team was watching from the sidelines by halftime after Oregon built a 50-10 lead. The reserves showed they could use some work when the Red Wolves found some soft spots to close the final margin to 57-34 on Saturday night.
"It's that fine line of making sure we're getting better and starting to grow," Kelly said. "And you don't want to get guys hurt."
Oregon hosts Fresno State on Saturday and Tennessee Tech on Sept. 15 before kicking off the Pac-12 schedule against Arizona at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 22. The Ducks don't play their first game on the road until Sept. 29 at Washington State.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota worked less than a half against Arkansas State, but threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns. It was his college debut after playing on the practice squad last season.
Versatile sophomore De'Anthony Thomas had 125 all-purpose yards, catching two touchdowns and rushing for one. Senior Kenjon Barner, taking over this season for departed running back LaMichael James, ran for 66 yards and two scores.
Bryan Bennett, who appeared to be on track to be the Ducks' starting quarterback after backing up Darron Thomas last season, lost the job to Mariota in camp. Against the Red Wolves he relieved Mariota, completing 10 of 17 passes for 108 yards and touchdown and an interception.
Arkansas State outscored the Ducks 24-7 in the second half. And Red Wolves senior quarterback Ryan Aplin finished with 304 yards passing and three touchdowns against the Ducks.
Barner said he didn't hold the Ducks' reserves at fault. Rather, the whole team needs to be more consistent, he said.
"Depth has always been a question from the media's standpoint about us. But we always laugh at that because we know our depth, we know what we have and we see it during practice. Depth is not an issue for us."