Royce Freeman moves to fourth on Oregon all-time rushing touchdown list in 52-42 Ducks win
Before every game, Vernon Adams Jr. tells his starting running back that he’s the best in the country.
Last Friday, in the 119th Civil War — that finished in an unexpectedly close 52-42 score — Adams was speaking the truth.
Royce Freeman, a Doak Walker semifinalist who eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the eighth straight game (school record), finished with 218 total yards and two touchdowns in Oregon’s (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12) sixth consecutive win.
Once again, Freeman played the role of offensive coordinator Scott Frost’s workhorse in the red hot Oregon offense, carrying the ball 27 times with a 6.2 yards per rush average.
“He’s really battled,” head coach Mark Helfrich said. “Tailbacks around the country are banged up. People don’t realize how much pounding those guys take.”
Against the Beavers (2-9, 0-9 Pac-12), Freeman passed Jeremiah Johnson on Oregon’s all-time rushing touchdown list, taking sole possession of the fourth spot.
Freeman didn’t take any time to shine the limelight on himself after the game. Instead, he simply acknowledged the feat and praised his team — specifically the offensive line — on the win.
“As far as the record, I don’t really pay much attention to things like that,” Freeman said. “It is an honor to be a part of that group and I just have to thank the offensive line, past years and this year as well. Without those guys, it wouldn’t be possible.”
Don’t buy it?
Take his teammates’ routine descriptions of him that prove the do-all back is merely doing what is expected of him every game – nothing more, nothing less.
“Royce is just a great guy, great player,” wide receiver Bralon Addison said. “We’re all happy for him. For a guy like him, for him to have those accomplishments, accolades, you can’t do anything but be proud as a teammate, as a friend.”
“He’s a good back. As long as he stays healthy and continues to work hard, he’ll be real good for us,” wide receiver Dwayne Standford said.
This is just the type of player and leader that Freeman, a sophomore from Imperial, California, has been for the past two years.
On the season, Freeman has 1,993 all-purpose yards and 16 scores with a 6.7 yards per carry average. He became the only player in the FBS to record over 100 yards from the scrimmage in all 12 games this season and is now just 99 yards shy of James’ 1,805 single-season rushing mark.
Here’s how the other top-tier backs around the country stack up:
Derrick Henry (Alabama, junior): 1,797 rushing yards, 6.09 yards per rush, 149.78 yards per game, 22 total touchdowns
Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State, junior): 1,672 rushing yards, 6.38 yards per rush, 139.33 yards per game, 19 total touchdowns
Leonard Fournette (LSU, sophomore): 1,741 rushing yards, 6.42 yards per rush, 158.27 yards per game, 18 total touchdowns
Christian McCaffrey (Stanford, sophomore): 1,640 rushing yards, 5.71 yards per rush, 136.67 yards per game, 12 total touchdowns
Compared with potential Heisman finalists, Freeman has been as good a back as there’s been nationally this season.
This isn’t something that Freeman thinks about, but it is a reality that his teammates and coaches have taken notice of.
“We have some special players on this team…Royce Freeman is obviously one of them,” Frost said. “He deserves a lot more accolades than he’s getting. I think our early season losses kind of took him out of the discussion for some things. I don’t know what his stats are compared with everybody else, but I wouldn’t trade him for any back out there.”
For Freeman, last Friday marked nothing more than Senior Day for his teammates and his second Civil War game. He was going to do anything and everything to help his team win, with or without the spotlight. It would be the last time he’d play in Autzen Stadium with players like Tyler Johnstone, DeForest Buckner and Adams, and he wasn’t going to let it go to waste.
Without Pac-12 title aspirations, this in-state rivalry game in late November for Freeman really was all about sending off the seniors on a high note and capping the season off with a sixth straight win.
Even though Freeman isn’t a senior, he sure did play and lead like one tonight. While the rest of the country focuses in on McCaffrey and Eliott, who have undoubtedly earned every bit of their praise, Freeman will continue to run without worrying about the glamour.
No one knows how much longer Helfrich and the Ducks will have the luxury of featuring Freeman in the backfield, but they sure aren’t thinking about it now.
Instead, Oregon is appreciating what Freeman has given them game in and game out, knowing well that players like Freeman don’t come around very often.
Said Buckner: “He’s going to be one of those guys that will be playing on Sundays. I’m glad I had the opportunity to play with such a great player like him.”
Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim