EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Mike Riley is coming home to Oregon but this is just a business trip.
The former Oregon State Beavers coach is bringing his current team to Autzen Stadium for a high-profile early-season game between Nebraska and the Oregon Ducks.
“This is not about me going back to Oregon. This is about the Nebraska team playing the Ducks, but it is fun for me,” Riley said. “I’ve spent a lot of time, and had too many hard times in that stadium, so we’re excited to go play and win the game for this 2017 team.”
Riley grew up in Corvallis, some 50 miles north of Eugene, and played quarterback for Corvallis High School. His dad, Bud, was an assistant at Oregon State. Riley himself had two stints as head coach of the Beavers between 1997 and 2014.
He still has a home in the central Oregon town, which he joked that his wife won’t let him sell.
“I do like revisiting that history because I appreciated it so much. All of those times were special. I watched games in that stadium when I was a kid,” he said.
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.
Nebraska (1-0) is coming off a 43-36 victory over Arkansas State last Saturday. The Huskers went 9-4 last season, their second under Riley.
Oregon (1-0) is playing its first season under coach Willie Taggart, who took over after the Ducks finished 4-8 last season.
The team won the opener in decisive fashion, routing lower-division Southern Utah 77-21. It was Oregon’s most points in a single game since 1916. The Ducks also racked up 703 yards in total offense and set a new Autzen record with nine rushing touchdowns.
Other things to watch when Oregon hosts Nebraska on Saturday:
ANOTHER CONNECTION: Taggart is a former quarterback who started all four years at Western Kentucky. Before that, he played at Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida, where he followed quarterback Tommie Frazier — who went on to lead the Huskers to consecutive national championships and undefeated seasons in 1994 and 1995.
As a sophomore, Taggart was Frazier’s backup.
“If there’s anything that helped me it was learning how competitive he was and then how he didn’t want anyone to beat him, he didn’t want anyone to take his job, he didn’t want any of that,” Taggart said. “That’s the way you have to be. I think that’s why he was a great player, he took pride in it every single day.”
Taggart made his debut as a head coach with Western Kentucky against Nebraska in 2010, losing 49-10 to the Huskers in Lincoln.
HISTORY: The Huskers won last year’s meeting in Lincoln, 35-32. It was the fifth straight Nebraska victory in the series between the two teams. The game Saturday will be the first time in the past six meetings that neither team is nationally ranked.
Saturday will also mark Nebraska’s first appearance at Autzen and first visit to Oregon since a 28-13 victory over the Ducks in 1952 at what is now Providence Park in Portland.
SMOKY SKIES: There are so many large wildfires burning in Oregon that there was some concern about the air quality for Saturday’s game. The smoky skies made conditions hazardous in Eugene for most of the week, forcing the Ducks to travel to the coast for practice on Tuesday.
But showers that moved over the region late Thursday did the trick, and the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency said air quality was categorized as “good ” by Friday morning.
ABOUT THE UNIFORMS: The Ducks will be wearing special new uniforms when they host Nebraska. Nike teamed up with OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital for the clean white “Stomp Out Cancer” uniforms. Three young cancer survivors, Joe MacDonald, Sophia Malinoski and Ethan Frank, served as the design team.
Because Oregon is wearing white, Nebraska will wear its home uniforms in Eugene. The last time the Huskers wore their red jerseys in a true road game was the 1976 opener. They were in their home uniforms for the 6-6 tie at LSU because the Tigers wear white jerseys at home.
QUOTABLE: Taggart was asked how the offense can improve after scoring 77 points in the opener — which put Oregon atop the nation in scoring after the first week. “They’ve got to score at least 78,” he joked.