By Ryan Thorburn

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Next up

No. 11 Washington St. at Oregon

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

TV: Fox Line: Washington St. by 2

EUGENE — Justin Herbert was out of sight but still had practice on his mind as the show went on without Oregon’s starting quarterback.

Herbert, who is out indefinitely with a fractured collarbone suffered last Saturday against California, watched the 20-minute period of Tuesday’s practice open to the media hidden behind black mesh fencing and a tackling dummy sled.

Senior Taylor Alie and true freshman Braxton ­Burmeister led the quarterback drills, along with freshman walk-on Mike Irwin and freshman athlete Demetri Burch.

The Ducks will lean on a strong running game to take pressure off Herbert’s replacement.

Royce Freeman, who injured his right shoulder in the Cal game, walked into practice in full pads but was not present during the media window. He was back practicing with the team on Wednesday.

Kani Benoit (138 yards, two touchdowns), Tony Brooks-James (76 yards, one touchdown) and Darrian Felix (27 yards, one touchdown) picked up the slack after Freeman left the 45-24 victory over Cal in the first quarter.

“When Royce went down, I wasn’t nervous at all. They did exactly what they were supposed to do,” running backs coach Donte Pimpleton said. “That’s the expectation. I told them the best night of sleep I get is on Friday, knowing they’re prepared and ready to go have a good game. They were able to do that.

“It was great to see, and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Oregon hosts No. 11 Washington State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks (4-1 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) lead the FBS in scoring (49.6 ppg) and are 13th in rushing (260.8 ypg) after piling up 328 yards on the ground against Cal.

Oregon is expecting the Cougars (5-0, 2-0), who are allowing only 20.2 points (34th) and 128.6 rushing yards (41st) this season, to load the box with extra defenders Saturday.

“I think we’re going to see it every week, regardless of whether Justin was hurt or whatnot,” co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal said. “I just think when you have a running back like Royce people are going to want to take that away first.

“Not to mention Kani and Tony and now Darrian as well. I think people are always going to try to stop the run first.”

Injured wide receivers Charles Nelson and Dillon Mitchell were not participating Tuesday in the practice drills open to the media, but injured tight ends Jacob Breeland and Matt Mariota were back in action.

More opportunities available with injuries

Oregon’s nightmarish injury situation has given some backups an opportunity to fulfill their childhood dreams.

The Ducks started two homegrown tight ends — Cam McCormick and Ryan Bay — against Cal in front of a crowd of 55,707 at Autzen Stadium.

McCormick, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound redshirt freshman from Bend’s Summit High School, had one reception — his second of the season— for 4 yards. Bay, a redshirt sophomore from Tigard, made the first two catches of his career for 20 yards.

“It was amazing,” Bay said. “Definitely a dream come true, something I’ve always dreamed about as a kid coming down here and making big plays and doing what I can to help this team get the win.

“It was definitely a big accomplishment for me.”

Bay did not play football during his sophomore or junior seasons in high school. The 6-foot-3, 231-pounder contacted Oregon’s previous coaching staff prior to the 2014 national title game about his interest in joining the program and was eventually invited to walk on by former assistant coach Matt Lubick.

“Within a heartbeat I just knew that was what I wanted to do,” Bay said.

The tight end unit suddenly has some quality depth with the emergence of Bay and McCormick.

“(Bay) enjoys the contact part of the game, the physicality of the game, and it showed,” Cristobal said of the contribution in the running game from the tight ends. “I think everyone in the entire building trusted the fact that he and Cam were going to go in there and play football for us, extensive football.

“And they showed out on Saturday. I’m really proud of those guys.”

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