This time Marcus Arroyo will be sitting in the press box above the cacophony at Autzen Stadium.
Twenty years ago, Oregon’s offensive coordinator was a freshman quarterback at San Jose State making his first career start in front of a frenzied crowd of 41,868 at Autzen Stadium.
“It was awesome being here,” Arroyo recalled of the eye-opening experience after Wednesday’s practice. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Arroyo is expecting a smoother ride Saturday when No. 20 Oregon plays San Jose State for the first time since the then-No. 22 Ducks battered the Spartans, 58-3, on Sept. 19, 1998.
The visitors were flagged for two false starts and a delay of game over Arroyo’s first six snaps.
“This is the toughest place I ever played,” Arroyo said. “This was pretty aggressive. … We didn’t play very well at all. I was just happy to be out there and tried to do my best and learn.”
Arroyo’s counterpart that day, Akili Smith, went on to be the Pac-10 co-offensive player of the year with UCLA quarterback Cade McNown.
Smith only ran six plays in the first quarter, but the Ducks led 21-0 with Michael Fletcher returning a punt for a 70-yard touchdown and Rashad Bauman returning an interception for an 80-yard touchdown.
“The biggest sweat I worked up was in warmups,” Smith said in The Register-Guard game story.
The pick-six Arroyo threw was on the same part of the field where Kenny Wheaton made “The Pick” four years earlier against Washington.
The stakes weren’t as high and the game wasn’t as competitive, but Jerry Allen still delivered a strong radio call of the play — “It is intercepted, and the Ducks have a chance to score. It will only be Arroyo who has a chance to get him. All the way down … Bauman 20, 10 … Bauman, watch it, touchdown!”
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal joked that the young quarterback should have given a little more effort and chased Bauman down.
Arroyo was able to shake off the costly miscue and went on to have a productive playing career at San Jose State.
“If someone is going to make that a low point in their life, they’ve got bigger things coming,” Arroyo said. “The vegetation is in the valley. You’ve got to learn from things like that. My effort was high. I was trying to chase the guy down for sure.
“Those things are how you learn. I think it’s awesome just to be able to say I’ve been in their shoes.”
Arroyo was able to share his highs and lows as a player with the Oregon quarterbacks last season when adversity hit the room. Justin Herbert suffered a fractured collarbone after a 4-1 start, which forced true freshman Braxton Burmeister into the spotlight at Autzen before he was ready.
“No matter where you’re at, playing as a true freshman, I use those examples a lot,” Arroyo said. “My guys understand I’ve been in the fire. I think when you’ve got a chance to talk through it, because you’ve been there, it’s good teaching examples.”
San Jose State began the 1998 season with a 35-23 victory over Stanford before losing 17-12 to Idaho and then getting overwhelmed by the Ducks en route to a 4-8 finish.
Oregon dominated No. 23 Michigan State in the opener and was ranked No. 11 before losing a 41-38 overtime thriller against No. 2 UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Mike Bellotti’s team was 8-2 but finished the regular season with a 44-41 double-overtime loss at Oregon State and then fell 51-43 to Colorado in the Aloha Bowl.
The Ducks were 6-0 at Autzen, winning by an average score of 44.0 to 16.5.
“This is an awesome facility, and they have a tremendous crowd,” San Jose State coach Dave Baldwin said after the loss at Autzen in 1998. “We came out on the first series and flinched. We couldn’t even get a play off because of the crowd noise.
“Oregon beat us up mentally, physically and emotionally.”
During the 2001 season, Arroyo had one of the more memorable performances in San Jose State history when he completed 21 of 26 passes for 476 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in a 64-45 win over Nevada.
Arroyo’s efficiency rating of 298.02 set a single-game NCAA record for passers with between 25 and 49 attempts.
“That was just one of those things where things were clicking really well and guys were playing up front really well,” Arroyo said. “We had some really talented receivers outside. We did a good job of pitching and catching.”
Arroyo graduated from San Jose State with a degree in kinesiology in 2003 and returned to the program as an assistant from 2005-08.
During his time working on Dick Tomey’s staff, Arroyo bonded with Brent Brennan, who is in his second season as San Jose State’s head coach after previously working as an assistant at Oregon State.
“There can’t be any kind of emotional or psychological key point to going out and doing this as a professional. It just doesn’t work that way,” Arroyo said. “With that said, San Jose is a special place to me. It’s my alma mater. One of my best friends who was in my wedding is the head coach.
“It has a storied tradition and a lot of people I really respect — the Bill Walshs, Jake Elways and John Ralstons — are all the reason I went there.”
The Spartans (0-2), who are 2-13 under Brennan and still struggling to find their footing in the Mountain West Conference, are 41-point underdogs.
During the last meeting between the programs, Arroyo rotated quarters with another signal-caller by design. He was 9-for-16 passing with the costly interception and led the only San Jose State scoring drive, a 33-yard field goal.
“That was the first time I’ve ever faced that much noise,” Arroyo told The Register-Guard after the game. “It took us awhile to adjust.”
The 2018 Spartans have already used three quarterbacks this season. Brennan lists sophomore Montel Aaron, junior Josh Love and senior Michael Carrillo as co-starters on this week’s depth chart.
Arroyo gets to dial up plays for Herbert, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and NFL first-round draft pick.
“Credit to Marcus, man. This guy is an organized, detailed, team guy,” Cristobal said. “Every game means a lot to him. I think when you play against your alma mater, there’s always something there, there’s always something special.”