The final score says the Ducks came out victorious against Utah last night, 51-27, but the night was full of drama, physicality, smiles and frowns, and the Ducks’ poised quarterback stood tall, leading his team to victory.
Utah’s physical front-seven overpowered Oregon’s offensive line in the first quarter, and for a brief moment, it looked like the Utes would be too strong for the Ducks. They were quick off the snap and they managed to sack Marcus Mariota three times in the opening frame; meanwhile, the Utes’ stingy secondary smothered Oregon’s receivers, preventing Mariota from making any plays through the air. The Ducks’ Heisman candidate took matters into his own hands, however,and in an early series, broke out for 76 rushing yards, capped by an outstanding 61 yard rush. In spite of Mariota’s opening quarter heroics, Utah’s defense wasn’t fazed, and they found a way to counter each Oregon jab. The Utes would go on to take a 7-0 lead after the first period, and it looked like the Ducks had a long night ahead of them.
Fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium were boisterous, but when you think about it, why wouldn’t they be? Utah displayed a tremendous effort against the Pac-12’s best team in the first quarter, and the stadium was rocking. The momentum was clearly on Utah’s side. However, everything changed in a blink of an eye. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson dropped back on a third-down play to start the second quarter, and as he went through his motion, Utah’s Kalein Clay ran past Oregon safety Erick Dargan and caught Wilson’s pass. With a pack of Oregon defenders trailing him, Clay looked destined to score. Things took a wrong turn, however, when Clay carelessly dropped the ball before he crossed the end zone on what would have been a 79 yard touchdown reception.
Fortunately for the Ducks, as he was trailing Clay, Dargan might have been the only person in the stadium who saw what happened, and after scuffling to get the ball, Oregon linebacker Joe Walker returned the football to the opposite end zone for a 100 yard fumble return while Utah celebrated their presumed touchdown. All the cheers and all the excitement quickly vanished from the stadium, and the force of momentum that Utah had on their side evaporated. What would have been a 14-0 lead for the Utes turned out to be a fumble and it changed the whole complexion of the game.
The Ducks never looked back from there. Oregon scored 24 points in the second quarter, while only allowing the Utes to score a field goal. Despite Clay’s careless play, Utah remained composed and fought hard all night. The Ducks’ lead was even cut down to three (30-27) early in the fourth quarter, but the best player in the country elevated his play during crunch time and led the Ducks to an impressive victory. Mariota finished the game with 239 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Also, the versatile quarterback made plays with his legs and amassed 114 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. It was the fifth career 100 yard rushing game for Mariota, and his third of the season.
Oregon didn’t leave this game unscathed, however, the Ducks’ reliable center Hroniss Grasu and tight end Pharaoh Brown both left the game in the fourth quarter with apparent knee injuries. While Grasu was able to walk off the field with a limp, Brown was taken off the field on a cart. Although the severity of the injuries are unknown at this time, the Ducks can’t afford to lose players this late into the season. Fortunately for Oregon, they have a bye this week, which couldn’t come at a more perfect time.
It was a wild evening in Salt Lake City last night, but the Ducks prospered and head coach Mark Helfrich was pleased with the victory.
“Definitely not a garden variety 51-27 win,” he said. “But a big, big win for a lot of reasons.”
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck