Oregon was down 7-0 to the Utes and for a brief moment we all feared that the score had jumped to 14-0 on the back of Kaelin Clay’s touchdown. Of course we all saw the premature celebration and heads-up play of Erick Dargan to pick up the ball. After the tussle in the end zone Joe Walker was able to come away with the loose ball and return it 100 yards for a Ducks’ score. Was this just a lucky break for our beloved Ducks or was there more at play here?
Dale Newton writing for “The Ducks Stop Here” is giving some credit to luck but mostly to smart players on the field. Walker said that he picked up the ball when he noticed the official throw a beanbag instead of giving the touchdown sign, indicating a loose ball. There is no doubt that Oregon got lucky with Clay celebrating before the call was confirmed; however, without the heads-up play of Walker, Oregon could have had the wind taken out of their sails conceding two unanswered touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter the Utes fought back to cut the Ducks’ lead to a mere three points; it was now or never for a team trying to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. Backed up on 2nd and 25 after a holding penalty Marcus Mariota was able to find Dwayne Stanford in the end zone for a touchdown thanks to the pass-blocking ability of the offensive line with some help from true freshman phenom Royce Freeman. There was nothing lucky about this play, just good old-fashioned play-making ability for the Ducks’ offense.
If the critics want to chalk the win against Utah up to luck then they should look closely at the price Oregon had to pay for their Pac-12 North division title win. Tight end Pharaoh Brown, one of Mariota’s strongest receivers, will miss the rest of the season after a serious leg injury in the fourth quarter. All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and anchor of the offensive line center Hroniss Grasu both left the game with injuries as well.
This is a Duck team with immense talent, able to take advantage of a “lucky” break and to meet the challenges of an unlucky situation. Doug Brenner came in to replace Grasu and although his snaps were low, he did his job and was able to protect Mariota even with Utah’s strong front seven focusing him. Super Mariota and the Ducks are putting together a season that will be defined by their resilience and refusal to back down in their quest for a national title.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck