Going into tonight’s game against the 17th-ranked Utah Utes, Coach Mark Helfrich and his team knew they were in for a battle. Utah didn’t disappoint, battling toe to toe with the No. 4 Ducks into the early stages of the fourth quarter, when Oregon, as it does so often, stepped on the gas pedal and left the home team in its green-and yellow (actually on this night, its white-and-yellow) dust.
In what may be the most spectacularly bizarre play of the season, Utah’s Kaelin Clay inexplicably let go of the ball inches before he crossed the Oregon goal line early in the second quarter for what would have been a Utes touchdown and a 14-point lead. He and his teammates celebrated; the officials didn’t signal for a score because the ball was on the turf and still live. The Ducks’ Eric Dargan eventually picked it up and immediately fumbled it. Then Oregon linebacker Joe Walker scooped it up, and escorted by what looked like every Oregon player who made the travelling squad, rambled 100 yards for an Oregon touchdown. 14-zip was suddenly 7-7.
The Ducks scored 24 points in the final frame to ice this one. Heisman frontrunner Marcus Mariota, facing one of the most aggressive defenses in the country, threw for 239 yards (8.2 yards per throw), and ran for another 114 yards (a 6.3 yards per carry average). That’s 353 yards against a team with a line coach who’s a cage fighter named Ogre 6. Seriously. Give Mariota the trophy right now.
In what looked like potentially significant injuries, three outstanding Oregon starters – All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomo, one of the best centers in the nation, Hroniss Grasu, and stellar tight end Pharaoh Brown all were forced from the game.
WHAT THIS WIN MEANS
On a night that saw Auburn go down to Texas A&M, Alabama scrape out a win against LSU in overtime, and neither Mississippi State nor Florida State look particularly impressive in notching victories, the Ducks will almost certainly move up to at least third place in this Tuesday’s College Playoff rankings. Given Arizona State’s win over Notre Dame earlier in the day, assuming both teams win out, a Ducks win over the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 championship game would absolutely assure their appearance in the final four.
Top photo from video