It’s game day for the Ducks and this could very well be the game that makes (or breaks) their season. While most Oregon fans are happy to see their beloved Ducks back in the Pac-12 Championship Game, some are still nervous. Memories of failure from prior years still stick with some fans, and many pessimists around the country have waited for Oregon’s possible demise. Although you can’t erase what happened in the past, you can look forward to the future, and the Ducks have done just that.
Oregon will match up against a tough Arizona team tonight that is confident and ready. The Wildcats have beaten the Ducks twice since last season, and they’ve figured out a way to get Oregon out of its rhythm. But how do they do it? It’s simple: they make life miserable for Marcus Mariota. Arizona’s physical defense has overpowered Oregon’s offensive line in their last two meetings, which has caused the Ducks’ offense to work in a hurry and under pressure. Mariota has thrown 99 touchdown passes in his career, which is second all-time in Pac-12 history, and he’s only thrown 12 interceptions during that entire span as well. But, over the course of Mariota’s career at Oregon, Arizona’s defense has intercepted him three times and it has forced him to fumble three times as well.
“They’ve (Oregon) been rolling right by people,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. “I think our guys see that. They (Arizona) know they are a better team.”
For a few years Oregon’s kryptonite was Stanford, but the Ducks finally put it together this season and obliterated the Cardinal. Although Arizona has had two convincing wins over Oregon, the third time might not be a charm.
The Ducks will go into battle tonight with a much healthier squad. Oregon started a true freshman and a former walk-on at the tackle positions when the Ducks and the Wildcats met in Eugene nearly two months ago. The Ducks’ offensive line is considerably healthier now, though. Jake Fisher made his return against UCLA, and Andre Yruretagoyena is back as well and although the Ducks lost their All-American center Hroniss Grasu to an apparent knee injury a few weeks ago, redshirt senior Hamani Stevens was moved to the center position and has excelled.
Also, freshman running back Royce Freeman is a much more significant factor now. The Ducks’ standout tailback has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season, and he became just the sixth freshman in Pac-12 history to do so. Also, don’t forget Bryon Marshall, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, has spent most of the year at the receiver position, but his 791 reception yards and five touchdowns show no sign of discomfort.
The Ducks must respect their opponent tonight. They can’t simply believe that they will win just by showing up and head coach Mark Helfrich understands that.
“We’ve had a good week of preparation,” he said. “We have to play a clean, great game to have a chance.”
The Ducks received a much needed reality check at the hands of the Wildcats back in October but this is a different team now. Two months later and after seven straight wins Oregon looks poised to win its first Pac-12 title since 2011, and the Ducks will also look to etch their name in the first ever college football playoffs.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline