A group of my friends and myself sat, heads low, watching as the final seconds ticked off the first quarter. Marcus Mariota looked off, Byron Marshall couldn’t secure a catch, and consequently, the Ducks had settled for field goals on their first two drives. I looked to my friend of thirteen years and without saying a word I knew we were both thinking the same thing: Arizona has our number.
And then, the second quarter came. Mariota found his rhythm, the defense stood tall, and Oregon took a commanding 23-0 lead into half. It might’ve taken a little longer than most Duck fans would’ve liked, but the Arizona monkey was finally off our backs. Oregon outscored Arizona 45-13 after the first quarter, on their way to securing at least the No. 2 spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. It was the most complete, most dominating performance by the Ducks of the season. They’re playing like the best team in the country, and here are the top five things to take away from that game.
- Season of Redemption Continues
Throughout the week, Mark Helfrich and the rest of the team didn’t think of the Arizona game as a revenge game. I guess Tony Washington didn’t get the memo. The senior more than made up for his game-altering penalty in Oregon’s previous game against Zona, leading the Ducks defensive front to one of the most dominating performances in recent memory.
Washington finished the game with five tackles, two tackles for a loss, and an insanely athletic sack. The passion he brought to this game clearly stirred a fire in the rest of the Oregon defense, who allowed one first down in the entire first half. It started with Stanford, it ended with Arizona. The Ducks are back, baby.
- Who was that defense and what did they do with our team?
Including loss of yardage from sacks, Arizona had 20 total yards of offense in the first half. Washington, Arik Armstead, and Deforest Buckner played like men possessed in the trenches, holding Arizona’s freshman phenom Nick Wilson to a total of 26 yards on 13 carries. In fact, the Ducks only allowed 111 yards rushing total and the majority of that came on garbage time scrambles by Zona’s third-string QB. The secondary was equally dominating though. Erick Dargan and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu led an attack that allowed nine total completions and 113 total yards. If one excludes the 69 yard pass to Cayleb Jones where Oregon had a break in coverage, the Ducks would’ve allowed 44 yards total through the air. That’s not just dominance, that’s unheard of.
- Mariota Kept Composure and it Paid Off
As bad as Arizona looked in that first quarter, Mariota and the Oregon offense didn’t look much better. Two quarters later, the Hawaiian exited the game with 346 total yards of offense and five touchdowns to his name. For those of you counting at home, that’s 11 touchdowns and almost 800 yards of offense over the past two games. In the past years, when Mariota was down the Ducks were down. On Friday, the defense picked him up and he responded. The question now isn’t will he win the Heisman, but by how many votes will he win it? Oh also, he can do this.
- This Freshman Class is Special
At least on the offensive side of the ball, this freshmen group is something of legend. Royce Freeman is the most well known, and the humble but dominant back deserves all the credit he is praised with. The first downhill power RB since the days of Jonathan Stewart, Freeman ran so hard and so effectively that Arizona had to adjust their defensive scheme, which consequently opened up the field for Mariota and the passing attack. Speaking of the passing attack, freshmen Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson, and Devon Allen accounted for 276 of Mariota’s 313 passing yards, led by Carrington who made some absolutely spectacular plays on his way to seven receptions and 126 yards receiving. A big round of applause for the Ducks’ recruiting skill guys of the past two years.
- Stay Humble
This is absolutely critical. The Ducks just dismantled a team that beat them two years in a row, the defense played lights out, and Mariota continues to reach super-human levels of performance. If you ask any player on that Duck team what caused this change, they’d all respond the same thing. They’re taking this season one game at a time, not getting ahead of themselves. Needless to say, this strategy is clearly working. If the Ducks continue to keep their noses to the grindstone, a championship is by no means out of the question.
Top photo by Kevin Cline