On the night of October 2, 2014, the atmosphere at Autzen Stadium was grim. Oregon fans were angry. Their beloved Ducks had done it again; they faltered to a team that they should have beaten. As I walked out the stadium after the game, a middle-aged man wearing a green Oregon cap looked at me and said, “I can’t [explicit] believe this. They (Ducks) do this every year!” And just a few feet in front of me, a younger fan shouted, “I’m done with this team!” Duck fans everywhere were flabbergasted. It was déjà vu all over again.
For a brief moment that night everything stood still. Were the Ducks cursed? Would they ever return to the National Championship game? Was this going to be another “what if” season? Oregon played hard that night, but the Arizona Wildcats simply played harder. The Wildcats were more physical, the Wildcats were more aggressive, and while many Oregon fans were upset as they walked out of Autzen Stadium that night, they had no idea what would transpire next.
The Ducks have won seven straight games since they lost to Arizona in Week 6, and Marcus Mariota, who has played at an historic pace all season, has found himself at the top of the Heisman poll for the last five weeks. That dark and cold night on October 2 seems like a century ago.
The Ducks have averaged 47 points per game since they last played Arizona, and their defense has been outstanding as well, holding opponents to a mere 23 points per game in that span. Also, Oregon currently sits in the second seed of the College Football Playoff standings, and despite losing to Arizona twice in the last year, the Ducks lead the all-time series 24-16, and Oregon has won 16 of the last 21 meetings as well.
The Ducks have steamrolled through the Pac-12 the last two months, and they are expected to make a deep playoff run. Tomorrow night is the first challenge, however: the Pac-12 Championship Game. They will face an Arizona Wildcat team that left Oregon speechless after their last meeting. The Ducks have averaged a meager 20 points per game against Arizona’s physical defense the last two seasons, and while Oregon is known for racking up a huge number of rushing yards, the Wildcats’ defense has held the Ducks to 178 rushing yards per game, which is well below Oregon’s average.
Despite Arizona’s recent success against the high-scoring Ducks, Oregon feels confident this time around. Mariota, who is expected to win the Heisman Trophy this season, became the first quarterback in Pac-12 history to be selected as a First-Team All-Conference player for three straight years, and he claimed the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year award as well. Freshman running back Royce Freeman has also succeeded this season. The Ducks’ tailback was named the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year, and he became just the sixth freshman running back in league history to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
The Ducks have momentum on their side, and they’re playing the best football in the country. Maybe October 2 wasn’t so bad. Maybe Oregon needed a reality check. Maybe Duck fans can believe again.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck