Oregon rode the pinpoint passing of Marcus Mariota, an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by De’Anthony Thomas and a stubborn defense to a 44-21 win over Utah, improving their record to 9-1, 6-1 in the PAC-12.
Fans got an additional treat on the drive home as many tuned their car radios to Stanford-USC game. The Trojans Andre Heidari nailed a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left to boot The Cardinal, 20-17 in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The upset loss means the Ducks are in first place in the PAC-12 North and control their destiny for the right to host the PAC-12 Championship Game. Finish the season with wins at Arizona next Saturday and in The Civil War, and they will meet the winner of of the PAC-12 South in Autzen Stadium on December 7th, Arizona State, UCLA or USC.
Mariota was masterful this afternoon. Still not running with the sprained knee, although he looked more comfortable and more mobile, he threw darts to receivers at every level of the defense, hitting outs, seam routes to the tight ends, little touch passes and slants, picking apart the Utah defense on 19-26 passing for 288 yards and 3 scores. He completed the first 10 passes he threw and the 11th one was dropped. He hit three different tight ends for big completions, Pharaoh Brown for 28 on a scramble rolling left, Evan Baylis on a 25-yard seam route, a wide-open Johnny Mundt for a 14-yard td where he smartly floated a easy pass to handle. He was sacked three times but never lost his composure, completing 73.1% of his throws for the day. He’s now thrown 25 touchdown passes this season without a single interception, running his PAC-12 record streak to 353 passes without a single pick.
The Ducks got a huge lift from The Black Momba’s electrifying kick return. After Utah drove 86 yards in 8 plays with the second half kickoff to close to within 17-14, Thomas showed the burst and remarkably smooth change of direction at full speed that made him one of college football’s most feared weapons before his ankle injury versus Cal. He added another TD with a nifty diving catch just inside the pylon to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Playing in the multiple threat slot receiver-tailback-returner role that made him so dangerous as a freshman and sophomore, DAT is back, and the dynamic, open-field instant offense was a welcome addition on a day the Ducks had a little trouble getting going.
The discipline and execution issues that plagued the team against Stanford were still a little bit in evidence this afternoon. Although they didn’t have a single turnover, the Ducks had 10 penalties for 80 yards. The offensive line had trouble with the strong, quick Utah defensive front, allowing the three sacks, and missing a lot of blocks in the running game. Oregon couldn’t get anything going on the ground in the first half, although Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner got untracked in the second, Tyner with a 27-yard dash on a stretch play, Marshall with a driving 21-yard carry, and scoring runs of 16 and 17 yards. In the first half the Ducks averaged 1.8 yards per carry on first down running plays, in the second 7.1.
The penalties continue to be a nagging, glaring issue. An offside penalty negated a third down sack early in the game at the one yard line. Instead, Utah made a first down on the next play. A block in the back erased a tremendous punt return for a touchdown by Bralon Addison. Holding and false start penalties kept the offense in a funk for the first two quarters. PAC-12 officials remain mystified by pass interference.
The Ducks again played an imperfect game but had the speed and talent to beat a mediocre team playing its #2 quarterback. Even so, Oregon was 2-10 on third downs, and allowed Utah to convert 9-18.
Praise to the defense, however, which held the Utes to 297 yards, and 2.8 yards per rush. They did have two lapses in pass coverage, fooled badly on play action on a 34-yard td pass to Utah tight end Jake Murphy, and missing a coverage on a 48-yard wheel route to Domique Hatfield. They’ll need more discipline and better communication to contain the Wildcats and Beavers, two flawed, beatable teams, but teams with potent offenses and dangerous playmakers.