For the first time since 2011, the Oregon Ducks will play for the Pac-12 championship after defeating No. 20 Utah 51-27 But the Ducks limped out of Salt Lake City, losing Hroniss Grasu and Pharaoh Brown to injuries, both crucial keys to Oregon's offense.
As usual, Marcus Mariota brought his A-game, completing 17-of-29 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns. Mariota was also Oregon's leading rusher, with 18 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown, including a 61-yard run on Oregon's first play from scrimmage.
The Utes opened the game exactly as they needed to; with a touchdown. Kendall Thompson and Devontae Booker ran the zone read to perfection, gaining five to seven yards at a time. After a horse collar tackle called on Erick Dargan, Thompson and Bubba Pool capped off the drive with a pair of 8-yard runs to reach the end zone and give the Utes an early 7-0 lead.
Marcus Mariota responded immediately on Oregon's opening drive, breaking free for 61 yards down to the Utah 15. Unfortunately, the play was totally nullified as the drive didn't just stall, it totally imploded. After an offensive pass interference against Byron Marshall backed the ball up 15 yards, Mariota was sacked on two consecutive plays. They don't call this place "Sack Lake City" for nothing.
Not a great start for the Ducks. Oregon had given up 1 sack per game in last 4. Utah already has 2 sacks in the 1st 6 minutes tonight.— Jake Zivin (@JakeZivin) November 9, 2014
♪ All I want for Christmas are my two exterior linemen, my two exterior linemen, just my two exterior linemen ♫ #GoDucks— Franklin Bains (@FTBains) November 9, 2014
The Utes were dealt with a huge blow on their next drive as Kendall Thompson buckled to the ground during a pass attempt. It was a non-contact injury, but Thompson was able to walk off the field under his own power. Thompson's injury would be the first of many on either side, leading to criticism of the field's quality. On the ensuing play, Danny Mattingly forced Booker to cough up the ball, giving the Ducks a much needed swing of momentum.
Oregon's next drive would stall again for the same reasons, sacks and penalties. The Ducks were faced with a 4th and 14 after Mariota was sacked for the third time in two drives. A delay of game would push them back another five yards. Mariota scrambled for 18 yards, but they needed 19.
Considering how poorly the Ducks played in the first quarter, it was a miracle they were only down 7-0. Mariota's legs were quite literally carrying the offense in the opening quarter.
Mariota has accounted for 86 of Oregon's 91 total yards.— Tyson Alger (@tysonalger) November 9, 2014
The second quarter opened in the craziest way possible. Travis Wilson delivered a perfectly placed pass to Kaelin Clay for a 78-yard touchdown pass. Touchdown Utah. 14-0 Utes. Right? Wrong. Clay wound up dropping the ball just shy of the goal line.
#NotTop10 @Utah_Football @SportsCenter pic.twitter.com/m5e5BGgBcX— Autzen Students (@AutzenStudents) November 9, 2014
Oregon pounced on the mistake as Joe Walker scooped up the fumble and returned it 99 yards for the touchdown. All of a sudden, the game was tied 7-7. See what the east coast misses when they don't stay up late for drunk Pac-12 football?
On Oregon's next drive, the Ducks would start with great field position thanks to another quality return on special teams from Charles Nelson. The Ducks would drive down to the 3-yard line and opt to go for it on 4th down. The gamble would pay off as Marcus Mariota hit Dwayne Stanford in the end zone for the touchdown, giving Oregon a 14-7 lead.
The Ducks would strike again on their next drive, thanks in large part to a 41-yard catch-and-run from Marcus Mariota to our favorite track star Devon Allen. Mariota would cap off the drive by hitting Pharaoh Brown in the corner of the end zone. Utah should have been leading 14-0 at one point. But that was before Clay made the biggest bonehead play of the year. Before they could blink, Utah suddenly trailed 21-7.
Utah would try and catch the Ducks napping on 4th and 3 at the Utes' 22-yard line with a fake punt. The attempt would fall well short of the line as the play was blown up before it got anywhere near the first down. Oregon would need to settle for a field goal, but the fact that the Ducks hit a 39-yard field goal was so magical, I wasn't even mad.
Utah would add a field goal to end the first half as the Ducks took a 24-10 lead into the half.
Oregon 24, Utah 10, halftime. #DrunkPac12Football just went Twilight Zone on us.— Pacific Takes (@PacificTakes) November 9, 2014
Utah got a much needed turnover on the first drive of the second half, forcing Marcus Mariota to fumble the ball while he was getting sacked. The Utes would take over on Oregon's 16-yard line, but would be dealt another tough blow as Tim Patrick had to be carted off the field with an air cast on his left leg. Tony Washington would wrap up Travis Wilson on 3rd and 2, and Utah would need to settle for another field goal.
The Ducks would catch a break on their next drive as Darren Carrington appeared to fumble a reception, but the refs ruled he never had possession. Oregon would tack on a field goal to take a 27-13 lead.
Oregon got the ball right back as Travis Wilson threw his first interception of the season. Tyson Coleman came up with his first career interception, giving the Ducks the ball back with a 14 point lead. The Utes would finally get the defensive stop they needed, as three straight incomplete passes from Mariota led to a turnover on downs.
The Utes would capitalize as Travis Wilson hit Devontae Booker for a 27-yard swing pass, cutting Oregon's lead to just seven points. Due to an awful third quarter in which the Ducks were held to just three points, the Utes had suddenly marched back into this game. It seemed as if we were a long way from the time when Oregon held a 24-7 lead.
Oregon would once again have to settle for a field goal, which suddenly didn't seem like it would be enough for much longer, considering how Utah was heating up.
Kaelin Clay did everything he could to make up for his earlier bonehead play, hauling in a 58-yard pass from Travis Wilson. Three plays later, Wilson hit Westlee Tonga over the middle for a 13-yard touchdown pass. Just like that, Utah trailed by just three points.
Just as Oregon started to drive down the field, another offensive lineman went down. This time, it was center Hronis Grassu. All of a sudden, redshirt freshman Doug Brenner was handling the snaps in the pivotal moments of Oregon's season. Yes, he is related to Oregon super-athlete Liz Brenner.
DOUG!!!— Elizabeth Brenner (@ElizBrenner) November 9, 2014
After an offensive pass interference backed the Ducks up 15 yards, Marcus Mariota found Dwayne Stanford over the middle for a huge touchdown, putting the Ducks back up by two possessions with 10:37 remaining.
Sometimes in these close games, it's more about just getting lucky sometimes. That proved to be the case when Andy Phillips missed a 48-yard field goal attempt off the left upright. Everyone on Twitter had the same reaction at once.
oops pic.twitter.com/XKmZ9Bhle1— Kevin Wade (@UO_Kwade) November 9, 2014
The Ducks had the opportunity to ice the game, and Marcus Mariota made sure the drama was over, capping off a 9-play, 69-yard touchdown drive with a short 1-yard touchdown run to put the game away.
On Utah's second play of their next drive, Troy Hill picked off Travis Wilson and returned it 22 yards, setting up Royce Freeman for an 11-yard touchdown run. Freeman carried the ball 15 times for 99 yards and the touchdown that officially wrapped up the Pac-12 North title for the Ducks.
For Oregon, the hard work is now behind them. They'll get a much needed bye week to recover from this wild night in Salt Lake City before returning home to face Colorado. The Ducks will then wrap up their regular season with the annual Civil War against the Beavers in Corvallis. While nothing is a lock in college football, a loss to either of these teams would be a shocking upset.
Down in the south, Arizona State is currently in the driver's seat for the division title and looked great against Notre Dame today, crushing the No. 10 Irish 55-34. If both the Ducks and Sun Devils win out, they'll meet at Levi's Stadium in what is quickly shaping up to be one of the best conference championship games in the nation.