"We didn't get off to a great start in any phase," head coach Mark Helfrich said. "Our guys didn't blink though. They came out and played a much more complete second half."
Defensively, the Ducks had to prepare for Utes backup quarterback Adam Schulz on short notice with Travis Wilson unable to play due to a concussion. Schulz finished 13-of-30 for 181 yards and a touchdown, but an early deflection by Ducks cornerback Troy Hill on the Utes first drive ended up in Terrance Mitchell's hands and got things going for Oregon.
Afterwards, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was pleased with how his defense prepared against a team that was almost universally praised as a tough team to put away by players and coaches alike.
"It didn't throw us off at all," Aliotti said of Schulz starting on short notice. "We prepared for [Wilson]…and [Schulz] came in and played a really nice game. I think Schulz did a good job of trying to manage the game and they tried to play it close to the vest and stay close in the first half, which they did."
The Utes came within three points twice, but each time the Ducks responded in under a minute. A 57-yard toss to Bralon Addison from Mariota set up a five-yard touchdown catch by Josh Huff on a three play drive near the end of the first half.
After the Utes scored on their opening drive of the second half, De'Anthony Thomas unleashed an 86-yard touchdown run on the ensuing kickoff to knock momentum back in the Ducks favor.
"Any time you're in a big time battle, it's always important to answer," said Addison, who finished with four catches for 67 yards receiving. "When the other team gains momentum, it's always good to shut them down because momentum can take you so far."
Center Hroniss Grasu mentioned that the offensive line adjusted their blocking patterns for the second half, which alleviated some pressure off of Mariota's arm and got a stagnant run game going.
After gaining only seven yards on the ground in the first half, sophomore Byron Marshall found the end zone twice in the second half and finished with 66 yards. Freshman tight end Johnny Mundt also benefitted, finding himself wide open for a 14-yard touchdown in the third quarter as the Ducks racked up 28 second half points.
"The offensive line responded," Mariota said. "They came out and started pushing the line of scrimmage in the second half and that was pivotal."
Things weren't all sunny for the Ducks though, as they lost linebacker and leading tackler Derrick Malone to injury in the first half. In his place, sophomore Rahim Cassell picked up the slack and accumulated three tackles.
Malone, who said his arm got caught under him on the way to the ground, did not return to the game on a recommendation, but praised Cassell's effort.
"I think he did really well," Malone said of Cassel. "He flew around and made some big hits like he normally does in practice. He's a hard worker and it really paid off. I'm proud of him."
Still without control of its own destiny, Oregon will now turn its attention toward Arizona and a showdown in the desert next weekend. Tucson hasn't been the friendliest place to Oregon quarterbacks in the past, with Kellen Clemens and Dennis Dixon both suffering season ending injuries there in 2005 and 2007 respectfully. But, Mariota isn't worried about suffering a similar fate, no matter how immobile he may be with that knee at the moment.
"It's not a concern for me," Mariota said of the knee. "I've learned to play with it, I'm not going to use it as an excuse."
Game Notes -
Mariota extended his streak of pass attempts without an interception to an NCAA best 353. He still has not thrown an interception in 2013.
De'Anthony Thomas' kick return for a touchdown, along with his early eight-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, put him at 45 total for his career at Oregon, tying Derek Loville.
Malone said post game that he did not believe his injury was serious.
With 57 yards receiving on four catches, Huff became the tenth Oregon receiver in history with 2,000 career yards receiving.