Second half surge leads to big win over MSU
Facing a 3rd and 10 late in the third quarter on Saturday with his team trailing 27-18 against a rolling Michigan State defense, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota made a play that started to turn the tide back in the Ducks’ favor. With the pocket collapsing, the redshirt junior barely eluded a sack and flipped a shovel pass to freshman Royce Freeman for 17 yards and a first down, which was only the second third down conversion the Ducks had converted all day to that point. Five plays later, the Mariota found Devon Allen (3 rec., 110 yds.) in the end zone for his second touchdown catch of the day, a 24-yard snag in the corner, that narrowed the game to 27-25. The Spartans failed to respond and No. 3 Oregon (2-0) stormed to 21 more second-half points en route to a 46-27 victory over the No. 7 Spartans. But after the game, the pitch was the recognized as a game-changer. “I was looking for him to run it,” Freeman said of the play. “I was ready to block for him, but he pitched it and told me to get the first down.” It may not seem like much of a surprise from a player that became Oregon’s all-time leader in touchdown passes and total offense during the contest. But, when Oregon needed a shot in the arm, Mariota produced. On the following drive, Mariota picked up another crucial first down on 3rd and 9 with a scramble, leading to a Keanon Lowe 37-yard touchdown catch to put the Ducks ahead. Head coach Mark Helfrich simply added his play up to one word: genetics. “The guy is just special,” Helfrich added. “He’s awesome. He’s in there talking about what he could’ve done differently and done better.” But, Mariota wasn’t alone and doled out credit where it was due, specifically up front. A paltry first half finish led to an equally stale start to the second half. After losing right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena to a leg injury in the third quarter, the already battered Oregon offensive line, which struggled to open up sizable running lanes for Thomas Tyner in the first half, started buying Mariota some time to make plays and opening up lanes for Freeman. “We didn’t change anything at all,” Mariota said of the difference between the first and second half. “I really, truly believe that the offensive line took it upon themselves and wanted to make a point.” Oregon went into halftime with 13 total yards rushing as a team. In the second half, Freeman had 12 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns, including a 38-yard dash up the right sideline in the fourth quarter that gave the Ducks a two score lead. “They kept telling us to look to bounce it out,” Freeman said. “When they crashed in, I felt the pressure and I felt I could bounce it out and I just got to the corner.” As the offense shored up, the defense kept up the pressure and kept Sparty out of the end zone, which aided in the momentum shift. “For the defense to get a couple of stops were huge,” Mariota said. Eventually, the just Spartans ran out of gas, failing to force a much needed turnover and giving up 491 offensive yards to the Ducks. But, the players and coaches acknowledged that they were as physical as advertised. They were very physical,” Lowe said. “That’s exactly what we expected from a Big Ten team. But I don’t think that we were phased by their physicality. We’re a physical team too.” At the end of the day, Oregon finally got the big win they needed under Helfrich. But the head coach and his quarterback weren’t treating this win as anything special. As Mariota alluded to after the game, they’re just another 2-0 team. “We’ve got to keep playing,” Helfrich said. “There’s a ton of ball left.”
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