“He’s so good,” Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich said of his quarterback Mariota. “Somebody was talking to me the other day about how easy he makes it look sometimes. What he’s doing is really difficult. His decision making, competitiveness, his command of the team is so outstanding. It’s great to be around him because he makes you want to work harder as a coach. The other guys feed off of him.”
Mariota simply played at another level on Saturday and an Oregon win was never in doubt even if Colorado started the game by recovering the opening kickoff on an onside kick. No matter though because the Oregon defense was up to the task and sent Buffaloes to the sidelines soon enough and that allowed Mariota to pilot an eight play 68-yard drive that last 2:10 and culminated with Royce Freeman going in from 20-yards out. The Ducks failed to convert the 2-point play conversion when holder Taylor Alie missed on a pass into the endzone.
No matter though, this was Mariota and the Ducks’ day. Along the way, Mariota set a new conference record of 42 touchdowns this season.
“I couldn't have done it without all those guys in the locker room,” said Mariota humbly about setting the new conference record. “It’s funny because to me it is what it is. It’s a number. I’m sure some guy will come in a few years from now and break that. To me it’s one of those things for the entire offense. It says a lot about our entire offense and it’s not just me.”
The next time Oregon had the ball, Mariota took the reins and sprinted 46 yards to the endzone and with a successful point after by Matt Wogan, Oregon was up 13-0.
Oregon scored again on a 66-yard drive when Freeman scored his second touchdown from 7-yards out. In all, Freeman became the first Oregon freshman rusher to gain a 1,000 yards in a season and for the fourth time this season went over the 100-yard mark with 105 net yards on 17 carries.
“Coming in I just tried to go as far as I could, not really setting any goals, knowing I have 1,000 yards that just makes me want to achieve more,” revealed Freeman of his day’s work.
Mariota was the second leading rusher with 73 net yards but it was his passing that got everyone’s attention. The gifted Hawaiian threw for 323 yards on 24-for-32 and three TDs, two by Charles Nelson and one by Evan Baylis. It was the first career TD reception for Baylis, who got the start today in place of Pharaoh Brown, out with a season ending injury suffered two weeks ago at Utah.
“It starts with running the football,” allowed Helfrich. “We have to be able to run the ball. When you can run, you can do anything. When Charles Nelson pops wide open, that’s a product of being able to run the football.”
All of Mariota’s accomplishments today were made in the first three quarters of the game though he came back in for one last play in the fourth, it might have been the Oregon coaching staff’s way of giving a player that has contributed so much to the success at Oregon a final curtain call. Why did Helfrich leave Mariota in for one play in the fourth quarter?
“It kind of explains itself,” said Helfrich of why he kept Mariota in for one final play at the start of the fourth quarter.
Byron Marshall was the leading receiver on the day with four catches for 65 yards. Dwayne Stanford had 50 yards on four catches while Keanon Lowe also had four catches for 42 yards. Charles Nelson scored his two touchdowns on three catches and total of 62 yards. Darren Carrington and Devon Allen also had three grabs. Baylis caught two balls total as did Zac Schuller who caught both balls from passes by Jeff Lockie.
Matt Wogan hit a 25 yard field goal in the second quarter.
Oregon had 597 yards of total offense, 265 yards on the ground and 332 through the air. Colorado’s scoring came on a 25-yard field goal by Will Oliver. In the third quarter the Buffaloes scored a five-yard touchdown pass from Sefo Liufau to Donovan Lee. Jordan Gehrke started the game for Colorado and was 9-for-18 and 64 yards. Liufau relived him and was 7-of-14 for 41 yards and the touchdown. Christian Powell was Colorado’s leading rusher with 51 net yards.
Defensively, the Ducks held Colorado to 226 yards of total offense 121 yards rushing and 105 yards passing including hold the conference second leading receiver Nelson Spruce to two catches and 16 yards, way down from 109.1 yard per game he had going into today’s game.
“We did some things coverage-wise to minimize his production as much as possible and to make somebody else beat us,” said Helfrich of the Oregon defense holding Spruce to 16 yards.
Erick Dargan was again the leading tackler in the game with seven tackles (four solos). DeForest Buckner had five tackles including three solos and was given credit for a half tackle for loss (TFL). The Ducks had a total of four TFL’s and two were sacks, one by Arik Armstead and one by Joe Walker.
“Probably our most solid effort all year from start to finish; 226 yards and ten points?” observed Helfrich of the defense. “We’ll take that anytime we can get it. A bunch of guys stepped up. They played hard, that solves a bunch of things and erases errors.”
After the game Helfrich talked about the contributions of the outgoing senior class who has won 57 games, gone to five bowl games, played in a national championship game, won a Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Alamo Bowl. He had an emotional send off in the pre-game ceremony honoring the seniors on the team.
“It’s funny,” commented Helfrich. “There are so many things that flash through your mind, and probably 98 percent of it is not football. The reason that the tears come, the pride, the friendship… it’s not football. It’s a vehicle for a lot of great things and when they really leave, it’ll be tough. Today was a little bit more celebratory condensation in the eyeballs, whereas down the road it’ll be hard. As a wise old man from the Greek Isles told me, ‘If it’s hard it’s good.’”
The big question all had and it took a student reporter to ask Helfrich, “Will Marcus Mariota stay or go?”
Good question but Helfrich didn’t have the answer.
Mariota said that he and his family will look at his future following the conclusion of the season and determine if he should stay or go.
“If this was my last game at Autzen, it was truly special,” said Mariota. “It’s one of those things I’ll hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.”
If this was Marita’s last game and does go off to the NFL, no doubt it will be easy to point to this game and say what a way to go.
Next up for the Ducks is the Civil War in Corvallis against the Oregon State Beavers. Despite Oregon having already clinched the Northern Division crown, Helfrich isn’t overlooking the Beavers.
“Everybody’s dangerous, and that’s why we just focus on our deal,” concluded Helfrich of next week’s rivalry game. “We’ll certainly get ready for Oregon State knowing that they’re dialing in, at the wrong time if you’re an Oregon fan. We’ll get our guys ready to go.”
•The Ducks have now won 10 or more games in seven straight seasons, tied for the fifth-longest streak of college football’s modern era.
•Marcus Mariota became the sixth FBS player in history to pass for at least 9,000 yards and rush for 2,000 or more yards in a career. He is the second player (Central Michigan’s Dan Lefevour is the other) to accomplish the feat in less than four seasons.
•With four total touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush), Mariota set the Pac-12 single season record for total touchdowns at 42 (32 pass, 9 rush, 1 rec). His eight games with four or more touchdowns is the most in the FBS this season.
•Mariota passed for a touchdown for the 37th straight game - every game of his career. He trails Russell Wilson (38 games) for second in FBS history.
•Oregon improved to 18-0 when Mariota runs for at least one score.
•Royce Freeman became the first true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season at Oregon (1,050).
•Freeman set the new Oregon freshman standard for touchdowns with 16 after a pair of rushing scores. He broke a tie with LaMichael James (2009). Freeman’s 16 rushing scores are the fifth-most in a season by any back in UO history.
•Doug Brenner made his first career start at left guard. Normal starting left guard Hamani Stevens made his first start at center, ending Hroniss Grasu’s team-leading 50-game streak.
•Mariota has passed for multiple TDs in 11 straight games - the longest active streak in the FBS. It was also his 20th consecutive game with 200 or more passing yards.
•Oregon held Colorado to a season-low 10 points.
•Evan Baylis scored his first career touchdown and became the 11th different player with a TD reception this season, which is tied for the most in the FBS.
•Four of Oregon’s six touchdowns were scored by freshmen as true frosh Freeman and Charles Nelson accounted for two apiece. Freshman have now accounted for 43% (29 of 68) of the Ducks’ TDs this season.
•The Ducks are now 4-0 against Colorado when facing the Buffaloes as Pac-12 foes.
•UO improved to 57-7 this decade and have won 50 of those games by 14 or more points.