Ducks offense rolls to a Pac-12 Championship

Oregon racks up over 600 yards of offense en route to a 51-13 win over the Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

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SANTA CLARA — Oregon is back on top of the Pac-12 Conference.

The second-ranked Ducks (12-1) avenged their only loss of the season to seventh-ranked Arizona (10-3) in dominating fashion, throttling the Wildcats 51-13 in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night from Levi’s Stadium.

The win not only gave Oregon its fourth conference championship in six seasons, and first under head coach Mark Helfrich, but it also practically ensured that the Ducks will be one of the four teams in the first College Football Playoff starting on New Year’s Day.

“It feels great,” UO quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “For us as a team to be able to accomplish that just says a lot about how much work and how much we’ve prepared this entire year. I’m so proud of the guys in the locker room.”

The Ducks eclipsed their own championship game records from 2011 for points scored and total offense, finishing with 617 yards of total offense, due mostly to a 57-play first half that wore down the Arizona defense before halftime.

“We couldn’t get any first downs on offense,” Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “So the defense had to get out there and we know that’s an up-tempo team so our guys are in pretty good shape, but still when you’re having to go out that many times — 57 snaps or whatever it was in the first half — with that type of offense, they’re going to get theirs.”

Mariota led the Ducks going 25-of-38 for 303 yards and two touchdowns passing with three more rushing. In the process he broke game records for passing attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns responsible for, further solidifying his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

“What I would say is, without getting too involved, is if this guy isn’t what the Heisman Trophy is all about,” UO head coach Mark Helfrich said. “Then I’m in the wrong profession.”

As usual, Mariota was humble and deferred credit to his teammates, and he had good reason too. The youth movement came up big for Oregon again as redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and true freshman Charles Nelson each hauled in seven receptions on the night.

Carrington’s finished with 126 receiving yards (another game record) and a touchdown while Nelson finished 104 yards receiving. Redshirt freshman Devon Allen had five receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.

On the ground, freshman Royce Freeman continued to anchor the Ducks run game by taking 21 carries for 114 yards, helping a balanced offense that posted 301 rushing yards as a unit.

“Our defense was doing a great job of getting their offense off the field and just putting our offense on the field,” Nelson said. “The way that our tempo is, people get tired quick.”

Getting to 51 points wasn’t as easy as the scoreboard made it look.

On the first five offensive drives for the Ducks, the Wildcats held them to two field goals, a missed field goal, a turnover on downs and a punt.

Penalties killed opportunities early. The Ducks had eleven of them in the first half alone, including one that wiped away a Royce Freeman 37-yard touchdown run and two more that led to the missed field goal by Aidan Schneider.

But a fumble by Wildcats kick returner Tyrell Johnson and a dominant performance by the Oregon defense kept Arizona out of rhythm and the Ducks offense on the field, oftentimes with good or great field position.

Mariota finally found the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, giving the Ducks some breathing room with a 13-0 lead.

The Ducks then proceeded to score touchdowns on four of their next six drives to pull ahead by a score of 44-7, putting the game out of reach.

“Offensively we were a bit tight,” Helfrich said. “A bunch of guys that were trying to make it 42-0 on two plays and that’s very difficult. Whether it was jumping offsides or making mistakes we were inches away from a bunch of points. You have to give them credit for that too, but I think the effort was outstanding.”

Not long after, the trophy was hoisted, confetti blasted, and the Ducks were officially crowned conference champions. Now comes the layoff.

During the next few weeks the players will go through finals, coaches will attack the recruiting trail and 26 days will pass before the next game, which will be against a top four team. After the game, Nelson said wasn’t concerned about the Ducks falling off performance-wise before the playoff.

“We’re just going to take it day by day,” Nelson said. “Like we do, every play, one at a time and, you know, just trust our process and our coaching staff and just see how it goes from there.”

NOTES —

The Ducks also set game records for most first downs (31) and most penalties (11).

Oregon running back Thomas Tyner did not play.

Perhaps the only downside to the victory was the loss of tackle Andre Yruretagoyena in the fourth quarter. It’s unknown what Yruretagoyena’s status will be for the playoff, but it marked another in a string of season-long injuries to the offensive line and the second such for the junior. He was spotted with a boot on his right foot according to Portland Tribune sportswriter Jason Vondersmith.

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