The Year That Was: Oregon Ducks 2014 Update

Looking back at the 2014 season, In July, the Oregon Ducks were favored to win the conference and Marcus Mariota was the front runner for the Heisman Trophy. In December, the Ducks had won the conference title and Mariota won the Heisman. This updates the story that was done on Dec. 24, 2014, to include the Rose Bowl game!

(PHOTO) Oregon Ducks linebacker Tony Washington (91) scores on a 58-yard fumble recovery return in the third quarter against the Florida State Seminoles in the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game at Rose Bowl. Oregon defeated Florida State 59-20. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here is a look at the Oregon season, game by game.

All Hope and High Expectations in September

Ducks vs. Coyotes, Sat. August 30, 7:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium

No one expected much of a contest and while South Dakota played hard it was a mismatch that allowed Oregon roll easily, 62-13. Marcus Mariota threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in one half of play. Byron Marshall saw extensive time at receiver and was the top pass catcher hauling in eight passes for 138 yards and two TDs; he was also the leading rusher with 90 yards on eight carries. Dwyane Stanford had a 62-yard TD pass reception and Charles Nelson returned a punt 50 yards for a score.

Ducks vs. Spartans, Sat. Sept. 6, 3:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium

It was the national game of the week as the 2013 as No. 7 and defending Rose Bowl Champion Michigan State Spartans came to Autzen Stadium to take on the No. 3 Oregon Ducks. It was a game that Mariota took on his shoulders to come from behind in the third quarter and take the lead. Oregon had jumped out to 18-7 lead over MSU but at halftime the score was 24-18 Michigan State. The Spartans extended their lead to 27-18 in the third quarter. Having been forced to punt on the possession after MSU’s score, the Ducks had the ball again on their own 41-yard line. Royce Freeman rushed for six yards making it second and four at the 47 but then Mariota was sacked back at the 41 causing the Ducks to face third and 10. Mariota took the next snap, went left, avoid tacklers and nearly going down but regained his balance and was able to shovel the ball to Freeman for a 17-yard gain. The play is one of Mariota’s highlights of the year. The Ducks went on to cut the score to 27-25 on that drive and would later add three more touchdowns to give Oregon the win, 46-27.

The Oregon defense was particularly good that day though in the coming games the Duck defense seem to regress from the high point in the win over the Spartans and would be apparent in the next game against Wyoming.

Ducks vs. Cowboys, Sat. Sept. 13, 11:00 a.m. at Autzen Stadium

A sluggish Oregon team that may have had a hangover from the big win the previous week against Michigan State, was in for a tussle with a team from the Mountain West Conference, Wyoming. The Cowboys were tough as nails and racked up 439 yards of total offense to the No. 2 team in the country. The Oregon defense that looked so impressive against MSU seven days earlier struggled in stopping Wyoming’s running and passing game. The Ducks trailed 7-0 at the end of the first quarter but then reeled off 27 points in the second quarter to lead at the half 27-7.

One of the plays that maybe best remembered from this game was in the second quarter and Oregon was holding a 13-7 lead. The Ducks started a drive on the Wyoming 25 following a Erick Dargan interception. The drive seemed to wither away as penalties caused by an illegal formation and then 10-yard personal foul on Wyoming then holding on Oregon, ultimately place the ball on the Wyoming 19. Mariota took off going down the right side and neared the goal line. Rather than sliding or running out of bounds, Mariota leaped and somersaulted into the endzone much to the dismay of fans worried about his health. That too is one of the highlight plays of the year and fortunately for Duck fans, no one including Mariota was hurt on the play.

The Ducks went on the win the game 41-7, but lost starting left tackle Jake Fisher for two games due to injury.

Ducks vs. Cougars, Sat. Sept 20, 7:30 p.m. at Martin Stadium (Pullman, Wash.)

Oregon’s first road game of the season was one of its toughest. The Ducks were forced to use a patch-work offensive line due to injury and at times the younger less experienced linemen seemed lost. To make matters worse, the upperclassmen may have tried to do too much and made mistakes. Defensively, the Ducks struggled in stopping WSU’s unique offensive game plan of throwing on nearly every down resulting in Cougar QB Connor Halliday setting an NCAA record for pass attempts and went 43-for-63, 436 yards and four touchdowns. Mariota refused to lose and threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns despite being sacked seven times. Mariota rushed for 106 yards but because of the sacks ended up with 58 net yards rushing. Though Oregon won the game 38-31, there was plenty for the Duck faithful to be concerned about. The Ducks were 4-0 for the season and 1-0 in conference play, yet no Duck running back (outside of Mariota) had rushed over 100 yards in a game.

Oregon was aided by a controversial no-call late in the game when it appeared corner back Dior Mathis tackled a receiver before the ball arrived. Some believe the ball may have been tipped at the line of scrimmage while others think that while the Duck defender came close to tipping the ball, it wasn’t tipped. In any event the play would have resulted in a first down for the Cougars and interference been called but as it turned out, WSU turned the ball over on downs on the next play, virtually assuring Oregon of the win.

The Ducks hoped the bye week would help heal a lot of problems created in September.

Oh, How Cruel You Are Dear October

Ducks vs. Wildcats, Thursday, Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium

Twelve days after the WSU game Oregon faced Arizona in a Thursday night football game. The Ducks had motivation to beat Arizona as the Wildcats had humiliated Oregon 42-16, in 2013 at Wildcat Stadium in Tucson, knocking Oregon out of the BCS championship discussion. The loss was the first lopsided defeat Oregon had suffered in five years and had put Mark Helfrich’s coaching style in question, even though it was his first year at the helm of the Ducks. However, in the 2014 version of the match up, things didn’t go much better for Helfrich and the Ducks.

Oregon allowed Mariota to be sacked five times. The Oregon running game could not get untracked and finished with 144 net yards rushing, the lowest of the season. For the fifth game of the season, no Oregon running back cracked the 100-yard mark. Unlike the 2013 game, the 2014 game was tightly contested before the Ducks lost, 31-27. Mariota recorded a receiving touchdown on a halfback pass from Freeman.

In one of the more disappointing calls of the season occurred as the game was in the final two minutes with Arizona driving for a go-ahead score. Defensive end Tony Washington sacked Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon at the Oregon 17 in a play that would put Arizona in a fourth down situation and likely would have caused the Wildcats to kick a field goal. Instead, as Washington was running off to the Oregon sideline, he stop in the middle of field and bowed toward the Oregon bench. His actions drew a flag from the officials for unsportsmanlike conduct which gave the Wildcats a first down. Arizona eventually scored giving them a seven-point lead.

Oregon got the ball back on the ensuing kickoff with 2:59 left in the game, but a holding call against the Ducks during the kick return placed the ball at the Oregon 9. Despite picking up two first downs, pass protection broke down and Mariota was sacked by Arizona’s Scoubie Wright, who also stripped Mariota of the ball causing a turnover. Arizona ran the clock out beating Oregon for the second straight year.

More questions arose about Helfrich’s coaching and some wondered if Mariota’s Heisman’s hopes had died along with any chance of a championship run. It was no doubt the lowest point in the season for the Oregon Ducks.

Ducks vs. Bruins, Sat. Oct. 11, 12:30 p.m., at the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)

Whenever those television programmers slotted this game, it was likely thought to be one of the biggest games in the country but both teams had lost on the previous weekend and the bloom was off, er, the rose. No matter, this was still a very important game for both teams as the winner could likely get back into the thick of things. After all, Oregon wasn't the only top-4 team to fall the previous week so there was plenty of room to be made up and in football if you are going to lose, it is better to lose in the early or mid-season rather than the latter part of the season.

Oregon had some positive news on the injury front – Jake Fisher would be starting against the Bruins after missing the WSU and Arizona games. That proved to be a big development as his return inspired confidence in the younger linemen and eased the concerns of the veteran linemen. For the first time in the season Oregon had a running back go over 100 yards when Freeman picked up 121 net yards off 18 carries and scored two TDs. Mariota threw for 210 yards and two TDs plus ran for two scores including another play of the year moment when he dropped the ball as he was running in for his second rushing TD and like a basketball player making a crossover dribble, scooped the ball up and ran into the endzone without breaking stride.

The Oregon defense showed up and put on a clinic for three quarters and into the fourth quarter, Oregon was up 42-10. Then UCLA scored three times in the fourth quarter to cut the final margin of victory 42-30. Still though, there was definite improvement in what Defensive Coordinator Don Pellum’s troops were doing as opposed the previous four games.

The win restored the faith of Duck fans and next up was arch-rival Washington.

Ducks vs. Huskies, Sat. Oct. 18, 5:00 p.m., at Autzen Stadium

The Ducks had beaten the Huskies for a decade. For 10 straight years Oregon had overwhelmed Washington by at least double-digit margins and in 2014 it made 11 straight as Oregon mangled Washington 45-20. For Oregon fans, nothing is more pleasing than pasting the Huskies and when Mariota threw for 336 yards and two TD’s. Freeman had his second straight 100-yard gain with 169 yards and four TDs.

The Duck defense continued to show improvement as they held Washington to six first half point and controlled the line of scrimmage allowing Washington only 133 net yards of rushing and 184 yards of passing.

All in all, it was a pretty pedestrian game but then again there is no such thing as a ho-hum Oregon-Washington game. Even though Oregon has won the last 11-straight games, the two schools have been playing football against each other for 107 years. As of 2014 the Ducks still trail the Huskies 58-44-5.

Ducks vs. Bears, Friday, Oct. 24, 7:15 p.m., Levi Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)

Levi Stadium is the home of the San Francisco 49ers and on a Friday night when much of the Bay Area was consumed with the SF Giants beating the Kansas City Royals at AT&T Park, a healthy crowd of Bear and Duck fans showed up for the new stadium’s very first college game. Cal was significantly better than the 2013 version and what transpired was a shootout with Oregon winning 59-41.

Mariota threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns. Royce Freeman ran for 112 yards and two TDs in a game that the Ducks went into halftime leading 38-28. Charles Nelson recorded his second punt return for a touchdown on a 58-yard punt play.

Cal’s Jared Goss threw for 360 yards and two TDs while the Cal running game accounted for four TDs.

The only really notable thing about the Oregon-Cal game was that Mariota threw his first interception of the year.

The Sweat From May Pays Off in November

Ducks vs. Cardinal, Saturday, Nov. 8, 7:00 p.m. at Autzen Stadium If there was one team that seemed to hold the answer to beating Oregon, it was Stanford. The Ducks had been knocked out of the conference title race twice in a row by the Cardinal and if ever there was a time for all that hard work done by the Ducks during the off-season it was on Nov. 8th. Oregon came out fired up and scoring three touchdowns while holding Stanford to two field goals. Oregon had 525 yards of offense and while the Cardinal tallied 428 yards, the Ducks were very happy trading field goals for touchdowns.

Mariota again was spectacular throwing for 258 yards and two TDs and rushing for 85 yards and scoring two additional TDs. Freeman did not break the 100-yard mark, coming up just short at 98 yards. Mariota spread the ball around to eight different receivers and with the win one skeleton from the past was exposed and expunged from the darkest fears in Duck fans’ hearts.

Ducks vs. Utes, Saturday, Nov. 8, 8:00 p.m., at Rice-Eccles Stadium (Salt Lake City)

Sometimes in order to have a great season a team needs a little luck, or perhaps it has to make some luck and that is exactly what happened during the first quarter of a game that saw the Utes jump out to take a 7-0 lead. The Ducks were not particularly successful in stopping Utah’s offense and when Ute quarterback Travis Wilson launched a bomb down field toward Kaelin Clay, who caught the pass in stride and was wheeling his way for a sure 70 yard plus touchdown. In fact nearly everyone in the stadium though Clay had scored, including Clay who began a victory dance along with teammates in the back of the Oregon endzone. He had even dropped the ball after crossing the goal line to show the Ducks how much good it had done to chase him.

The only problem of course was that instead of dropping the ball after he crossed the goal line, Clay dropped it a foot or so before he crossed the goal line. The official standing right at the goal line had a perfect view of what happened and didn't signal a touchdown. Oregon’s Erick Dargan was first on the scene and saw the ball on the ground picked it up then looked at the official to check to see if there had been a score. Still no signal but then Dargan dropped the ball as a Utah player who was also becoming aware that Clay had not scored, struggled for possession. Oregon linebacker Joe Walker also realizing the ball was still alive picked the ball up and ran the other way, accompanied by a caravan of Duck protectors. Meanwhile, Clay and several of his teammates, along with most of the home crowd were still celebrating the non-existent touchdown.

Walker and company only had one Ute in their path and he was quickly disposed of leaving the rest of the field open for the taking. Walker eventually crossed the goal line. Following the point after the game was tied at seven instead of Utah leading by 14.

Utah’s energy simply left the stadium and the Ducks rolled up 17 more points and went into halftime leading 24-10. Utah though is a very resilient team and has an excellent coach in Kyle Whittingham. The Utes didn't quite and got within 30-27 in the third quarter before Oregon’s offense kicked into full gear and gave Oregon a 51-27 win.

Unfortunately, the win came at a high price as tight end Pharaoh Brown was taken off the field on a medical cart and later taken to a Salt Lake City hospital where he spent three days in treatment for a shattered leg in a non-contact incident. Ironically, Utah also lost a receiver for the season when Tim Patrick got tangled up in the legs of an Oregon defender. Both the injuries to Brown and Patrick occurred near the same spot on the field.

Ducks vs. Buffalos, Saturday, Nov. 22, 1:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium

If this was Marcus Mariota’s final game in Autzen Stadium then it was one to remember. Mariota threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 73 yards and a touchdown. The Ducks completely dominated the game and led at halftime 30-3. Mariota played the entire third quarter and in a surprise move, Mark Helfrich sent Mariota back into the game at the start of the fourth quarter in which he took one snap and handed off. As Mariota ran off the field for the last time in the game the home crowd began singing out Mariota’s name over and over in a display of appreciation for his play at Oregon. Even though Mariota continues to maintain he has not yet made a decision on his future and won’t do so until the season is completely finished, the final game is one he will no doubt remember.

Oregon won the game 44-10, but long after fans forget the score, it won’t be likely many who were there will forget Mariota performance in Oregon’s last home game of the season. The state of Oregon would have one more chance to see Mariota play live and that would be in the Civil War against Oregon State.

Oregon vs. Oregon State, The 114th Civil War, Saturday, Nov 30, 5:00 p.m., at Reser Stadium (Corvallis, Ore.)

Usually when the Civil War is played, what has happened to the two teams up the point of the game is irrelevant, however this year the Ducks came into the game ranked No. 3 nationally sporting a 10-1 record while the Beavers had one chance of going to a bowl game and that was beating the Ducks.

It wasn't going to happen.

The Ducks jumped on the Beavers from the very start scoring on every possession and led at halftime 30-3 and ultimately won the game 47-19.

Mariota again was the star of the game for the Ducks by throwing for 367 yards, four touchdowns as well as rushing two additional TDs. Freeman tallied up 135 yards of rushing. Nelson had his third punt return for touchdown of the season.

The Oregon defense held Sean Mannion, Oregon State’s prolific passer to just 216 yards and one touchdown that cut Oregon’s lead to 33-10 after the PAT. In all Oregon had 565 yards of total offense to Oregon State’s 362.

Oregon would advance on to the Pac-12 Championship and Oregon State’s Mike Riley, who may have felt the heat due to the loss to Oregon moved on to Nebraska.

December Championship

Pac-12 Championship Game, Friday, Dec 5, 6:00 p.m., Levi Stadium

Oregon got its revenge over Arizona by completely dominating the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Ducks sprinted out 23-0 halftime lead and never looked back winning the conference crown by a score of 51-13.

The game wasn't really that close.

Oregon had 627 yards of total offense to Arizona’s 224. Mariota was his usual self throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for additional three TDs. Freeman had 114 yards, but clearly on that Friday night it was the Mariota show.

The Duck defense stopped Arizona’s running game. The Wildcats could only muster up 111 yards of rushing and 81 of those yard were gained by Jared Randall, the third quarterback Arizona sent into the game in after the outcome was no longer in doubt. Arizona’s two scores came on one broke coverage pass play and the second when Randall ran the ball in from 25 yards out on the very last play of the game.

Oregon’s defense grew and matured as a unit the loss to Arizona in October and finished the year ranked second in the conference in points allowed (22.5 ppg) whiles the Duck offense was the conference top point producer at 46.3 ppg.

January 1: The Smell of Roses

Ah the Rose Bowl! The Granddaddy of Them All. The Oregon Ducks and the Florida State Seminoles faced each other in the first NCAA Division I Football Playoff game on January 1st. It was an eventful week in Los Angeles for the Ducks leading up to the game. First they got in a trip to Disneyland, then the steak eating contest at Lowery's. Among all that of course was the intense media attention as nearly 300 media asked every question imaginable. The Ducks attitude along the way was stoic -- saying as few things as possible. Always being grateful just for the opportunity to play in the game. FSU players on the other hand...

Oregon won by a landslide, 59-20. Prior to the game, many pointed out that the Ducks looked soft and small in comparison to the Seminoles. Yet, it may have been physical conditioning that made the critical difference as FSU turned the ball over six times and allowed Oregon to score 36 points because of the turnovers. Mriota was name MVP of the game on his 338-yard passing day for two TDs and a rushing score. A completely healthy Thomas Tyner re-emerged to rush for for 124 yards and crossed the goal line twice.

The Oregon defense, especially in the second half seemed to be everywhere notching and interception, forcing six of FSU's seven fumbles and interception Jameis Winston once.

Next up for Oregon is the NCAA Championship Game on January 12, 2015 against Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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