Ducks roll again, with better offense and some Husky mistakes
EUGENE Wins are wins and, going into Saturday, Oregon had five of them to start the 2012 season.
But in game six, the Ducks finally looked like every bit the No. 2-ranked team in the country. They ran and passed executing efficient, productive offense led by quarterback Marcus Mariota and defended their way over the Washington Huskies with ease, winning 52-21 at Autzen Stadium.
It was Oregon's ninth consecutive victory over its rival from Seattle.
The Huskies didn't help themselves with turnovers (three led to first-half UO touchdowns). Washington also had dropped passes and errant throws by QB Keith Price when the game was being contested in the first quarter.
But, as good teams do, the Ducks took advantage, put the game away early and entered their 11-day break before facing upstart Arizona State (6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18 at Tempe, Ariz.) at 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Ducks had 497 yards offense 299 rushing, and 198 passing from Mariota (15 of 24 for four touchdowns. Oregon scored on five consecutive possessions in the first half after an early interception and punt.
Mariota hit tight end Colt Lyerla for two touchdowns, and the redshirt freshman QB found receivers Keanon Lowe and Josh Huff for other scores as the Ducks stretched the field. Mariota also scrambled for 40 yards on seven carries.
"We didn't skip a beat. Great day for our team," said Kenjon Barner, who had 122 yards on 20 carries. "I feel like we did what we know we can do.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: When this team executes the way we know how to execute, it's hard to beat us."
Mariota had led the Ducks to a 5-0 record, but he was sporadic mostly because of poor decisions in the past four games. He threw an early pick Saturday, but otherwise played really well.
"That's what we want from Marcus," said Huff, who added that he is nearly 100 percent after missing time with a knee injury. "We look up to him."
Mariota's scrambling ability has been on display the past two games, against WSU and Washington (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12). It's a sign that he's a lot more comfortable, as he scrambles for yardage or buys time for receivers to get open while making sure he sets his feet on throws.
"There was some things I wanted back, passes where I was inaccurate, but those are things that we can work on in practice," Mariota said. "These last few weeks I've been trying to do too much, and we've got guys who can really make plays. Josh, for example. I have to trust them and trust my ability to get them the ball."
Mariota, who beat the only other Pac-12 team that offered him a scholarship on Saturday, chalked up the offense's crisp execution to a great week of practice.
"As an offensive unit, we did a really good job of pushing the tempo and just making sure we all communicated well enough," he said. "It really paid off."
The Huskies moved the ball decently, especially early, but the turnovers proved costly.
On a punt by Oregon's Jackson Rice, true freshman Marvin Hall fumbled with the Ducks bearing down on him. B.J. Kelley recovered, and moments later De'Anthony Thomas opened the scoring with a 16-yard TD run.
Oregon went ahead 14-0 when Mariota connected with Lyerla for 48 yards and the wide-open Lowe (a former UW verbal commit) for 21 yards and the touchdown.
It got worse for the Huskies, as UO free safety Avery Patterson jumped on Price's pass attempt to DiAndre Campbell and returned an interception 43 yards for his second touchdown in two games, and the fourth by the UO defense in the past three games.
"Watching them on film, I knew the ball would come out fast a lot of times," Patterson said. "That's exactly what happened."
It was a tougher play than the pick-six he had against WSU's Connor Halliday, but Patterson caught the ball cleanly and took off for paydirt.
The Huskies responded with a seven-play drive that ended with Bishop Sankey's 1-yard touchdown run.
But the UW momentum was short-lived, as the legs of Barner and Mariota led Oregon downfield, and Mariota tossed a 10-yard TD pass to Lyerla, making the score 28-7.
The Huskies moved the ball again, but Boseko Lokombo popped the ball loose from the scrambling Price, and Brian Jackson recovered for the Ducks at the UO 36.
Mariota led a drive and threw a TD pass to Huff, who made a pretty move by a defensive back and scored on the 34-yard play. Score: 35-7 at halftime.
"Heck, when you drop punts, you throw a pick-six, you blow coverages against good teams, you get beat," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "You have to do everything right, not some stuff right and not other things."
Mariota threw a 13-yard TD pass to Lyerla in the second half, and Byron Marshall scored on a 4-yard TD run. Rob Beard added a short field goal.
The UO defense continued its stellar play, limiting Washington to 353 yards and forcing five turnovers.
Price was 19 of 31 for 145 yards and no touchdown passes. Sankey had 104 yards rushing and two TDs.
The UO offensive guys are becoming spoiled with the defense making touchdowns.
"It's always nice to watch them score," Mariota said. "It's a confidence booster. Going out there seven (more) points up.
"Today was a really good team effort. Both sides of the ball and special teams."
And, the offense has evolved. It stretched the field effectively for the first time.
"As an offense, we can always do that," Mariota said. "Today the opportunity presented itself. We capitalized. The receivers have been patient, trying to get open. They've been working hard. I'm glad I was able to get them the ball."
Thomas, bottled up somewhat against Arizona and Washington State, appeared to have more spunk, rushing for 75 yards on 10 carries. A couple times Mariota looked for the speedster on deep patterns. Lyerla proved his worth in the UO passing game with his athleticism and bulky frame. And Huff gave the offense a boost.
"He's the kind of guy who can take a 5-yard out and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown," Mariota said, of Huff. "That's very pivotal for an offense like ours. Now you've got to respect his ability on the outside and can't load the box, which opens up running lanes for De'Anthony and Kenjon. That's the beauty of the offense athletes all over the place. The defense can't key on anybody."
Now comes the tough part of Oregon's schedule, with road games at Arizona State, USC, California and Oregon State, and a tough home game expected against Stanford. The Sun Devils are 4-1 overall, 2-0 in Pac-12 play under first-year coach Todd Graham and first-year starting quarterback Taylor Kelly.
It could be a test in the desert, but the way the Ducks played on Saturday, the Sun Devils better play their best.
OREGON: 1st, 7:28, De'Anthony Thomas 16 run (Rob Beard kick)
OREGON: 1st, 4:01, Keanon Lowe 21 pass from Marcus Mariota (Beard kick)
OREGON: 1st, 2:07, Avery Patterson 43 interception return (Beard kick)
WASHINGTON: 2nd, 13:58, Bishop Sankey 1 run (Travis Coons kick)
OREGON: 2nd, 10:46, Colt Lyerla 10 pass from Mariota (Beard kick)
OREGON: 2nd, 8:04, Josh Huff 34 pass from Mariota (Beard kick)
OREGON: 3rd, 9:13, Beard 28 FG
WASHINGTON: 3rd, 2:56, Sankey 6 run (Coons kick)
OREGON: 4th, 14:54, Lyerla 13 pass from Mariota (Beard kick)
OREGON: 4th, 11:39, Byron Marshall 4 run (Beard kick)
WASHINGTON: 4th, 0:32, Erich Wilson 1 run (Coons kick)