BERKELEY, Calif. Any other opponent, and Oregon could have been in big trouble Saturday night. The Ducks were primed to be upset.
Oregon entered the game against California with a slew of injuries on the defensive line and then lost Taylor Hart, while also losing safety Avery Patterson (knee), as well as quarterback Marcus Mariota and (wrist) running back Kenjon Barner (hand), although UO's two offensive stars returned to the game.
But, it was struggling Cal on the other sideline, and despite all of Oregon's maladies, the Bears couldn't take advantage.
The Ducks survived, winning 59-17 at Memorial Stadium, and they seem poised to take over as the country's new No. 1-ranked team in polls, with Alabama losing earlier in the day to Texas A&M.
With Barner held in check, Mariota shook off his injury and had a great, career-high and record-breaking night, matching a school-record with six touchown passes, three to Josh Huff and two to Colt Lyerla.
Darron Thomas also threw for six touchdowns against Nevada in 2011, Joey Harrington had six versus Arizona State in both 2000 and 2001, and Danny O'Neil had six against Stanford in 1994.
The Ducks moved to 10-0 overall and 7-0 in Pac-12 play and next will face Stanford (8-2, 6-1) on Saturday, Nov. 17 at Autzen Stadium. The game will be essentially for the Pac-12 North Division title.
The Bears (3-8, 2-6), playing with backup quarterback Allan Bridgford and without star receiver Keenan Allen, couldn't generate enough consistent offense to stick with the injury-plagued Ducks. The Bears just weren't very good, offensively, under beleaguered coach Jeff Tedford.
It got interesting for a while in the second half. The Bears marched for a touchdown to draw within 24-17, led by Isi Sofele, who exploded for 31 and 10 yards and then four yards for the TD.
The Bears stopped UO twice, but then gave a gift to the Ducks, when Bridgford tossed an interception, Boseko Lokombo picking him off at the Cal 35.
On the next play, Mariota threw a 35-yard TD pass to Huff, and it was 31-17.
A big kickoff return by Brendan Bigelow (57 yards) put Cal at the UO 34. But a tripping penalty and incompletions on third and fourth down spelled an end to the Cal threat.
The Ducks worked their way out of a hole from a holding penalty, and Mariota lofted a pretty 39-yard TD pass to Huff as Oregon extended its lead to 38-17.
Entering the fourth quarter, Mariota was 24 of 30 for a season-high 335 yards.
For Cal, it was opportunity lost.
Mariota threw his fifth TD pass, 14 yards to Lyerla, early in the fourth quarter as UO made it 45-17.
About 2 1/2 minutes later, Mariota hooked up with Will Murphy from 7 yards for another TD toss and a 52-17 lead with 11:43 remaining. An interception by Brian Jackson, and his 35-yard return to the Cal 25, set up that score.
Mariota finished 27 of 34 for 377 yards.
Barner ran 20 times for 65 yards.
Late in the fourth quarter, reserve quarterback Bryan Bennett hit wide receiver B.J. Kelley with a touchdown pass of 18 yards that went through the hands of tight end Pharaoh Brown in the end zone before Kelley came down with it.
All of Oregon's injury concerns were on full display in the first half. Regular defensive linemen Isaac Remington, Ricky Heimuli and Dion Jordan warmed up, but did not play; Wade Keliikipi didn't make the trip. Hart, Tony Washington and true freshmen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner started, and backups included true freshman Alex Balducci (breaking his redshirt season), Christian French, David Kafovalu and Sam Kamp; even tight end Koa Ka'ai saw action on the D-line. Then, Hart got injured, furthering ravaging the D-line.
On "Senior Night," Cal came out pumped out. But it was Oregon that struck first, as Mariota went 4 for 4 on the first drive, capped by a 10-yard TD pass to Lyerla.
The Bears responded, thanks to pass interference penalties on Michael Clay and Terrance Mitchell, and tied the score on Bridgford's 10-yard TD pass to Darius Powe.
Oregon went on an 86-yard, 15-play drive to go ahead, which included a scuffle between Duck O-lineman Hroniss Grasu and some Cal Bears. Barner rushed for two yards to the Cal 3, but left the game in pain, grasping his right hand. Byron Marshall scored on a 3-yard TD run, and Barner walked to the locker room.
On the final play of the first quarter, Cal's Sofele ran for 35 yards, and Patterson went down injured, and he had to be helped off the field, walking gingerly. Erick Dargan replaced him.
The Bears moved to the UO 5, but got pushed back by a false start penalty, and had to settle for Vincenzo D'Amato's 27-yard field goal, drawing within 14-10.
Barner returned to the game. But on Oregon's next series, after a 34-yard pass from Mariota to Lyerla, the Oregon QB scrambled for 16 yards to the Cal 3. But he left the game, as trainers looked at his wrist.
With backup Bennett in, the Ducks stalled, and Alejandro Maldonado, replacing Rob Beard in place-kicking duties for the game (another injury?), booted a 26-yard field goal for a 17-10 UO lead.
The Bears had a golden opportunity, with all of UO's injuries, but they couldn't do the job.
Bridgford threw 22 yards to Chris Harper to the UO 32. A personal foul hurt, though, and D'Amato was forced to try a 48-yard field goal. He missed.
With Mariota and Barner both back, the Ducks quickly moved for another touchdown, going 69 yards in 1:18 and scoring on Mariota's 10-yard TD pass to Huff.
The Ducks led 24-10 at halftime, but Cal likely thought it had a chance for the upset, given UO's injury situation.
OREGON 14 10 14 21 -- 59
CAL 7 3 7 0 -- 17
UO Colt Lyerla 10 pass from Marcus Mariota (Alejandro Maldonado kick) 10:41
CAL Darius Powe 10 pass from Allan Bridgford (Vincenzo D'Amato kick) 8:04
UO Bryon Marshall 3 run (Maldonado kick) 1:41
CAL D'Amato 27 FG 12:11
UO Maldonado 26 FG 6:24
UO Josh Huff 10 pass from Mariota (Maldonado) 0:44
CAL Isi Sofele 4 run (D'Amato kick) 10:07
UO Huff 35 pass from Mariota (Maldonado kick) 6:20
UO Huff 39 pass from Mariota (Maldonado kick) 2:36
UO Lyerla 14 pass from Mariota (Maldonado kick) 14:29
UO Â Will Murphy 7 pass from Mariota (Maldonado kick) 11:43
UO Â B.J. Kelley 18 pass from Bryan Bennett (Maldonado kick) 3:46