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Mariota leads Ducks to big win over Tennessee

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOL JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon tight end Johnny Mundt keeps a Tennessee defender at bay as he runs after a catch in the Ducks' victory over the Volunteers Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium.EUGENE — Things appeared unsettled for the Oregon Ducks early in Saturday's game against Tennessee at Autzen Stadium.

The Volunteers, bolstered by a nice showing of fans, took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Oregon committed some penalties, missed a field goal and slowed when QB Marcus Mariota missed on some throws.

But, oh, how things can change with the Ducks.

Oregon managed a field goal to draw within 7-3, and then exploded for touchdowns on eight consecutive possessions.

The final score was 59-14, and Mariota had another great day — 23 of 33 for a career-high 456 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for a score.

The Ducks tallied a routine 687 yards offense in moving to 3-0 heading into their bye week; the season continues Sept. 28 against California at Autzen Stadium, the opening of the Pac-12 campaign.

Mariota had little idea that he had thrown for 456 yards, but he realized that early throws went awry — after entering the game with a paltry and uncharacteristic 53-percent completion percentage. Mariota started 2-for-6 passing, which included three consecutive incompletions in the Tennessee red zone, which preceded Alejandro Maldonado's missed first-quarter field-goal attempt.

"I'm going to chew Marcus out because he missed a couple of those early throws," offensive coordinator Scott Frost mused. "We're going to have to get after him. ...

"Once he settled in, he played unbelievable. He can not only make all the throws, but when the play breaks down, he's so good at creating. ... I don't know what it was. He's the coolest customer on the field, including the coaches. If that's our biggest problem, we've got pretty good problems."

Mariota threw first-half touchdowns to rookie tight end Johnny Mundt (16 yards), Josh Huff (54 yards) and Daryle Hawkins (45 yards) and connected with Mundt again for a 17-yard TD in the third quarter. Mariota also rushed for a 9-yard score. He has accounted for 10 touchdowns in three games.

"That slow start made me settle down a little bit and find my pace with the guys," the super sophomore Mariota said. "Once we started getting a few throws under our belt, we just rolled from there."

Mariota refused to get frustrated, whether it was his inaccuracy or drops.

"I trust these guys," he said. "I know they'll make a play, no matter what the situation is. We understand sometimes we'll get slowed up a little bit. Once we find a rhythm, we're pretty good."

Tennessee showed some defensive looks that led UO coaches to opening up the passing game. The Ducks rushed for 216 yards — De'Anthony Thomas had 86 yards on 13 carries and a 28-yard TD run — but the damage was done through the air.

"I think we wore out their front four a little bit. They had some depth issues," Frost said. "That negated their pass rush and gave the receivers time to get open."

Besides Mariota, the biggest star of the game was Mundt, the true freshman from Modesto, Calif., who had five receptions for 121 yards and two scores. One of his plays was a 57-yard catch-and-run in the middle of the field. He started and played because Colt Lyerla neither started nor played. Word circulated that Lyerla was ill, but coach Mark Helfrich would only repeat "circumstances" when asked three times about the junior tight end, while also saying that the guy who practiced best would play against Cal.

"I didn't know anything about it. That's a Mark decision," Frost said. "I knew before the game. We have a lot of faith in the guys on our team; we have depth at places where we can plug a new guy in. (Mundt's) put in enough work, he deserved what he got today. I don't want to talk anymore about (Colt). We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

Mundt got plenty of work in training camp because of an injury to Pharaoh Brown, and he got to work against arguably the best secondary in the country (Oregon's). So, he was ready.

"I had a little bit of nerves," Mundt said. "But they went away when I started warming up. Got into football mode, got into the zone, blocked everything else out. Worried about assignments and helping out the team."

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Josh Huff, Oregon wide receiver, hurdles a Tennessee defender during a Ducks drive.Said Huff, who had six receptions for 125 yards: "He's a hard and diligent worker. He works hard all week, and he was able to show that hard work pays off."

Added Mariota: "He was awesome, to say the least. He was incredible. He made the most of every opportunity. ... You see those things in practice (like on the 57-yard reception). But to see it in a game is another thing. He did an awesome job with that. He found his way open."

Bralon Addison added six catches for 78 yards.

Overshadowed was Oregon's performance on defense. After allowing a 51-yard Justin Worley-to-Josh Smith crossing pattern play and 4-yard Worley-to-Jason Croom touchdown in the first quarter, the defense shut down the Volunteers. Tennessee had 316 yards total offense — 178 on the ground and 138 (15 of 29 passing) through the air. "They ran really well to the ball," Helfrich said. "But, there were some sporadic missed tackles."

Most importantly, the Ducks responded to some adversity, after actually trailing.

"We responded like I thought we would," Huff said. "We came together as a team."

Said Helfrich: "It's not going to be perfect, we're not going to win 107-0 without any issues. ... Not every single thing was perfect."

The Ducks still have some work to do. They got whistled for another eight penalties (for 62 yards). Helfrich says the Ducks would spend the bye-week period getting healthy and developing young players in practice (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday this week) before getting ready for California. The coaches would go on the road to recruit.

"It's not a time to put it in neutral and coast," Helfrich said.

Some Oregon fans had the gall to chant, "We want 'Bama!" during the game, referring to national champion Alabama and the prospect of playing the Crimson Tide for the title this season. Tennessee may be from Southeastern Conference, but it was hardly the measuring stick for the Ducks. It was Tennessee's worst loss of the modern era (after 1937).

"Coming in, we knew we had to play pretty error-free football," UT coach Butch Jones said. "I thought Oregon did a great job at the line of scrimmage. We pride ourselves on being a physical, blue-collar football team and I thought they won the line of scrimmage battle. ...

"I think they are very deserving of where they're ranked. They have tremendous, tremendous skill."

TENNESSEE 7 0 0 7 — 14

OREGON 10 28 21 0 — 59

FIRST QUARTER

TENNESSEE — Jason Croom 4 pass from Justin Worley (Michael Palardy kick), 9:00

OREGON — Matt Wogan 38 FG, 5:45

OREGON — Johnny Mundt 16 pass from Marcus Mariota (Alejandro Maldonado kick), 3:34

SECOND QUARTER

OREGON — Mariota 9 run (Wogan kick), 14:54

OREGON — Josh Huff 54 pass from Mariota (Maldonado kick), 9:53

OREGON — Daryle Hawkins 45 pass from Mariota (Wogan kick), 4:20

OREGON — De'Anthony Thomas 28 run (Maldonado kick), 1:19

THIRD QUARTER

OREGON — Mundt 17 pass from Mariota (Wogan kick), 11:30

OREGON — Byron Marshall 11 run (Maldonado kick), 5:40

OREGON — Thomas Tyner 2 run (Wogan kick), 2:19

FOURTH QUARTER

TENNESSEE — Alden Hill 8 run (Palardy kick), 7:14