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Ducks are back, but Huskies next

PASADENA, Calif. — Jake Fisher for Heisman?

It sure seemed like the Oregon fans and followers — not necessarily coaches and players — put much emphasis on the return of the senior offensive lineman to the Ducks' offensive line, like he would save the day after the seemingly devastating loss to Arizona.

Well, he kinda saved the day, or helped, as the Oregon offense churned out yards and points and beat UCLA 42-30 Saturday at the Rose Bowl, staying firmly alive in the Pac-12 Conference title chase.

The real Heisman candidate, Marcus Mariota, accounted for four touchdowns — two passing, two running — and true freshman Royce Freeman scored twice, but Fisher's presence at left tackle sure helped. He had missed the first two Pac-12 games (knee), during which the Ducks failed to run the ball effectively and gave up 12 sacks.

In dispatching a mediocre UCLA team, the Ducks racked up 468 yards of offense, including 258 on the ground on 41 carries (6.3 per). Freeman became the first UO running back to top 100 yards this season, going for 121 yards on 18 carries.

Mariota, who went 17 of 27 passing for 210 yards, had 75 yards on seven carries — and he wasn't sacked once, although UCLA was one of the worst QB pressure teams in the league, registering only seven sacks in the first five games. Thomas Tyner added 58 yards on 13 carries.

The defense had its moments — many more moments, actually, in its solid outing — but everything felt right with the Ducks as its offense returned to form, giving the UO defense some room for error.

UCLA had 553 yards offense — 328 on the ground, led by Paul Perkins' 190 on 22 carries, and Brett Hundley going 26 of 37 for 216 yards and adding 89 rushing yards on 22 carries — although much of the production came in the 20-point fourth quarter with Oregon safely ahead.

Fisher, an offensive lineman, makes THAT big of difference?

"I wish it was that easy," said UO coach Mark Helfrich, whose team moved to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Pac-12 play, and now prepares for Washington, 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 at Autzen Stadium.

"It certainly helped," Helfrich added. "Our other guys played much better."

The Ducks stayed patient, and stuck with the run game, and got the eight-time Pac-12 rushing champs back on track, thanks to the O-line and tight end Pharaoh Brown, who received much praise from coaches for his blocking and pass catching.

"It was a focused group from the way they practiced all week long," offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. "Obviously Jake's a huge influence for us over his four years. For everybody, he's a little bit of a calming factor on the left side. But we had four other guys who I thought executed pretty darn well, too."

The beleaguered Matt Pierson and Tyrell Crosbly played right tackle, and the offensive line — at least for one game — showed to be an Oregon strength, again.

"I felt great the whole time," said Fisher, who had been cleared to play last Monday. "Obviously, the guys played really well. We played really well as a team; can't ask for anything more than that."

Mariota said players emphasized to Helfrich the need to open up the offense. Receiver Keanon Lowe exited with a first-half hamstring injury, but Brown had five catches for 84 yards, Dwayne Stanford added three receptions and Tyner had a great screen-pass TD reception. Heck, even center Hroniss Grasu caught a pass off a deflection.

Mariota, on Brown: "Unspoken hero."

"When we run well, it opens things up," offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "A lot of the game plan went through Pharaoh Brown (with blocking, pass receptions). Good to see him have success. He's earned it."

Overall, "I think we took a huge step forward (offensively)," Frost added. "Our whole team took it as a challenge to run the ball."

The defense and first-year coordinator Don Pellum also had come under some scrutiny, but it made some key plays in the first half. Tony Washington blitzed Hundley and forced a fumble and the Ducks recovered it. Mariota's 13-yard TD run and a conversion run made it 8-0 in the first quarter, and the Ducks wouldn't trail.

On UCLA's first scoring drive, the Bruins kept it for 83 yards and 17 plays and 7:38 of clock time — and had to settle for a field goal by Ka'imi Fairbairn. Credit goes to UO defense for allowing two, three and two yards after UCLA achieved first-and-goal at the UO 9. But, the third-down play? Hundley threw low to a wide-open Devin Fuller, and the receiver managed only two yards. Fuller was wide open and would have scored with even a decent pass.

The Bruins' play continued to get worse. A holding call on defensive back Ishmael Adams and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes extended an Oregon drive, which, after a UCLA timeout, ended with a Mariota-to-Tyner 21-yard TD screen pass and 15-3 lead. On the sideline, Bruins coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich aggressively argued in a televised display of team dysfunction.

Again, the Ducks' defense forced a field-goal attempt, but Fairbairn missed a 41-yard attempt. The Ducks took the ball and scored again, when Mariota looked left and threw right to Brown 31 yards for the touchdown, and it was 21-3 after the missed conversion kick.

The Bruins gave themselves some life, marching for a late first-half touchdown — Hundley's 16-yard scoring scamper. But the Ducks extended their lead in the second half, getting a defensive stop and then moving for a touchdown, a 23-yard TD run by Mariota, during which he fumbled while faking the handoff to Freeman, recovered it and ran in for the score.

"The exchange was on me," Mariota said. "I was fortunate."

On UCLA's next possession, UO cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu read Hundley's play and intercepted him. Freeman scored on a 4-yard TD run, and it was a rout.

Pellum was proud of his unit for playing like it had practiced, even without injured defensive lineman Arik Armstead (foot). Sam Kamp replaced him on the line, but many D-linemen played, as the Ducks stayed fresh and mixed up scheme with personnel substitutions on defense

"Biggest change was we needed to communicate, really, a fundamental," Pellum said. "And, running to the ball. We were better at that."

"It was effort — everybody put their all into it, and we knew what was at state," said defensive back Troy Hill, who said "nothing" changed on defense. "Just a lot more focused. Just a better week of practice. We all just honed in."

Added Helfrich: "Bunch of guys competing, running to the ball, playing with passion. No ill-timed penalties."

But the Bruins — many expected them to be national championship contenders. They looked really shoddy, coming off a loss to Utah, which came after a seemingly inexplicable 62-27 win at Arizona State, which had seemed to silence critics after three close nonleague wins.

And, it was made worse by the Mora-Ulbrich dustup caught on camera, which the head coach brushed off as both guys "being passionate and competitive. ... We didn't have to make up, because that is just our relationship."

Mora chose to give Oregon credit, despite his own team's failings. The Ducks, of course, had played lousy in many ways themselves in losing at home to Arizona.

"They are just so explosive and so good," he said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a couple times. When you play a team like Oregon, you've got to be almost perfect to beat them."

Mora scoffed at the suggestion that his team, playing before an initially enthusiastic 80,139 home throng, lacked "effort."

He said: "Effort? Did you see our team fight until the very end there? (Trailing 42-10, the Bruins scored 20 points in the fourth quarter). You need to give credit where credit is due. The word 'effort' I get a little bit sensitive to. ... I don't think you can question effort. It can be execution or scheme, but it certainly was not effort."

UCLA's ability and play notwithstanding, the Ducks took a win home to Eugene and prepared to play the Huskies, who routed Cal 31-7 to move to 5-1 and 1-1 in league. Should be a good rivalry game.

"It's just one game. It validates what we think of our team and the character of our guys," Helfrich said, of the win against UCLA. "To come out with the effort we had speaks to the character of our guys. That is an extremely talented football team that (the Ducks) beat in every phase. Our guys were ready. Neat to see."

And, it sure felt better than losing to Arizona. Mariota said the players responded well.

"Last Monday (at practice), you could feel the intensity pick up," he said. "It set the tone for the entire week."

The Ducks stayed alive in the Pac-12.

"For us, we'll take it one day at a time," the QB added. "We're not going to take this win and be big-headed."

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