How the Ducks did it
EUGENE It wasn't a very good throw, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota admitted.
It was a very good catch.
Receiver Josh Huff reached back to haul in Mariota's 12-yard pass and score the winning touchdown with 29 seconds left Friday, as Oregon won a 36-35 thriller over Oregon State in the 117th Civil War game at Autzen Stadium.
"They kind of came out in a look and I knew I would have Josh, if he just got across" on the route, Mariota said, of the TD play. "I tried to hold the defenders as long as I could on the left side so he could get some space. Quite frankly, it was a bad throw, and Huff made a great catch. I told him, 'Thank you, that would have looked bad if you didn't catch it.'
"That guy's been making plays like that his entire career. I knew if I threw it in the area, that dude would come down with it. He caught it. It was a special moment. I'm happy and blessed to be a part of it."
Oregon (10-2, 7-2) prevailed in what played out as an intense, back-and-forth Civil War, which both teams entered coming off tough losses.
The Beavers (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) showed up to play, and played well, running the ball for an amazing 231 yards on 59 carries.
That total included Victor Bolden's 25-yard fly sweep for a touchdown and a 35-30 OSU lead with 1:38 to go.
The Ducks benefitted from the Beavers scoring quickly, as OSU had first down at the UO 25 with less than two minutes left and timeouts remaining. A conservative approach would have allowed the Beavers to run down the clock and kick a game-winning field goal.
It was almost like the Ducks let the Beavers score quickly, to ensure they received the ball back. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich denied employing that tactic, saying, "as it turned out, it was just the right time to misalign" on defense.
"I'd like to say we did" just let OSU score, UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
"But, I can't take credit for that," Aliotti said. "We were discussing timeouts and stuff like that, and whether we'd have to use them. Our offense is incredible. If our offense has 1:40 and three timeouts, that's like having a whole quarter when they're clicking on all cylinders."
It turns out the Ducks needed only 1:09 of clock time to rip off nine plays, going from their own 17-yard line to score the winning six points.
Huff, who had nine catches for 186 yards and three TDs in his final game at Autzen, said of the winning play: "(Daryle) Hawkins ran an excellent route to take the safety out and the corner out. He was able to clear the route out for me. I did the same thing for him earlier, and for him to return the favor on the game-winning touchdown, it was everything I asked for.
"Seeing the ball coming in, a lot of thoughts were running through my mind. My main focus was just to secure the catch. I was able to do that. The crowd went crazy."
Oregon missed the two-point conversion attempt.
In the remaining seconds, the Ducks played some prevent defense three down linemen, four players in coverage and four players deep to prevent big plays and held the Beavers from moving into field-goal position.
Oregon survived, and now awaits word on where it will be play a bowl game. It won't be the national championship game or the Rose Bowl, and nobody expects another BCS invite. It'll probably be the Alamo Bowl or Holiday Bowl.
"A huge win and a great game," Helfrich said. "We knew both teams would come out emotional. We knew it was going to be a battle."
Oregon didn't play its best on Friday, but won the game.
The Ducks ran for 283 yards on 45 carries (6.3 per carry), led by Thomas Tyner's 140 yards on 22 carries.
De'Anthony Thomas added 88 yards on 15 carries.
Mariota, looking more mobile after battling a knee injury, had 53 yards on seven carries, while completing 17 of 34 passes for 285 yards and three TDs.
Mariota threw two first-half interceptions, which, combined with Bralon Addison's muffed punt, aided the Beavers' cause.
The game was tied 17-17 at halftime, and by then Oregon State had earned plenty of confidence after their 69-27 loss last week against Washington.
But OSU quarterback Sean Mannion and the Beavers' running backs cut through the UO defense for 545 yards, keeping pace with UO's 568 yards of total offense.
Terron Ward had 145 yards on 17 carries for Oregon State, Storm Woods gained 73 yards on 15 carries, and they combined for three rushing TDs.
Mannion went 29 of 47 for 314 yards and two touchdowns, but he threw an interception in the end zone (picked off by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu) one of a handful of missed OSU opportunities for points.
The Beavers had entered the game averaging 72.8 yards rushing as one of the country's worst rushing teams. The Ducks realized that the Beavers followed the trend set by Stanford and Arizona and ran roughshod on the UO defense, but the duo of Mannion and Brandin Cooks (10 catches, 110 yards) didn't beat the Ducks deep. And Cooks was held out of the end zone.
"I'm not happy about (the rush yards)," Aliotti said. "Cooks is a really good football player, wow, he is special. I think Mannion's a very good quarterback. We played a lot more nickel and stuff like that. We didn't want them to run the ball as well as they did, but I'll let them have all those yards, as long as we have that one more point."
Said Ekpre-Olomu: "They ran hard. Played hard. We were in situations to make plays, we just need to make plays. It's not that they outschemed us. We contained them for the most part. (Not allowing deep balls is) what we've been doing all year long. We came into this game with the mind-set we were going to shut down No. 7 (Cooks), and that's how we were going to win the game."
The Ducks played without injured running back Byron Marshall, and Helfrich also admitted to suspensions of secondary players Erick Dargan and Troy Hill for violation of team rules.
Oregon, coming off a 42-16 thrashing at Arizona, played hard throughout the game, but multiple mistakes, including first-half turnovers, slowed the home team.
In the end, Mariota, perhaps playing his final game at Autzen, led the Ducks to victory. Mariota said he will talk with his family during the break before the bowl game and discuss potentially entering the NFL draft.
Oregon State could have won the game, with some different late-game strategy. Play for a field goal, perhaps?
"I was hoping we'd get the chance with the ball," Mariota said. "I didn't want them to run out the clock and have the opportunity to kick a field goal. At the same time, our defense would do their best. We just had the mentality of taking care of business."
Helfrich told Mariota to just take it a play at a time on the final possession, with 83 yards to paydirt.
"It was a great feeling looking at our huddle at a bunch of wide-eyed guys ready to go," Helfrich said.
"We were driving the ball most of the game, but we weren't cashing in our drives," Mariota said. "We had the confidence to go out there and just execute.
"I've always been taught, you've got to be calm, cool and collected. And try not to press. It was just another drive, but at the same time, you can't overlook what it meant."
Mariota said the Ducks showed some character in overcoming the Arizona loss and Friday's in-game struggles.
"I'm proud of those guys," he said.
Helfrich won his first Civil War game as head coach, and the Ducks won for the sixth consecutive time in the rivalry.
Some people are disappointed that the Ducks fell short of the national championship or Rose Bowl in Helfrich's first season, but his team showed up to play against the Beavers, and fought through adversity to win.
"Those guys played their hearts out," Helfrich said.