Three and Out: Oregon keeps playoff dreams alive with UCLA thumping
Coming off ugly losses last week, both No. 12 Oregon and No. 18 UCLA needed a win in the worst way. Arizona and Utah exposed big flaws in the Ducks and the Bruins, respectively, and both teams looked to stop the bleeding and prove they still had what it takes to win the Pac-12. Oregon made that statement in the Rose Bowl, while UCLA and quarterback Brett Hundley are left to wonder what might have been of a season that now almost surely will not end in a playoff berth.
Here are three quick thoughts from the Ducks’ 42-30 win over the Bruins on Saturday afternoon.
1. Marcus Mariota: Still great
After Marcus Mariota took five sacks and two fumbles in last week’s loss to Arizona, it would’ve been easy to write off Oregon’s star quarterback in the Heisman conversation. He rebounded in a big way against the Bruins, racking up 210 passing yards, 75 rushing yards and four total scores, including this mesmerizing “dribble” of a 23-yard touchdown run with 9:06 left in the third quarter in which he fumbled, got the ball back and went into the end zone.
If Oregon’s offensive line can get healthy -- the return of left tackle Jake Fisher was a huge boost Saturday -- and give Mariota some extra protection to feel more comfortable, he’ll keep dazzling. If he’s consistently looking over his shoulder or feeling pressure from opposing defenses, we’re more likely to see another effort like last Thursday’s game against the Wildcats. For Oregon’s sake and for the sake of college football fans who enjoy watching good players do fun things, let’s hope it’s the former.
2. Welcome back, Oregon run game
One thing that’s been missing from the Ducks’ offensive attack far too often this season is a lack of a consistent rushing attack. Freshman Royce Freeman has shown flashes, and Mariota has made things happen with his legs when needed, but the team as a whole hasn’t shown the explosiveness on the ground that it did the past couple seasons.
The Ducks’ performance against UCLA on Saturday was a lot closer to what they would like to see out of their offense. Freeman rushed for 121 yards in addition to Mariota’s 75. The team as a whole combined for 258 yards on the ground, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. This takes some of the burden off of Mariota to need laser precision and makes play action that much more dangerous.
3. Ducks still thinking playoff
Knee-jerk reactions are the story of 2014 through the first seven weeks. If a team loses, they’re out of the playoff conversation. If a conference has a bad week, all of its teams are dead and buried. As we’re seeing more and more over the course of the season, no team is safe, predictions are meaningless and one bad game doesn’t end a team’s playoff hopes.
Oregon’s loss to Arizona wasn’t ideal, but the Ducks can still win the Pac-12 and finish with one loss on the year. In a parity-filled Pac-12, that’s enough to keep them in the playoff picture, especially considering they still hold that big win over Michigan State. The offensive line problems aren’t fixed, and the defense gives up too many big plays, but if Oregon can hold it together, the Ducks definitely have a shot at the top four.