- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
Published September 12, 2015
After struggling on offense for two games, Oregon responded with a much more typical outburst against UCLA.
The 42-30 rebound victory over the Bruins on Saturday was just what the Ducks (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) needed as they prepare to face rival Washington (5-1, 1-1) this weekend at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon hadn't had a 100-yard rusher all season, and the team was held to 144 yards on the ground in a 31-24 upset loss to Arizona in the previous game.
But against the then-No. 18 Bruins, true freshman Royce Freeman broke free with 121 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, and the Ducks re-established themselves as a top 10 team in The Associated Press rankings.
"I think it validates what we think of our team and the character of our team," coach Mark Helfrich said. "Those guys are competitive dudes that care a lot about each other, care a ton about the process, and knowing how they responded last week to adversity, that's huge. That will pay off down the road."
Star quarterback Marcus Mariota contributed by rushing for 75 yards and two more touchdowns, including a nail-biting keeper in the third quarter when he fumbled and then scooped up the ball himself for a 23-yard touchdown.
Mariota threw for 210 yards and two scores — and cleared up all doubts about his health. Following the loss to the Wildcats, offensive coordinator Scott Frost suggested Mariota might be a little banged up.
Maritoa had been sacked 12 times in two games — including seven times in a too-close-for-comfort 38-31 victory over Washington State prior to the Arizona loss.
One reason for Mariota's vulnerability was injuries to the Ducks' offensive line.
The unit has been missing starters Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena and Jake Fisher for the past two games. True freshman Tyrell Crosby and walk-on Matt Pierson started their second game at the tackle spots.
Fisher, however, returned against the Bruins and played an important role in both protecting Mariota and providing a steadying influence.
Mariota was grateful.
"For him, he was very excited to come back. He was really motivated to get out there and do his thing, and he wanted to bring everybody else along," Mariota said. "That type of thing is huge for us."
Mariota put himself back in the Heisman Trophy conversation with his four-TD day. It extended his Oregon record to 101 touchdowns, and it was his 32nd straight game — every one of his Ducks career — with at least one touchdown pass.
He has not thrown an interception this season.
"Marcus is phenomenal. He had some other stuff in the game plan that we didn't end up needing, but we think the world of Marcus in the run game and the passing game," Helfrich said.
As a result of the victory, Oregon jumped up three spots to No. 9 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday. With two consecutive losses, the Bruins fell out of the rankings.
Washington, playing its first season under coach Chris Petersen, routed California 31-7 on Saturday in Berkeley.
Cyler Miles threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns, and Shaq Thompson returned a fumble 100 yards for a score.
The Huskies were coming off a bye.
"This is always just about us. Are we playing the best we can play? Are we making progress? And if it's yes and yes, we feel like we feel good about ourselves. And if it's no to anything there, you're frustrated and you're trying to figure out how to take the next step," Petersen said. "We made progress. I think we're happy with that."