Despite a somewhat sluggish first half, No. 2 Oregon coasted to a 51-13 victory over No. 7 Arizona on Friday night, clinching the Pac-12 title and strengthening its playoff credentials.
Nobody expects the Ducks to drop out of the Top Four now, and Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel made a strong case for them to be the overall No. 1 seed:
The victory also likely served as a Heisman Trophy coronation for Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is the heavy favorite to take home the honor.
Rodriguez couldn't have loved watching Mariota account for five touchdowns—two through the air and three on the ground. They were a record for most TDs in a Pac-12 championship, per ESPN College Football:
Although he exited early in the fourth quarter, the junior quarterback finished 25-of-38 for 313 yards.
In the past, the Wildcats have had Mariota's number, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Revenge was on the mind of Oregon's players and coaching staff after the earlier loss to Arizona, and that was evident in the team's performance at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Ducks defense held the Wildcats to 224 total yards, nearly 250 below their season average.
Anu Solomon emerged this year as a dynamic quarterback in Tuscon, but he was completely ineffective the entire game. Phillip Mathews of KPNX 12 News in Phoenix snapped a photo of Solomon in a walking boot on the sidelines in the second half, which may go some way to explaining his subpar performance:
Oregon looks to be peaking at the right time. Friday night was arguably the Ducks' most complete game of the season. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach feels sorry for whomever will play them in the playoff:
The first half couldn't have been a bigger disaster for Arizona. The Wildcats nearly had fewer total yards (25) than the Ducks had points (23). Arizona was 0-of-7 on third downs and had minus-nine yards rushing.
Solomon struggled mightily, completing six of his 12 pass attempts for 34 yards. Nick Wilson didn't fare any better, rushing for 14 yards on seven carries.
This was coming from a team that averaged 481.3 yards and 36.7 points a game. ESPN's Trevor Matich praised the Oregon defense for stifling such a high-powered attack:
The Ducks, meanwhile, had 382 yards of offense despite Mariota not exactly looking like himself. The Ducks quarterback went 14-of-27 in the first half for 190 yards. Fox Sports' Clay Travis pondered how big Oregon's halftime lead would've been had Mariota performed better:
Mariota did have two rushing touchdowns, which helped open up a healthy gap after the Oregon offense stalled twice in the red zone in the first quarter.
The Ducks put points on the board on the first two drives of the game, with both of the scores coming from the right foot of kicker Aidan Schneider.
The first time around, Oregon had a 1st-and-10 at the Arizona 21-yard line before eventually settling for the field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wildcats return man Tyrell Johnson fumbled, with the Ducks recovering at the Arizona 37. Oregon moved the ball inside the 10 for a 1st-and-goal, but once again, the Wildcats defense held strong, limiting its opponents to three points.
While the Arizona defense kept the score close, the offense couldn't capitalize, getting stymied on every drive. Oregon was doing its best to let the Wildcats hang around, but they couldn't take advantage:
Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald made a parallel to the 2009 Holiday Bowl. The Wildcats had 109 total yards in a 33-0 defeat to Nebraska:
Mariota created some breathing room for Oregon in the second quarter, putting the Ducks ahead by two scores, 13-0, after a seven-yard touchdown run with 7:27 left until halftime. His second rushing TD came almost six minutes later, with Oregon taking a 20-0 lead 94 seconds from the half.
The Ducks added another Schneider field goal as time expired to take a 23-0 lead into the locker room.
On the first drive of the second half, Arizona did itself no favors, turning the ball over on downs after Wilson was stopped at the line of scrimmage on a 4th-and-1. CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli wasn't impressed with what he saw from the Wildcats offensive line:
Working with a short field, Oregon made it a 30-0 game after a four-yard touchdown pass to Devon Allen. Mariota notched the 100th TD pass of his career, passing Matt Leinart for second in Pac-12 history in the process, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian:
Arizona responded swiftly, with Cayleb Jones burning the Ducks secondary for a 69-yard touchdown catch, cutting the deficit to 23 points, 30-7. Fornelli was one of those ready to count out the Wildcats but then remembered how many late-night Pac-12 games unfolded this year:
The Ducks put an end to any comeback discussion with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Darren Carrington, which made it 37-7 in Oregon's favor. The score came a mere 95 seconds after the Wildcats finally got on the board.
Mariota capped off a 21-point third quarter with a one-yard touchdown run. That brought his season TD total to 53. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman couldn't believe Mariota's gaudy TD haul when compared to his paltry interception numbers:
Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with Arizona running back Jerrard Randall scoring on the game's final play.
Oregon all but assured itself a playoff spot with the win. The only question left is where the Ducks will be seeded. Getting first or fourth would mean a trip to the Sugar Bowl, while Nos. 2 or 3 mean a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Losing so handily is a poor finish to what was an otherwise good regular season for Arizona. The Wildcats made nice strides in 2014, and while they aren't ready for prime time just yet, Rodriguez undoubtedly has the program headed in the right direction.
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Even if your team is getting smashed, the show must go on. That was especially true for Arizona Wildcats center Carter Wood on Friday night as his team took on Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Right before Wood snapped the ball, he puked all over it. Merely an inconvenience apparently—he proceeded to snap the freshly marinated ball and thus start the play.
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