EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Marcus Mariota says the Oregon Ducks refuse to let the loss to Arizona back at the start of October define their season.
With a 45-16 victory over Stanford on Saturday night, the Ducks (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12, No. 5 CFP) further distanced themselves from that loss but remained at No. 5 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday.
The College Football Playoff committee will decide if Oregon deserves to be among the top four on Tuesday.
The Ducks will face a challenge next weekend when they visit No. 20 Utah, which fell 19-16 in overtime at Arizona State on Saturday night. After that, they’ll wrap up the season against Colorado and Oregon State.
Oregon hadn’t been able to beat Stanford for the past two seasons, and both times the losses thwarted the Ducks’ march toward a possible national championship bid.
To fall again to the Cardinal would have done the same, giving the Ducks two losses on the season and putting Stanford in command of the Pac-12 North.
“I think guys, with that loss (to Arizona), kind of grew up a little bit. A lot of maturity: The guys understand that we’ll kind of have our backs up against the wall with some of our goals this year,” said Oregon quarterback and clear Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota.
“We’ve got to keep fighting through. Hats off to the guys in that locker room. They fought, and fought and fought,” he added. “And that’s what we’ve got to continue to do if we want our season what we want it to be.”
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the Arizona loss seemed to refocus the Ducks in their preparation.
“Particularly after the Arizona game it’s been more competitive, a better sense of urgency,” Helfrich said Sunday. “All those things, win or lose, you try to impart on these guys of getting better in everything we do. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s adversity in the form of a loss that wakes everybody up. You don’t want to lose but how our guys responded to that and how they came together is very encouraging. We’ve gotten better every week.”
Mariota passed for 258 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 85 yards and two more scores against Stanford.
It was his 35th straight game with a touchdown pass, the second longest streak nationally behind Marshall’s Rakeem Cato (40). He has passed for multiple touchdowns in nine straight games, the longest active streak in FBC.
With four total touchdowns Saturday, he upped his total this season to 34.
And it was Mariota’s first victory over Stanford.
“I haven’t seen everybody, but they’re really, really good,” Stanford coach David Shaw said about the Ducks. “You could say in the last couple of years we’ve been evenly matched with us winning the last two. In this one, they were the better team. There are really not a lot of weaknesses on this team.”
The Ducks didn’t just beat Stanford, they dominated, finding plenty of holes in the vaunted Cardinal defense.
Stanford’s defense had not allowed an opponent more than 30 points in a string of 31 games, the longest streak in the nation. The Cardinal (5-4, 3-3) had allowed just four total rushing touchdowns through the season’s first eight games; Oregon finished with four.
The Cardinal had allowed opponents an average of just 250.6 yards a game going into Autzen Stadium, and opponents were only averaging 12.5 points. Oregon had 525 yards in total offense.
The Ducks also had success this season over another stout defense: Michigan State. The Ducks defeated the Spartans 46-27 in the season’s second week, nearly reaching 500 offensive yards.
Seventh-ranked Michigan State’s defense is currently ranked fifth nationally, allowing an average of 279.4 yards per game.
Shaw said Oregon’s offense simply overwhelmed the Cardinal.
“When they get touchdowns and you get field goals it becomes a pretty simple game. It’s a game of math and you can’t keep up,” he said.
Helfrich cautioned reading too much into the one victory. The season is not over yet. Utah looms.
“They’re playing lights out, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Helfrich said. “(The Ducks have) probably see Utah play as well. They know every week is a huge challenge. You look at some of the scores across the conference. You have to be on point in every phase to get it done.”
Oregon will be making its first trip to Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City since Utah joined the Pac-12 three years ago.
“We’re going to a very hostile environment against a very good team,” Helfrich said.
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed.
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