Oregon rolls past Arizona in 2014 Pac-12 Football Championship Game
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Ducks left no doubt on Friday night at Levi's Stadium.
Facing No. 7 Arizona on a rain-soaked field, No. 2 Oregon dominated all phases of the game to earn a 51-13 win and claim the 2014 Pac-12 Football Championship. With the victory, the Ducks are poised to lock up a bid to the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, which will reveal its final rankings on Sunday.
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Even though Arizona won the previous two meetings between these teams, Oregon flipped the script on Friday night.
"That's the neatest part about this group, is that they never stop believing in this process," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said following the win. "Arizona got the better of us this season and we never looked back from it. It's a different team this time of year. We have elevated a bunch of different ways. There are a bunch of big smiles and I'm proud of that."
With less than a minute left in regulation, Helfrich was doused on the sideline in a celebratory Gatorade bath. Not even a futile Arizona touchdown as time expired could keep the Ducks from spilling from the sideline as Pac-12 champions.
If this was Marcus Mariota's Pac-12 finale, he sure went out in style. The Oregon quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate went 25-of-38 for 313 yards and two touchdowns through the air while adding 33 yards and three more scores on the ground.
But make no mistake, the Ducks' defense won the day this time around. By halftime, Oregon held a commanding 23-0 lead and allowed Arizona just 25 yards of offense on 25 plays.
"They played well, we didn't," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said tersely after the game. "Outcoached us, outplayed us, did a nice job. We didn't execute well."
The Wildcats entered Friday's contest averaging nearly 37 points, but couldn't get any momentum going against the Ducks.
Quarterback Anu Solomon? He was benched at halftime after going 6-of-12 for 34 yards and had a walking boot on his right foot after the game. Running back Nick Wilson? He was bottled up for 26 yards on 13 carries for the Wildcats. Arizona senior quarterback Jesse Scroggins threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cayleb Jones in the third quarter, but by that point it was already 30-7, Ducks.
Arizona achieved a pair of first downs on its initial drive of the game, but proceeded to go three-and-out on its next six possessions to close out the first half. By intermission, the Wildcats had 39 penalty yards, 34 passing yards and minus-9 rushing.
After the game, Rodriguez detailed that Solomon had been battling his injury for the past month, saying, "I'm proud of the way he's competed. It wasn't a good night."
For his part, Solomon didn't use his injury as an excuse for his lackluster first-half performance.
"Times were challenging," the redshirt freshman said. "But everyone's hurt, so I've got to tough it out."
[Related photos: Let the championship celebration begin]
Meanwhile, the Ducks were able to build a big lead despite some struggles of their own in the first half. Early drives stalled in the red zone and kicker Aidan Schneider went 3-of-4 in an unusually busy first half, including a 31-yarder as the clock expired.
But true freshman Royce Freeman put the offense on his back in the first half, carrying the ball 15 times for 90 yards as Oregon dominated time of possession, 20:29 to Arizona's 9:31. Both of Oregon's first-half touchdowns came via Mariota, who kept the ball on a 7-yard score midway though the second period before scampering for another 4-yard touchdown a few minutes later.
Mariota really got to work in the third quarter, throwing a pair of touchdown passes while adding his third rushing score of the night from one yard out. It was just the latest noteworthy performance in what's been a remarkable season and career for Mariota, who could declare early after this season and head to the NFL.
"If he isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about," Helfrich said, "Then I'm in the wrong profession."
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Mariota became the first player in the Football Bowl Subdivision to score at least four touchdowns in 10 different contests this year. He also became the first player in college football history with a touchdown pass in 39 straight games to begin his career, while his third-quarter touchdown connection to Devon Allen marked the 100th of his career.
Now the Ducks have to play the waiting game to see where they land in Sunday's final College Football Playoff poll, while Arizona looks to regroup ahead of its bowl game.