Marcus Mariota and Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North and a spot in the conference title game with a 51-27 win over Utah, but the game proved quite costly to just about everything but the quarterback's Heisman Trophy hopes.
Already down key players this season, the Ducks suffered a rash of injuries against the Utes. Star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, one of the top DB prospects in college football, left the game in the second quarter with a leg injury and was seen with a walking boot on his left foot later on. All-American center Hroniss Grasu became the fourth Ducks starting offensive lineman to suffer a major injury this season and was helped off the field in the fourth quarter. Tight end Pharaoh Brown left in a cart in the fourth quarter after hurting his leg.
Luckily for Oregon, it still had Mariota dazzling with the ball in his hand no matter what was thrown at him.
Mariota did little to alter his status as the Heisman front-runner, finishing with three touchdowns through the air on 239 yards to go with his career-high 18 carries for a game-high 114 yards rushing and another score. Despite bad snaps, tons of pressure and several drops, Mariota was just about the only reason the Ducks left Salt Lake City with a win, as he was able to elude defenders with ease while throwing some impressive passes that no doubt caught the eye of the NFL scouts in attendance.
You don't know strange college football unless you've actively watched late-night Pac-12 football games this season, and such was the case early in the game-defining second quarter between the two teams. In what was perhaps the most improbable play of the season, Utah receiver Kaelin Clay appeared to score on a 78-yard touchdown pass to give his squad a 14-0 lead. However, he dropped the ball before crossing the goal line and alert Ducks linebacker Joe Walker scooped up the ball and promptly ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
The 14-point swing helped change the game in favor of the Ducks, who rattled off 24 unanswered points before Utah made a field goal at the end of the first half. The Utes mounted a third quarter comeback, but it fell short due to errors and defensive mistakes.
Utah likely wouldn't have even been in the game without the heroics of running back Devontae Booker. The junior was terrific as both a runner and receiver, racking up 166 total yards and a touchdown. His soft hands out of the backfield caught the eye of NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah at least a few times and the hard-running Booker continues to pop up on the radar of NFL evaluators with his strong play this season.
Utes quarterback Travis Wilson had been the only interception-free quarterback in the country entering Saturday, but he finally tossed his first pick of the year (he later added another). Thanks in part to Booker, he threw for 296 yards, but the turnovers were costly. Wilson did not start the game but had to take over at quarterback after Kendal Thompson -- last week's backup -- suffered an injury in the first quarter and did not return.
It was a costly contest for both teams, as they will no doubt limp into next week's action. At least the Ducks will take solace in the fact that they've clinched a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game, will likely move as high as No. 3 in the College Football Playoff selection committee's rankings and have a home game next week against last-place Colorado in which to heal up.
The chilly night might have belonged to the terrific Mariota, but it came with plenty of worry for the team's future despite the comfy margin in the end.