For the second time this season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw five touchdowns. For the first time this season, he was intercepted. It was another wild night for offensive football as No. 6 Oregon (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) pulled away from upset-minded California (4-4, 2-4 Pac-12) Friday night in the first college football game ever played in new Levi’s Stadium. The Ducks continued to roll with a 59-41 victory in a game that saw plenty of offense.
Mariota continued on his Heisman campaign with 326 passing yards, 5 touchdowns and 36 rushing yards as Oregon proved to have just a bit more offense than a rising Cal program. The game was a back-and-forth contest with the offenses trading scores on the game’s first four possessions. After going down 14-7 in the first quarter, Oregon rattled off 24 straight points to seemingly take control of the game. Cal answered before halftime though by picking up a pair of touchdowns in the span of a little under two minutes, thanks in part to an Oregon fumble. With the lead down to three points (31-28), Mariota led the Ducks down field to pad the lead before the break. He did not have to far to go either, as the Ducks started at their 40-yard line. Three plays later, Mariota connected with Dwayne Stanford for a 24-yard touchdown and a 10-point lead.
After halftime Mariota and Byron Marshall hooked up for a 54-yard touchdown pass to quickly get on the board in the second half. At this point Oregon seemed to have a hold of the game. A short touchdown run from Royce Freeman midway through the third quarter gave Oregon a comfortable 52-28 lead.
California went into this game knowing they would be able to move the football and score some points against Oregon. The Ducks have been vulnerable to offenses of this nature in the past few years, but the Ducks still have an overall advantage in talent to be able to overcome holes on defense most of the time. California quarterback Jared Goff ran the offense of Sonny Dykes very well against Oregon by throwing for 360 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. A questionable fumble that was upheld by a video replay hurt Goff and Cal’s chances to make things a little more interesting in the first half. Goff may have been moving his arm forward as the Oregon defense knocked the ball out of his hand. The video replay was not very definitive either way on the play, but because the ruling on the field was a fumble it was far from enough to overturn the call. If the call had been there was forward motion of Goff’s arm, video replay still may have been questionable enough to not overturn the call for a fumble either.
Since losing to Arizona, Oregon has won three straight games in Pac-12 play. At this point, Oregon looks to be the team to beat in the Pac-12 and should be on track for a return trip to the Pac-12 championship game after missing the last two years (Stanford represented the Pac-12 North each of the past two seasons). Next up for Oregon will be a home game against Stanford. The Cardinal have been a trip for Oregon the past couple of years. This should be the biggest hurdle for Mariota and head coach Mark Helfrich to get over before making any case for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Oregon hosts Stanford on November 1.
At some point, Oregon may have to play some defense, but with what is sitting in front of them the rest of the way into the postseason, these Ducks should keep flying.
Meanwhile, California is still sitting two wins shy of becoming eligible for postseason play. The BEars will have quite an uphill battle to get those two wins too. The next two games will be played on the road, first at Oregon State and then at USC. The season wraps up at home with games against Stanford and BYU. Stanford’s defense could be tough, but the Cardinal have no offense. BYU was shredded Friday night by Boise State and continue to be in some form of free fall mode since losing quarterback Taysom Hill.
California has enough to get two more wins, but they may not come easily.