This was the game everyone was waiting for from the No. 5 Oregon Ducks and their quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
For both the team and its quarterback to take the next step, they had to prove they could beat the Stanford Cardinal after falling to them during the past two seasons. The Ducks may not have been undefeated this season, but they certainly proved they’re worthy of being named one of the nation’s top teams with a 45-16 victory over the one team they couldn’t previously get past.
While Mariota was already considered one of the top candidates to win this year’s Heisman Trophy, the junior signal-caller may have moved his way to the forefront of the conversation with his performance Saturday.
Mariota was 19-of-30 passing for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He also had his largest rushing output of the season with 85 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Oregon’s quarterback is now completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 2,541 yards, 26 touchdowns and only two interceptions this season. Plus, Mariota ran for 410 more yards and seven touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Mariota’s top competition, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, hasn’t kept pace despite leading the nation’s No. 1 team. Prescott is completing 61.1 percent of his passes for 2,025 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The biggest advantage for the Bulldogs’ signal-caller is his 725 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. But a two-interception performance in a shaky effort against the 4-5 Arkansas Razorbacks certainly doesn’t help Prescott’s cause.
While the Stanford victory was a major milestone for Mariota, the quarterback wasn’t the only reason Oregon was able to finally overcome the Cardinal.
The Ducks were able to run the ball effectively for the first time in three seasons. Freshman running back Royce Freeman ran for more yards in this year’s game than the entire Ducks team did last season. Freeman finished the contest with 98 yards on 19 carries.
Oregon’s defense also didn’t allow Stanford to control the game with its running attack. The Cardinal ran for 132 yards and only averaged 3.4 yards per carry.
This victory now becomes a major building block for Oregon as its pursues an appearance in the first College Football Playoff. With Ole Miss’ loss to the Auburn Tigers, Oregon should claim the fourth and final spot from the playoff committee this week. The Ducks will then control their destiny during the rest of the season.