Ducks Down Wildcats 49-0 In Defense’s Strongest Performance Of Season
In a game that many expected to be an offensive shootout, the No. 3 Oregon Ducks defeated the No. 22 Arizona Wildcats 49-0 Saturday night in front of 58,334 at Autzen Stadium, highlighted by a defensive performance sure to turn heads in the college football landscape.
Sophomore cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill both returned interceptions for touchdowns, two of five turnovers forced by an Oregon defense that shut down an Arizona offense that had averaged over 600 yards per game entering Saturday’s contest.
Budding offensive stars Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas saw ups and downs in the Ducks’ first Pac-12 play of the season. Mariota completed 20 of 35 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw an interception and lost a fumble. Thomas was held to 54 yards on 12 carries and lost a fumble as well, but returned a punt 38 yards in the third quarter.
By all means, however, the star of the game was Oregon’s defensive unit. Despite six possessions inside the Ducks’ 20-yard line, Arizona failed to put any points on the board.
The Wildcats had plenty of opportunities to score early, thanks to mistakes and ineffectiveness by the Ducks’ offense. After Mariota was sacked for a four-yard loss on fourth down in Arizona territory, the Wildcats attempted to kick a field goal. However, placeholder Kyle Dugandzic mishandled the snap and was tackled for a loss of seven yards.
Mariota fumbled on the next possession, but Arizona quarterback Matt Scott responded with a mistake of his own, tossing an interception to Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Early in the second quarter, the Wildcats saw their next two drives end in a blocked field goal attempt and fumble lost by wide receiver Johnny Jackson.
“I’m not adverse to putting our defense on the field on a short field because I know how they play,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “They’re competitors and they want to go on the field in those situations”
While Arizona failed to capitalize on excellent field position, Oregon marched downfield for a trio of long drives. Mariota completed a 17-yard pass to Daryle Hawkins for the Ducks’ first score to complete a 10-play, 88-yard drive with 5:55 remaining in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Rob Beard kicked a 27-yard field goal and a 41-yard field goal to complete 17 and 16 play drives, respectively, to bring the halftime score to a surprisingly quiet 13-0.
After Thomas turned in his long punt return with 7:20 remaining in the third quarter, Mariota completed a 35-yard pass to tight end Colt Lyerla, who also saw extensive time at tailback Saturday night. Two plays later, Lyerla and backup quarterback Bryan Bennett combined for a zone read 1-yard touchdown in which both players held onto the ball while crossing the goal line. The touchdown was credited to Lyerla, whose body entered the end zone first.
“It was supposed to be a zone read, and with my inexperience at tailback, I didn’t really let the ball go and we both just ended up falling in the endzone,” said a laughing Lyerla after the game.
Later in the quarter, Mariota completed a 55-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Bralon Addison. Then, early in the fourth, Ekpre-Olomu picked off Arizona quarterback Matt Scott and ran 54 yards in the opposite direction for a score.
“When we were watching film, I noticed that they like to throw a lot to the boundary, to their isolated receiver,” said Ekpre-Olomu. “I was making sure that I was changing up my coverage every time to throw off the quarterback so he couldn’t just key on to what I’m doing every play.”
The Ducks added an 8-yard rushing touchdown from Bennett and Hill’s pick-six to bring the final score to 49-0. After the game, defensive coordinator Nick Alioti lauded his defense’s ability to step up in undesirable situations, most notably Arizona’s numerous early opportunities in Oregon’s red zone.
“You can walk out there with shrugged shoulders and your head down, and like, ‘oh, woe are we and here we go again’, or you can say, ‘hey, we get an opportunity to play, it’s a tough situation but we get to go out there and play some more snaps and let’s see if we can keep them out’, and God they certainly did. It was pretty exciting because of how these kids prepared all week.”
Oregon heads to Seattle next Saturday to take on Washington State, at 7:30 PM.
*defensive stats have been condensed to save space