The rumors of Oregon football’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated.
It’s been a long season for the Ducks with adversity on and off the field coming in every possible direction. Somehow, Oregon was able to put it all together to upset No. 11 Utah 30-28. The stunning win also avenged what was an embarrassing 62-20 defeat last season inside Autzen Stadium.
Justin Herbert found Darren Carrington in the corner of the end zone with just two seconds left for a 17-yard touchdown for the game winner. Carrington’s catch was ruled incomplete at first, but replay showed the senior receiver’s foot was less than an inch in-bounds. If Carrington’s shoe size was just one size bigger, Oregon might have lost.
With the win, the Ducks go to 4-7 overall and 2-6 in league play, but more than the record, the black cloud that has been hanging over the program for most of the season might have been lifted. The victory might have given Mark Helfrich’s career at Oregon a new lease on life. It was almost a guarantee that the four-year coach would be let go after the season, but now the overview of his program could take a complete 180.
A loss next week in the Civil War will bring back that cloud and Helfrich’s job will be in doubt once again, but for at least a week, all is well in Eugene.
Two-point games aren’t usually textbook and this game was far from the textbook win. The Ducks needed to erase two deficits in the fourth quarter alone to pull this contest out. Utah held a 21-17 lead and a 28-24 lead in the final quarter and neither one of those leads were safe with Herbert controlling the Duck offense.
It would have been almost excusable if the Ducks laid down after a muffed punt directly led to a Utah touchdown to turn a 17-14 Oregon lead into a 21-17 Utah lead. But for some reason, Oregon wouldn’t give up on this day.
Down 21-17, Herbert drove the Ducks 75 yards in eight plays and ended the drive himself with a one-yard run on a run-option play. Oregon was up 24-21, but there was still nearly seven minutes left, plenty of time for the Utes to score again, which they did.
Utah took four minutes off the clock and score what seemed to be their game-winning touchdown, a 30-yard pass to receiver Evan Moeai with 2:18 remaining. The Utes might look back on the game and decide they scored way too soon. Two minutes is a lot of time for the Ducks to drive 75 yards.
Herbert converted two third downs on the drive, including a 12-yard rush where the true freshman evaded a rush and sprinted to the first down marker. That run put the Ducks on the Utah 17, but there was just 14 seconds left. Down four, Oregon needed a touchdown. A field goal wouldn’t have been enough.
The true freshman’s first attempt to the end zone went to Jalen Brown. But that pass went out of bounds. Herbert’s second pass went to Carrington on the other side of the field and this pass was perfect. If the call of an incomplete pass would have been upheld, the Ducks would have had one more chance. Thankfully for Oregon’s sake, the Ducks didn’t need that last chance.
Now the Ducks can prepare for the Civil War with a new-found confidence in their coach and in themselves. Oregon State will be waiting for the Ducks for the 1 pm scheduled kickoff on the Pac-12 Network.
— Don Smalley
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