Inside the highlight tape: persistence and a total team effort dispatches Utah

What stands out in the highlight tape and on the stat sheet is how the Ducks got big plays from so many people in the Utah game.

While no one player accumulated massive stats, offensively and defensively 18 different Ducks contributed two or three key plays that accumulated for a win.

All we need you to do chief is raise your hands: Ricky Havili Heimuli gets inside pressure on Utah quarterback Adam Schulz. The Ducks sacked Schulz only once, but they hurried and harrassed him into an interception and 13-30 passing for 181 yards (Walt Grondona, Eugene Daily News photo).


And both times Utah scored to make it close, the Webfoots responded immediately, with the two biggest plays of the game. In the end, their resilience, talent and determination were too much for the Utes, who played without their starting quarterback and best running back, falling to 4-5 on the year.


(Highlights from Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup and Youtube channel madmike1951.)

Play 1 De’Anthony Thomas brings out the opening kickoff to the 36, a 33-yard return. The kick isn’t high enough or deep enough, allowing the dangerous, speedy returner to meet the wedge at the 25.

He gets a great lead block from return partner Troy Hill who delivers a blow to a much bigger defender, a wedge buster at the center of the head of the defensive formation. Hill drives him back, displaying a lot of toughness. DAT also gets good blocks from Pharaoh Brown, Hroniss Grasu and DeForest Buckner, giving the Ducks an excellent start. Thomas and the return team nearly break this one, a warning the Utah coaching staff would foolishly ignore later in the game.

Finally at full strength and in his most effective role, The Black Momba provided the energy throughout the afternoon on a day the team was a little sluggish. He scored the game’s first touchdown, and ignited the sideline and the crowd when Utah pulled within 17-14 before a dwindling south grandstand and student section in the third quarter.

14:37 1st quarter, 2nd and 9, Oregon on Oregon 38

Mariota’s first pass is a 7-yard out to Josh Huff, a good rhythm starter for a quarterback who would complete his first 10. The protective pocket, formed by Jake Fisher, Cameron Hunt, Hroniss Grasu, Hamani Stevens and Tyler Johnstone is perfect, and Mariota, still playing with the knee brace, lays out a strike to Huff, chest high, on time, right in stride. Huff has five yards of open space after running a crisp route, room to make something happen after the catch. He makes one defender and drives through the other, good for a 14-yard gain on the game’s first series.

10:30 1st quarter, 1st and 25 Utah on Utah 26

Bubba Poole rush for 2-yard loss. Wade Keliikipi shows tremendous mobility at 6-3, 306, knifing in like a linebacker to make the solo tackle. The entire front seven plays good team defense on this play, sliding right with the stretch play. Rodney Hardrick has it contained on the outside. Derrick Malone pursues and cuts off the cutback lane. DeForest Buckner gets penetration at the nose that disupts the play from the beginning. The swarming, disciplined effort was prevalent all afternoon in run defense, as the Ducks limited Utah to 2.8 yards per play and a long run of 10 yards, 128 total yards in 42 attempts.

Seven Ducks had four or more tackles, with Avery Patterson leading the effort with 7. Bo Lokombo had 6, with Oregon’s only sack and two tackles for loss. Linebacker Rodney Hardrick had six, and before his shoulder injury, Derrick Malone was playing some of his best defense of the season, ranging laterally and filling in holes in the running game with aggressive, decisive linebacker play. Oregon’s linebacker corps clearly drilled hard this week on the running game, and had their best game of the season. They moved to the ball in unison, executed their assignments, filled gaps and tackled surely against a big offensive line.

The defensive group played a solid game with two lapses, both breakdowns in coverage. It was a great bounce back effort after the loss to Stanford.  The Utes got 82 yards on their two big pass plays, 64 yards on an 8-play drive versus the twos and threes late in the game, 131 on the other 62 plays they ran in the game. The one negative is that they converted too many third downs 9-18 versus 2-10 for Oregon, an alarming trend.

9:45 1st quarter 2nd and 27 Utah on Utah 24

Terrance Mitchell intercepts first-time starter Adam Schulz at the Utah 41. Taylor Hart and the defensive line pushes the pocket back into Schulz’s face, flushing him left, and Hart pursues relentlessly, hurrying the throw to a well-covered receiver. Troy Hill blankets the intended target and deflects the ball up, and Mitchell alertly scoops up the tip, his fifth interception of the year.

Mitchell has been beastly in coverage this year, contesting every inch and every throw on his side. He had only one tackle Saturday but three pass breakups to go along with the game’s only turnover.

9:06 1st quarter 2nd and 8, Utah 36

Mariota 28 yard pass to Pharaoh Brown. This play shows MM’s knee is definitely getting better. He wheels out of trouble spinning left out of the pocket, showing quickness and mobility, looking much more comfortable. A blitzer flies unblocked from the blind side but he sees him out of the corner of his eye and makes an athletic move to beat him one on one. De’Anthony Thomas missed a chip block but Mariota saves the play with a hint of his old escapability.

Rolling left, he delivers a strike to Brown deep down the left sideline, throwing to his back shoulder, a beautiful throw between two defenders for a big gain. Brown shows good strength and athletic ability, a former basketball player muscling under the boards to haul down a big rebound, the gain all the way down to the 8.

Getting the first turnover and getting points off that turnover is huge in a game, and that’s what the Ducks do here.

1st G Oregon Utah 8

Mariota 8 yd td pass to De’Anthony Thomas. Super Mario gets great work from his offensive line on this play. Brown stops the linebacker before releasing out on a pass route. Cameron Hunt shows good footwork pushing his man out and beyond the pocket, walling him off from the quarterback. Hamani Stevens and Tyler Johnstone have the blindside locked down.

Hroniss Grasu stymies the nose tackle at the line of scrimmage. Mariota has six full seconds, time to check three receivers, double pump, shuffle toward the line of scrimmage, which freezes the linebackers, then find Thomas dragging across the formation along the goal line, coming open near the left pylon. The quarterback throws a pinpoint pass away from the defenders and Thomas, who has great hands and a knack for the clutch play, squeezes it to his chest as he dives for the ball with his feet securely in the field of play.

Oregon’s receivers have great body control, and that allows Mariota to stretch defenses to the max in the red zone. He can use the corners and the very edges of the field. Bralon Addison made a similar catch a couple of weeks ago along the right sideline, staying in bounds with perfect footwork as Mariota puts the ball in a perfect spot. Having smart, ultra-athletic receivers allows the quarterback to throw it low and away from defenders, knowing he can trust them to complete the play.

5:58 1st quarter Utah 3rd and 10 on Utah 30

The Utes get one first down, but the defense stiffens with three straight incompletions, stubborn, not allowing a sustained drive. It’s Troy Hill again along the left sideline, defending the out route at the stick one-on-one against the z-receiver. Hill makes a physical play, and gets away with quite a bit of contact (pass interference calls in the PAC-12 conference are staggering in their inconsistency, but you could argue that the receiver initiates this, trying to get a push off the smaller Hill). Hill stands his ground and competes superbly, wrestling the receiver and knocking the ball away. No flags, fourth down.

5:40 1st quarter Oregon on Oregon 32 

De’Anthony Thomas stretch run for 11 yards. This play is beautifully blocked, and it shows how DAT can be effective in a spot role as a running back, a great change of pace on plays that utilize his quickness. The offensive line knows he can take advantage of the smallest creases, and here they execute good team blocking to provide him a lane on the right side. Jake Fisher rides the contain man wide and out of the play. Taking over at right guard, Everett Benyard seals the tackle, and Thomas splits quickly between them for a first down.

5:28 1st quarter, Oregon on Oregon 42

Ducks in full tempo now, snapping the ball just 12 seconds between plays. Oregon’s offense is built on success in tempo, and effective switches of tempo, medium, fast, slow.

Mariota 17 pass to Huff. No Oregon player had a big statistical day, but 9 different guys made plays:

Addison 57-yard catch and run

Brown 28-yard pass

Marshall 21, 16 and 17-yard runs, the last two for tds

Huff, pass plays of 14, 17 and 21 yards, 5-yard td catch

Evan Baylis, 25-yard catch

Thomas Tyner, runs of 9, 7, 27, and 9 yards

De’Anthony Thomas, 11-yard run, 8-yard td catch

Johnny Mundt, 14-yard td catch

Daryle Hawkins, 26-yard catch

Mariota did a terrific job of distributing the ball. The Ducks used the tight ends effectively and all four outside receivers. All three running backs got loose. Steve Greatwood and the offensive line made some sound adjustments at halftime after the running game was held to 10 net yards in the 1st half.

Following the “Stanford Blueprint,” the Utes sold out to stop the run, and Mariota, the receivers, and the offensive line made them pay. The Ducks never lost control of the game, answering every challenge.