Support Local Journalism!        

Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Oregon plots strategy for rematch with team that has beaten them twice in a row

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF DAVID BLAIR - Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota squirts into the end zone against Oregon State.CORVALLIS — In a game lost by just one touchdown, the smallest mistakes get magnified. Each failure becomes the difference between winning and losing.

When the Oregon Ducks look back at their 31-24 loss to Arizona on Oct. 2, there is plenty for the players to lament.

Receiver Byron Marshall dropped a sure touchdown pass early in the game.

“I could’ve scored,” Marshall says. “I hate going back and looking at the game and thinking that if I had been better, or I had done that, or if I had caught that ball … we’re all tired of thinking like that.

Linebacker Tony Washington had a boneheaded taunting penalty on a sack late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Wildcats to score the winning touchdown. That play still makes Washington bristle when it is brought up to him.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play in the (Pac-12) championship game,” Washington says. “Doesn’t matter who it’s against.”

The conference title game is an Oregon-Arizona rematch. Kickoff is 6 p.m. Friday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

Even Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Trophy favorite, has to look back at the Arizona game and know that he fumbled away the ball as the Ducks were trying to march down the field to tie the game with time running out.

The Wildcats (10-2) won the Pac-12 South to earn their spot in the championship game.

It will be Oregon's opportunity for vengeance, not only for this season, but also for the 42-16 thumping the Wildcats handed the Ducks last season, when they knocked Oregon out of the Pac-12 title game.

It is the rematch the No. 2 Ducks (11-1) have been hoping for.

“You want to play the team that beat you,” cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu says. “Our one loss was against them. It’s only right that you have to beat the team that beat you to get to the next place.”

Says Marshall: “I wanted to play them. We just laid an egg when we played them. We did not play like ourselves at all. Just to know that you lost to somebody, it kind of sits there and sits there and sits there. You move on, but you don’t forget. Now we have the time to right our wrong.”

The 2014 regular-season game was a fairly low-scoring affair between two high-powered spread offenses. Oregon led 7-3 at halftime. The Wildcats outscored the Ducks 21-7 in the third quarter. And while Oregon had a 10-7 advantage in the fourth quarter, it was too little, too late.

“Last time we played them, we dominated the first, second and fourth quarter,” Ekpre-Olomu says. “But the third quarter, we give up 21 points, and that was the outcome of the game. We didn’t execute to the best we can, and when you play a good team, they’re going to beat you.

"You have to learn from past events. You have to know the little things it takes.”

The Wildcats finished that game with 495 yards of total offense. Arizona rushed for 208 yards behind 115 yards and one touchdown by Terris Jones-Grisby and 92 yards and two touchdowns by Nick Wilson. Quarterback Anu Solomon also threw for 287 yards and one TD.

Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum believes the Ducks are now playing their best defense of the season.

“These last two or three games we’ve gotten closer to what we really want to be,” Pellum says. “Can you improve? Absolutely. We’re still finding ways to improve.”

Pellum says both the Ducks defense and the Arizona offense have changed and grown over the last two months, but there will be things to take away from the first game.

“We’ve evolved as a defense,” Pellum says. “I’m sure (their offense) has changed too. But, there will be some carry over from the first game.”

Pellum’s plan will be to put just a few defensive packages in place that Oregon can handle and get his players ready to read their pre-snap keys.

“What we try to do is put in a defense they can handle for three or four different scenarios,” Pellum says. “Then we go with the best defense. So it’s a run, pass, whatever that play is, we want to have the best thing in there for it. Then we want our kids to be wired into the indicators. When you see this formation, you know exactly, by their alignment, what plays are coming. That’s how we try to build it.”

Ekpre-Olomu says the Ducks must be ready to try to win the game on the defensive side of the ball.

“They’re a good defense,” Ekpre-Olomu says of the Wildcats defense. “They get a lot of turnovers and sacks. We have to know that we have to win the game on defense.”

The Oregon offense would like to give its defense some breathing room. In the game in October, the Ducks had 446 yards of total offense. Mariota threw for 276 yards and two TDs and also caught a TD pass from Royce Freeman. Oregon rushed for just 144 yards, though and did not score a rushing touchdown.

A big part of that was the play of the offensive line. With tackle Jake Fisher out with an injury, the Ducks had difficulty run blocking and gave up five sacks. Oregon has Fisher back now, though.

Offensive coordinator Scott Frost says that Fisher being back is a big plus for the Ducks, but adds that the line has improved as a whole.

“A bunch of guys are playing well on the line,” Frost says. “Our line’s improvement kind of coincided with Jake’s return. Not all of that is a coincidence. But credit goes to all of those guys. A lot of guys really stepped up in the last six or seven games.”

Says offensive line coach Steve Greatwood: “It was a collective effort against Arizona. It wasn’t one particular player’s issues. I just went back and looked at the film (Saturday morning). Will it be good to have Jake back? Absolutely. But we’ve all got to play better against Arizona. They did a heck of a job against us. I’m sure they’ll be ready for us again.”

In the Pac-12 title game, Oregon may be without center Hroniss Grasu, who has not played the last two games and was walking on crutches with a boot on his left foot after Oregon’s win against Oregon State. Greatwood played it close to the vest when talking about whether Grasu would be ready to play against Arizona.

“We’ll see,” Greatwood says. “Day-to-day. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed every day.”

Even with the line at full strength, though, Arizona’s defense will pose challenges for the Ducks. The Wildcats play a three odd stack with three down lineman and three linebackers creating a six-player box.

“They’re a really active group,” Oregon offensive lineman Hamani Stevens says of Arizona’s front six. “They move around a lot. They’re able to take up blocks, free up their linebackers to go make plays. They’re really active. They’re good with their hands. The first time this season we played them they were able to do that really well, and that’s what got to us.”

To combat that, Stevens says the Ducks “need to focus on our fundamentals, technique, being able to take on blocks and sustain them and not fall off. We have to make sure we stick to our basics.”

The Wildcats do have an extra day to prepare for the Ducks. But motivation should not be a problem for Oregon. If the Ducks win, they will assuredly be in the playoffs.

“We’re excited to have a chance,” Frost says. “We’ve got everything to gain and very little to lose. Nobody is in that playoff yet, and we have a chance. Our guys need to play that way and attack. This league makes it hard on ourselves to get there. There’s not any other league that plays nine conference games and a championship game. Every year whoever manages to do that out of the Pac-12 deserves a spot.”

Go to top