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Anthony Brown and a next-man-up mentality put the Ducks into the Pac-12 title game against Utah.



EUGENE — Out of contention for the College Football Playoff and with a list of injuries growing each game, it would have been easy for the Oregon football team to lay an egg against in-state rival Oregon State last week.

Instead, the defense dominated a powerful Beavers running game and Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. played his best game of the season in the 38-29 victory at Autzen Stadium.

The emphatic bounce-back win gave 10-2 Oregon its third Pac-12 North title in a row, a chance to avenge an ugly loss at Utah on Nov. 20 and win a third consecutive Pac-12 title. The Ducks and Utes meet at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in the conference championship game (ABC TV).

"It has to show in the way you play, because just being upset or being angry at a performance — a poor performance —what does that do? Nothing," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. "You have got to take that energy and pour it into betterment, into your teammates, into challenging and confronting and demanding and holding each other accountable. I mean, that is what football and life is all about. We did that.

"I am really proud of these guys and I am looking forward to getting back to work right away. It is a short week with an opportunity next Friday."

Forgetting the Nov. 20 38-7 loss at Utah that ended the Ducks' CFP dreams wasn't easy, though, despite the Ducks making it feel that way with their performance.

"Well, it was a rough plane ride back last week," Ducks coach Mario Cristobal said. "We talked about it earlier in the week. When you go through something like that, you have to look in the mirror and you have to dig deep and regroup quickly. Our team leadership did a good job with that."

The numbers back Cristobal up. One key: the Beavers rushed for only 85 yards after coming into the rivalry game averaging 222 a game.

And Brown played his best game of the season, going for 23 for 28, an 82% completion rate, his highest of the season. Brown threw for 275 yards on those 23 connections with two TDs and ran the ball 14 times for 83 yards and one more score.

"Well, I mean, I think it speaks for itself," Cristobal said of Brown's performance. "Showed tremendous command, tremendous leadership, resolve, resiliency. He had a strong week of practice. The game plan was pretty extensive because (Oregon State) is pretty complicated on defense with what they do with their stunts, their blitzes, their stems."PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon football quarterback Anthony Brown, right, tries to juke Oregon State's Rejzohn Wright on Saturday, Nov. 27 at Autzen Stadium. Brown played his best game of the season to lift the Ducks to the Pac-12 North title.

However, that laundry list of injuries continued to increase with freshman linebacker Noah Sewell and sophomore cornerback Mykael Wright leaving the game against OSU in the third quarter.

Add on the fact that Oregon was missing seven offensive starters coming into the matchup with OSU and the Ducks looked like things could be one little breeze away from having their house blown down at Autzen.

Instead, Brown stood tall on offense and kept his squad on the field, going 10 for 13 on third down conversions to not only sustain long scoring drives, but give the defense the breaks it needed.

"Initially, it was tough. We had to wipe the taste out of our mouth from the previous week," Brown said. "Tuesday and Wednesday were huge practice days and they were really good. It showed how mature our team can be."

Maturity is what's needed when there's still plenty to play for, like a Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl berth. And it started with Brown making sure his offensive squad was in the right position.

Five of those seven missing offensive starters are pass catchers in wide receivers Mycah Pittman (transfer portal), Jaylon Redd and Johnny Johnson III, plus tight ends in DJ Johnson and Cam McCormick.

Enter sophomore and freshman wideouts Devon Williams and Kris Hutson and the offense didn't skip a beat against the Beavers. Williams made six catches for 110 yards and one TD while Hutson had seven catches for 82 yards and a score.

"The chemistry is very good, a lot of communicating between him and I," Hutson said of Brown. "He's just a great quarterback. He's got an arm, he can put it out there, he can run, he can do everything."

A similar sentiment could be said about the play of Sewell on defense with the freshman easily leading Oregon in tackles with 89.

In his absence, linebacker Nate Heaukulani stepped up against OSU, something that also isn't unfamiliar for a Ducks' defense missing five starters due to injuries.

"With Noah going down, man it's been next man up all year in this room," Heaukulani said. "With me playing both positions, I have to be ready whenever the time comes."

The next-man-up cliché is usually just that for most teams: a cliché. Missing starting guys hurts and often it can be pretty obvious.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon football defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, middle, flexes after making a tackle for loss against Oregon State on Saturday, Nov. 27 at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks held Oregon State to 85 rushing yards, well below the Beavers 225-yard average.

But Cristobal has led his Ducks squad through it all with the talent in reserve having to come to the forefront and play big-time minutes.

Sure, Oregon has recruited high-level players, but preparation is critical for players down on the depth chart.

Against Utah, the Ducks didn't look prepared. Against Oregon State, the Ducks were ready for anything.

Now in the Pac-12 title game, slated for 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, comes another big test. It's also an opportunity for the Ducks to prove they aren't the team that lost at Utah, and to win Oregon's third consecutive Pac-12 title.


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