After Saturday’s win over Stanford the Oregon Ducks football team streamed back into the locker room and got high.
On football. And winning at football.
They would have gotten high—rolling up joints and blunts stuffed with cannabis and chief’d them down like the Old Timers used to fire-up victory cigars—but that would have been an NCAA violation, which prohibits smoking marijuana.
The NCAA has a lot of rules against a lot of things and what it doesn’t have it makes up as it goes along.
All that last paragraph is a lie. Except the NCAA stuff, which is absolutely true. Oregon’s ballot measure legalizing marijuana did not pass until the Tuesday after the game. The entire team would have been charged with misdemeanor crimes before being suspended by the NCAA, and then where would their national championship dreams have gone?
Up in smoke?
Did you see that coming? It’s a bad line that someone like Bill Plaschke would have written. Don’t ever write like Plaschke. That’s a pro-tip.
But the reason for the celebration—the need for it—is obvious. Oregon got by Stanford.
Two years ago the Cardinal felled Oregon with a fat-chance wingshot. Last year, Oregon got stuck on the rails when a freight train barreled through. Both seasons had set course for the championship game, and the losses tore the heart out of everything.
What has to make Oregon cheerful about this win is how they did it. The team was physical. They ran the football hat-on-hat, straight ahead, and manhandled the Cardinal. Their offense was for every practical purpose, unstoppable.
The Cardinal had gone 31 straight games without allowing more than 30 points. Oregon won 45-16, scoring six touchdowns and one field goal on nine drives. The Ducks piled-up 525 total yards with an almost zeroed-out balance of 258 passing to 267 rushing. It was a real show.
Marcus Mariota, not nicked-up like last year, looked like the best player in America. He has a turbo-burst that no-one anywhere on a college field can match. He throws a beautiful ball, too, with all sorts of touch and loft and bullet settings to work with. Mariota is a better football player than Michael Vick was at Virginia Tech, and in those days at Virginia Tech, no one was better than Michael Vick.
On Saturday, Mariota rolled up 353 total yards and four touchdowns. He threw for two and ran for two. The final run-pass combination of punches in the fourth quarter were the lights out blows.
Running-back Thomas Tyner, fresh back from an injury, got the full spin-cycle glory late in third quarter. That touchdown run, which flayed, skewered and roasted Stanford’s Jordan Richards, will be tossed into the hopper with the year’s most sensational plays. In addition to its moral devastation, it also set Oregon ahead 31-16 heading into the final frame. Big’un.
The Ducks’ defense did give up yards—428 total—and first downs—24 for the game—but some of each were garbage-time and—most importantly—did not end in points. Oregon had given up 25 Red Zone touchdowns this year, which is what raising the draw-bridge after the enemy had crossed the moat would look like if employed as a general strategy. But they closed it up early on Stanford.
When looked at from a higher vantage point, the Ducks in fact earned more defensive plaudits. Because the offense was so piercing, the Cardinal ended up dominating time of possession with 35:38 to Oregon’s 24:22. So the yards had to pile up somewhere, but the pile was never cashed in for points.
Oregon also turned-over Stanford’s quarterback Kevin Hogan twice. Hogan is on a dark and punishing travail through his senior season. From the outside it looks like one of those inscrutable flagellation pilgrimages inspired by God. Hogan completed 21-of-29 throws for 237 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
One of the crucial differences in this game, when opposed against the last two, was Oregon’s run defense. It was a win on top of a win for the Ducks to make Hogan Stanford’s leading rusher, too. The Cardinal’s next best was Evan Crower, who had 11 carries for 33 yards. Stanford rushed for only 132 for the game.
Erick Dargan’s strip-tackle of a scrambling Hogan late, which allowed the offense to score a final crushing touchdown, was another superior play from one of the Ducks' heaviest hitters.
I don’t think this game was an exorcism, but it sure was a whomping.
The Ducks have Utah, Colorado and the Civil War left on their schedule. Then, the Pac-12 Championship.
There is a lot of work left, particularly on the defensive redoubts. The Ducks should make you nervous on that side because they are unpredictable. An unpredictable defense can get a team in a hole it cannot climb out of fast enough.
But the offense seems to be an atomic clock, firing regularly at predictable intervals.
If the Flock makes it out of the Pac-12 the once vanquished, undisputed champ, will they earn the trip to the Final Four? Probably, but it’s college football, where BYU has been a national champion, too.