Mariota leads No. 6 Oregon to 44-21 win over Utah
"They would have to pull me off the field before I wouldn't play," the sophomore quarterback said after throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-21 victory over Utah on Saturday.
Questions remain about the health of Mariota's left knee, which limited his mobility last week when the sixth-ranked Ducks fell 26-20 to Stanford. Oregon does not discuss injuries, so it's something of a mystery.
Known for his scrambling ability, Mariota wore a knee brace against both the Cardinal and the Utes and finished both games with negative yardage on the ground. Utah sacked him three times, but any shortcomings didn't matter in the end against the Utes.
Even with the threat of making the injury worse, Mariota says he's still playing for his team. It was important to him that the Ducks rebound decisively from the loss to Stanford — which in all likelihood ended Oregon's shot at a spot in the national championship game.
"The guys in the locker room mean the world to me," he said.
And as for the knee? "I've learned to play with it. I'm not going to use it as an excuse," he said.
De'Anthony Thomas caught a touchdown pass and scored on an 86-yard kickoff return for the Ducks (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12). Byron Marshall ran for two additional scores but the Ducks were slowed on the ground by Utah's defense, rushing for 145 yards after averaging nearly 302 yards a game this season.
Utah (4-6, 1-6) was dealt a blow before the game when starting quarterback Travis Wilson didn't make the trip to Eugene because of a concussion. Backup Adam Schulz threw for 157 yards and a touchdown and ran for another.
After the game, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham suggested that more is going on with Wilson but he would not give details. Utah did not announce until Friday night that Wilson was not traveling with the team.
"I'll expound on that Monday when I know more information. This has been an ongoing thing throughout the week. What I can say is it's a head injury. He was not able to practice at all last week. Part of it was something that happened in the game last week, but there's more than that going on right now. Rather than say something that is not completely accurate, I'm going to wait until Monday and talk a little more about it that week," Whittingham said.
Wilson is averaging 203 yards passing per game this season. The 6-foot-7 sophomore thrown 16 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.
Schulz had appeared in just three games for the Utes this season, completing 22 of 45 passes with one touchdown and one interception.
"I've been looking for an opportunity since I've been here. I always talk about seizing the opportunity and there is no bigger stage really than Oregon at their place. I was ready to go," Schulz said.
Utah's lone conference win this season came against Stanford. The Utes have lost four straight since then.
Mariota hit Thomas with an 8-yard touchdown pass and the Ducks added a 31-yard field goal by true freshman Matt Wogan to make it 10-0 in the first quarter.
Wogan took over as Oregon's kicker for the final three games of the season, replacing Alejandro Maldonado, who missed a 37-yard field goal before halftime of the Ducks' game against UCLA.
The Utes narrowed the gap on Schulz's 34-yard pass to Jake Murphy with 2:52 left in the half.
Murphy was making his return after wrist surgery following the Utes' Oct. 3 loss to UCLA. It was thought that the junior tight end might miss the rest of the regular season.
The Ducks answered the Utes quickly by scoring on Mariota's 5-yard pass to Josh Huff — concluding a drive that took three plays and just 24 seconds — to make it 17-7 at the half.
After a 4-yard scoring run from Schulz, Oregon again quickly came back with Thomas' touchdown on the kickoff return to make it 23-14.
Thomas, who missed nearly four entire games with an ankle injury, looked like his old self on the run.
"I'm getting back to where I was: Just out there, having fun, contributing to the team," he said.
The Ducks extended the lead on Mariota's 14-yard scoring pass to Johnny Mundt, and Marshall's 17-yard scoring run made it 37-14 with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.
Marshall added a 16-yard touchdown run in the fourth. Soon thereafter, Oregon sat Mariota.
With most of the Ducks' starters out of the game, Bubba Poole ran for a 10-yard Utah touchdown with 6:01 left.
Still a Heisman candidate despite the questions about his knee, Mariota has thrown for 25 touchdowns this season, and run for nine more. He has not thrown an interception since last season.
Saturday's game was the first between the teams since Utah joined the conference in 2011. Oregon won the last meeting 31-24 at Autzen Stadium in 2009.
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