In five previous outings this season, Marcus Mariota was wearing a baseball cap and sending in signals from the Oregon sideline by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
When the Ducks were finally pushed on Saturday, Mariota and his teammates gave an emphatic response that added another notch to a decade of dominance over their rivals to the north.
Mariota threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns, added another 88 yards and one TD rushing, and the second-ranked Ducks beat No. 16 Washington 45-24 to extend their winning streak in the series to 10.
"Guys were able to battle. I definitely think we’re a four-quarter type team, we just haven’t had a reason to play four quarters," Oregon running back Byron Marshall said. "So the fact we got the first one under our belt to answer everyone’s questions is good."
Mariota’s passing was nearly spotless, he used his legs to make the Huskies pay when throwing options were covered, and he was easily the best player on the field. Mariota completed 24 of 31 passes, and ran another 13 times. He threw touchdowns of 4 and 3 yards to Bralon Addison and a 65-yarder to Josh Huff on Oregon’s first possession of the second half. Huff had to be carted to the locker room with an apparent right leg injury in the first half, only to come back after halftime and burn the Huskies secondary.
Most impressive, Mariota answered every challenge Washington made. Twice in the second half the Huskies pulled within a touchdown. Both times, Mariota responded by leading the Ducks (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12) to touchdowns of their own. Mariota topped 300 yards passing for the sixth time in his college career.
"He was awesome. I haven’t seen the stats but he played really well," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "He played really smart and very productive. A bunch of guys made a bunch of plays for him too."
Marshall added 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns and while Oregon’s streak of scoring at least 55 points ended at five games, the Ducks passed their first test of the season.
De’Anthony Thomas suited up for the Ducks but it was just decoration. Sidelined with a sprained ankle the past two games, Thomas went through pregame warm-ups but never left the Oregon sideline. Turns out they didn’t need him.
The Ducks rolled up 631 total yards and averaged 7.8 yards per touch against a Washington defense that came into Saturday third best in the country allowing just 3.9 yards per play and third in pass efficiency defense.
Yet Mariota gladly exposed the gap that remains between the Ducks and Huskies. Mariota hit on 13 of his first 15 passes and now has 25 combined touchdowns and zero turnovers this season.
"Marcus was huge again for us today. He was taking care of the tempo and just leaving everything on the field for us," Huff said. "We stayed with him and were able to come away with the victory."
Bishop Sankey ran for 167 yards and touchdowns of 60 and 25 yards for Washington, but the Huskies (4-2, 1-2) defense that stood stout against Stanford last week was exposed. The Huskies gave up 633 total yards. Washington was third in the country giving up 3.9 yards per offensive play, but the Ducks averaged 7.9.
Sankey was responsible for a major first-half swing that left the Huskies playing from behind. Tied at 7-7 and driving, Sankey fumbled for the first time this season on a third-down run at the Oregon 31. The fumble was forced by cornerback Troy Hill and recovered by Torrondney Prevot. Mariota went to work, and connected with Addison for a 4-yard TD and a 14-7 lead.
Washington went three-and-out on its next series holding possession for barely one minute. Oregon followed with a seven-play drive, with three plays of 15 yards or more. Marshall capped the drive with a 15-yard sprint and a 21-7 Ducks lead. Washington’s Keith Price also threw an interception late in the second quarter deep in Oregon’s end. Price finished 19 of 32 for 182 yards and one TD.
"I thought both of our turnovers occurred in their territory and took potential points off the board for us and gave them possessions," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
The Huskies closed to 21-14 on the first drive of the second half when Sankey burst 60 yards on fourth-and-1, but Mariota answered by dropping his long TD pass to Huff. Washington got within 31-24 on Sankey’s 25-yard TD run in the final minute of the third quarter. The Ducks answered in less than 90 seconds with Mariota scoring on a 5-yard run and he added a 3-yard TD pass to Addison for the final margin. Addison finished with eight catches for 157 yards.
"Toward the third quarter when the defense was able to get a couple of stops and we were able to go down and score I think pushed the momentum our way," Mariota said.