Ducks get win vs. Utah, but injuries hurt team
The Oregon Ducks got their victory in Utah and clinched a place in the Pac-12 championship, but it was costly with injuries to three key players.
Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, center Hroniss Grasu and tight end Pharaoh Brown all were knocked out of the 51-27 victory Saturday night over the Utes.
The Ducks (9-1, 6-1, Pac-12) have a bye this coming week to assess the damage and heal for the regular season’s final two games, against Colorado and Oregon State. Both the Buffaloes and the Beavers are sitting in the bottom of their conference division.
As a result of the victory at Utah, Oregon moved up a spot to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 released Sunday, while the Utes dropped from No. 20 to No. 25. The Ducks could also move up from fourth in the College Football Playoff when those rankings are announced on Tuesday.
Brown’s right knee injury appeared the worst. He was carted off the field and later taken from Rice-Eccles Stadium by ambulance after going down in the fourth quarter with an injury to his right leg.
Coach Mark Helfrich told reporters Sunday night that Brown remained hospitalized in Salt Lake City and would remain there for several days. He called it a "significant" injury and said Brown is out for the season.
”I talked to him last night, and all the rest of the details I think can best be said is we’re doing everything we can for him,” Helfrich said. ”Going forward it’s a long process but that dude is a competitive guy and it’s already galvanized our team.”
Brown had 22 catches for 380 yards and five touchdowns this season, including a TD catch in the game against the Utes.
Earlier in the quarter the Ducks suffered a blow with the loss of center Hroniss Grasu because of an apparent left leg injury. Quarterback Marcus Mariota put his arm around his close on the sideline to console him and redshirt freshman Doug Brenner took assumed his duties anchoring the line.
”It’s tough but it’s part of the game that we play. Prayers go out to him,” Mariota told reporters after the game. ”But at the same time Doug did a good job of stepping up. We’ve got a lot of trust in him and we’ve got to go with what we have.”
Oregon doesn’t discuss injuries as a policy so it was unclear how serious it was.
Ekpre-Olomu hurt his left big toe early in the game and sat the rest of the way. Later he told The Oregonian that he just "tweaked" it and would be ready for Colorado.
The injuries marred the fifth straight victory for the Ducks, who put up 508 yards in total offense.
But the key play occurred early in the second quarter when an alert Joe Walker returned Kaelin Clay’s careless goal line fumble 100 yards for a touchdown, preventing Utah from taking a 14-0 lead and turning the momentum solidly in Oregon’s favor.
It was just the fifth 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown in NCAA history.
”A lot better being tied at 7 than 14-nothing,” Helfrich said. ”Our guys would have kept playing and wouldn’t have flinches, but that was huge.”
Mariota threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns, while running for 114 yards and another score.
It was his 36th straight game with a touchdown pass and his fifth 100-yard rushing game. The junior Heisman hopeful has passed for multiple touchdowns in 10 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation.
His next opponent, Colorado, has lost six straight and also has a bye before the game at Autzen Stadium on Nov. 22. The Ducks conclude the season against the Beavers in the Civil War rivalry game on Nov. 29 before facing the Pac-12 South champion six days later at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
”We believe in each other. We know what we have to do,” Mariota said. ”We just have to continue to grind it out.”