Mariota, Freeman lead charge as No. 2 Ducks rock Buffaloes
EUGENE, Ore. -- Marcus Mariota got his curtain call at Autzen Stadium.
With the 44-10 victory already in hand Saturday against Colorado, No. 2 Oregon sent its Heisman-hopeful quarterback out for the first snap of the fourth quarter.
That allowed the fans a chance to give Mariota a standing ovation when he handed off the rest of the game to backup Jeff Lockie. The crowd chanted "Mar-i-o-ta!"
The game may have been Mariota's last at home in Eugene. The junior has one more season of eligibility left, although it's widely expected that he'll head for the NFL draft when this season is over.
"If this is my last game at Autzen it was truly special," he said, "and something I'll keep close to my heart for the rest of my life."
Mariota threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 73 yards and another score against Colorado, giving him 42 total touchdowns this season to set a Pac-12 record.
Freshman Royce Freeman ran for 105 yards and two additional scores for the Ducks (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12). Oregon has already clinched the North Division's berth in the conference championship game on Dec. 5.
It was the seventh straight loss for Colorado (2-9, 0-8).
Mariota, who has thrown a touchdown pass in every game of his career at Oregon, has not yet said what his postseason plans are. Should he go to the NFL, he is projected by many as a top-five pick.
He has thrown 32 touchdowns this season with just two interceptions and leads the nation in quarterback rating. With 42 total touchdowns this season (32 passing, 9 rushing and 1 TD catch), he passed former USC quarterback Matt Barkley (41) for the Pac-12's single-season record.
"I couldn't have done it without all those guys in the locker room," Mariota said. "To me, it is what it is -- a number. I'm sure another guy will come around in the next couple of years and break it."
Against Colorado, Mariota became the fifth in an exclusive group of quarterbacks who have thrown for 9,000 yards and run for another 2,000. Among the names on that list are Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick.
Colorado started sophomore Jordan Gehrke at quarterback instead of Sefo Liufau. It was Gehrke's first start.
Liufau, who has 27 touchdowns this season, started the second half. He had a bye to recover from a concussion he sustained against Arizona, but his status for the game was still in question earlier this week.
"It's obviously different coming in the second half than starting the game, but every time you go out there you want to try and get better," Liufau said. "Obviously, it was a rough day but there's definitely things we can learn from."
Oregon scored on Freeman's 20-yard run on the Ducks' first drive of the game, but the two-point conversion failed. Mariota ran for a 46-yard TD to up the lead to 13-0.
Freeman added a 7-yard scoring run to give the Ducks a 20-0 lead before Will Oliver's 23-yard field goal put Colorado on the scoreboard.
Freeman became the first true freshman to reach 1,000 yards rushing at Oregon.
Mariota threw a 31-yard scoring pass to freshman Charles Nelson and Matt Wogan added a 25-yard field goal to make it 30-3 for the Ducks at halftime.
After Mariota's 15-yard touchdown pass to Evan Baylis to start the second half, Liufau found Donovan Lee with a 5-yard scoring pass for Colorado to make it 37-10.
Nelson caught a 14-yard TD from Mariota -- which put him past Barkley for the Pac-12 touchdown record -- before the third quarter was over.
Coach Mark Helfrich patted Mariota on the helmet when he reached the sidelines after his one snap in the fourth quarter.
Asked about the plan to give Mariota a chance for a last Autzen ovation, Helfrich said: "I think that kind of explains itself."
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said if Mariota stays healthy there's no limit to how far Oregon can go this season.
"I think they're the best football team (in the country). I don't care what anybody says, because he's the best quarterback in the nation. When you have the best quarterback with the talent they've got and the defense, they've got a chance to be really, really, really good," MacIntyre said. "I hope they go win it all."
The Ducks were without center Hroniss Grasu, who was injured in Oregon's last game, a 51-27 victory over Utah. Grasu was greeted with applause when he came out on crutches as part of the Senior Day pre-game ceremony.