EUGENE — Marcus Mariota has been right all along: The No. 5 Oregon Ducks just need to play out their season. In December, they’ll see where they land.
Case in point: The developments this weekend, when Oregon defeated Utah 44-21 a few hours before Southern California upset Stanford 20-17.
The loss for the Cardinal popped Oregon back atop the Pac-12 North.
Should the Ducks win their next two games, they will earn a spot in the Pacific-12 Conference championship game for a shot at the Rose Bowl. As for anything else, well, that’s out of Oregon’s control.
“We just try and focus on what we have here. We know what we’re capable of doing,” Mariota said. “Like we always say, we’ll continue to push through it and in December we’ll pick up our heads and see where we’re at.”
While the Ducks are dedicated to taking care of their own business, there are still lingering questions surrounding Mariota and the health of his left knee.
It is believed that Mariota was injured a few weeks ago against UCLA. He played with a brace and appeared to be limited two weeks ago during Oregon’s 26-20 loss at Stanford, which dropped the then-No. 2 Ducks out of a direct shot to the BCS championship game and appeared at the time to deal a blow to a possible conference championship.
Oregon (9-1, 6-1) rebounded with the win over the Utes, who were hobbled by the loss of starting quarterback Travis Wilson to a concussion. Again, Mariota appeared limited, finishing with negative yardage on the ground after he was sacked three times.
Because Oregon does not discuss injuries, there is no way of knowing how serious the injury was — or is. Mariota was still practicing with the brace this week although he may be able to play without it this weekend at Arizona (6-4, 3-4).
While Mariota admits the brace is a bit restrictive, he maintains that his scrambling has mostly been affected by what opposing defenses have shown, and the Ducks calling for fewer read-option plays in response.
Mariota has rushed for 477 yards this season, good for third on the team, with nine touchdowns. But more importantly, he has thrown for 25 touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Wildcats are coming off a 24-17 loss at home to Washington State. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday threw 25 yards to Isiah Myers for the tie-breaking touchdown with 2:15 left and Arizona fell short at the end.
Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey scored two touchdowns, one on a 30-yard run and one on a 7-yard catch, and he had his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, gaining 132 yards in 26 attempts. Carey is the nation’s second-leading rusher at 150.3 yards per game.
Prepping for the Wildcats, the Ducks were understandably happy about the turn of events in the Pac-12. The Cardinal now have two conference losses, compared to Oregon’s one.
No. 10 Stanford hosts California in the Big Game this weekend before wrapping up the regular season out of conference against Notre Dame. After Arizona, Oregon comes home to face Oregon State in the annual Civil War.
As for the Pac-12 championship game between the top finishers in the league’s North and South divisions, BCS standings determine who gets home field.
“In meetings — obviously, guys were excited,” Mariota said about the Ducks’ return to work this week following the weekend’s events. “Coach (Mark) Helfrich came out and told us, ‘Control it, and make sure you don’t get too excited and overlook anything.’ “
Said Helfrich: “Obviously, our guys know what happened. It’s further evidence that we need to handle our business.”
Mariota said he watched USC’s big win with his dad at Red Robin following Oregon’s victory over the Utes.
“Just to see the community get excited, and for me personally to have the opportunity to play in the Pac-12 championship, is huge,” Mariota said. “But we can’t overlook things. We can’t slip up and look past Arizona.”