Both the AP and college football Coaches polls were released Sunday morning and both had Oregon as the overwhelming No. 1 team in college football.
The thought of the Ducks moving to No. 1 seemed a distant possibility just 12 hours earlier in Berkeley when the Cal Bears gave Oregon all it could handle before the Ducks finally pulled away with a 59-17 convincing win.
Not all was good in Duck-land though.
Chip Kelly’s “next man up” philosophy was significantly tested when the injury bug once again bit the Ducks in their hind-feathers leaving fans and coaches wondering if Memorial Stadium had an evil curse over the Ducks.
In total, Oregon felt the sting of injury to four of its starters ( Avery Patterson, Taylor Hart, Kenjon Barner & Marcus Mariota ). Patterson, the most serious of the four, is likely lost for the season with a left knee injury. Hart left the game in the first half with a lower leg injury. As for Barner and Mariota, both were banged up in the first half, ( Barner a hand injury and Mariota a shoulder injury ), however both came back and fought like warriors.
“When you get hit by the injury bug, you need some guys to step up, and those guys came in and did an unbelievable job,” said Oregon linebacker Michael Clay. “It just shows how good the coaches are, getting everyone ready for the game.”
“They did a good job,” Kenjon Barner said after the game. “Coming in here, you know it’s always going to be a battle. They get up for us and give us their best shot.”
Hit hardest by injuries was Oregon’s defensive line. At games end, Nick Aliotti’s defensive front consisted of true freshman Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci. Redshirt sophomore Tony Washington also saw considerable playing time due to the losses of Dion Jordan, Isaac Remington, Ricky Heimuli, Taylor Hart and Wade Keliikipi.
“We knew we just needed to play better and step up,” DeForest Buckner said after the game. “We had to know our assignments and try to do our best.”
When talking about his first game experience, Oregon native Alex Balducci beamed. “It was great,” he said. “I had a little bit of jitters at first but I relied on my training … I felt honestly really prepared. All the older guys … even my fellow freshmen were helping me out.”
Much is made of Chip Kelly’s next man up philosophy and it certainly rang true against the Bears. “They called my name and I answered it” said Balducci. ”I tried to fulfill my role as best I could.”
While the Ducks fought off the injuries and physical challenge of the Bears defense, they ultimately showed their mettle and why they’re undefeated and now ranked No. 1 in the country.
Kelly’s offense led by freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota found its rhythm in the 3rd and 4th quarters and like a surgeons scalpal, they were precise and skillful in the way they attacked Cal’s defense.
Mariota truly had a Heisman-like night throwing for a single game record 6 touchdowns and 377 yards. In his last two games ( USC & Cal ) Mariota has thrown 10 touchdown passes and accumulated 681 passing yards.
Mariota has also been dead on in his accuracy in the last two contests going 47 of 57. With this precision, Mariota now leads the country among quarterbacks in pass efficiency with a rating of 176.96 and is completing 71 percent of his passes which is now a freshman record.
With Alabama’s loss on Saturday to Texas A&M, coaches and pollsters around the country catapulted the Ducks to No. 1 in both the AP and coaches poll. That loss also clears the way for Oregon to solidify its position in one of the top two slots in the BCS rankings which come out later Sunday afternoon.
If Oregon moves into one of those top two slots and they win out over Stanford, Oregon State and the challenger in the Pac-12 championship game, the Ducks would most certainly be on their way to Miami to play for the crystal ball.
But, as Chip Kelly so eloquently says on a daily basis,…”we just take it one day and one game at a time.”