The BCS No. 13 Oregon Ducks bounced back from a bad loss last week to beat their in-state, Pac-12 nemesis Oregon State 36-35 on Friday in the 2013 edition of the Civil War rivalry at Autzen Stadium.
When the Ducks scored on their first two drives to take an early 14-0 advantage, it seemed like this would be a blowout. However, it did not portend what was to come in this back-and-forth affair.
Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion was intercepted by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on the first possession, which drew a critical critique by Andrew Greif of The Oregonian:
Heisman Trophy contender Marcus Mariota threw two interceptions for the second consecutive game, though. The Ducks signal-caller missed a number of open receivers and struggled with consistency in the regular-season finale.
However, Mariota was sensational when it mattered, and wound up throwing for three touchdowns—all to senior receiver Josh Huff. The two connected with 29 seconds left on a 12-yard pitch and catch to put Oregon on top for good.
But Mariota's picks came on consecutive possessions late in the first half. The last one set up the Beavers for a Mannion four-yard TD strike to running back Terron Ward with only 19 seconds left in the second quarter.
That knotted the score at 17 at halftime.
It was especially surprising that Oregon's prolific offense took a while to get rolling against the Beavers' 95th-ranked scoring defense.
Production from one of the country's premier rushing attacks wasn't a problem, though, as the Ducks racked up over 283 yards on the ground. The big problem was the turnovers, but eventually the stars rose to the occasion for the home team.
Huff and Mariota were sensational, and a perfect throw from the sophomore signal-caller with 7:48 left in the game on 4th-and-11 resulted in a 12-yard touchdown, capping off a superb drive:
Ward nearly cost the Beavers the game with a fumble just outside of the three-minute mark in the fourth, but Oregon State recovered.
The final drive continued, and Victor Bolden took a jet sweep to the house to put the Beavers back on top:
With all three timeouts and roughly a minute and a half to go for the win, Mariota mustered enough magic to get it done.
A huge 3rd-and-5 conversion by running back Thomas Tyner set up Oregon at the Beavers' 12, and after an incompletion, Mariota found Huff for a third touchdown with 29 seconds remaining to seal it.
The Ducks improved to 10-2 with the win, while the Beavers lost their fifth consecutive game and fell to 6-6.
Below is an evaluation of some of the key performers in this heated battle that lived up to the hype.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: B+
There were some concerning, erratic throws and lapses in decision-making, but when it came down to crunch time, Mariota showed some serious clutch ability.
Between the 4th-and-11 throw to Huff and the game-winner, there were impressive displays of Mariota scanning the field and going through multiple reads.
On the final drive, he completed five of eight passes for 76 yards and the decisive touchdown. It is unlikely that his performance was enough to make him the Heisman winner, but it bodes well for Mariota's potential NFL aspirations.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: B-
The bad pick early on started an early onslaught by Oregon that put the Beavers in what turned out to be too big of a hole to ultimately climb out of.
Mannion didn't quite play up to his abilities and missed a wide-open touchdown throw on a wheel route out of the backfield on the first play of the fourth quarter, forcing Oregon State to settle for a field goal to cut it to 24-23 deficit.
Those two plays, had they gone differently, would have likely propelled Oregon State to a victory.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon: A
It almost goes without saying that Huff was the player of the game, so let's focus on defense.
Ekpre-Olumu came to play and helped set the tone for the Ducks from the beginning by capitalizing on Mannion's mistake.
The junior cornerback was the standout in Oregon's secondary with his stellar tackling ability and multiple occasions where he locked down his man. He almost picked off a flea flicker attempt, too, preventing the Beavers from capitalizing on what could have been a momentous trick play.
Terron Ward, RB, Oregon State: A
As mentioned before, the ground game has not been the Beavers' strength this season.
Ward helped reverse that trend at least for one game, scampering for a game-high 144 yards on 17 carries and catching four passes for 21 yards and a touchdown right before the halftime intermission.
That type of spark warrants an exceptional grade.