by Rob Moseley
For the second straight week, Oregon's mood when the Ducks hit the practice field Monday will be greatly affected by the Stanford Cardinal.
Last week, four days after losing at Stanford, the Ducks might have been a bit sluggish for their Monday workout. At least that was Nick Aliotti's sense, although the UO defensive coordinator acknowledged Saturday that might have been viewed too much through the prism of his own mindset.
This week, it could be a doubly rejuvenated Oregon team that enters the Moshofsky Center on Monday. Not only did the now-No. 5 Ducks rebound with a 44-21 victory over Utah on Saturday, but Stanford lost at USC, putting Oregon back in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 North division.
"We got some help from a strange friend," Helfrich said Sunday evening. "That's a reality. But a lot of things can happen between wherever we are now and wherever we're supposed to be.
"We need to take care of right now."
For the Ducks (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12), who moved up one spot to No. 5 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings Sunday — the top-ranked one-loss team — that means Saturday's final regular-season road game of 2013, at Arizona. The game will kickoff at 12:30 p.m. PT, and will be televised in a reverse-mirror situation on either ABC or ESPN2, based on your region of the country.
For everyone else around the program, the result Saturday at USC changed everything. A few days ago, an Orange Bowl berth seemed like the best-case scenario for the Ducks. Now, the Pac-12 Conference title and a not-to-be-taken-for-granted third trip in five years to the Rose Bowl are in play.
Oregon hosts the Civil War next week. Avoid slip-ups against the Wildcats and Beavers, and the Ducks figure to host the Pac-12 title game, most likely against Arizona State or UCLA.
For the second time this season, the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4) have lost two straight following a three-game win streak. Arizona fell 24-17 to Washington State on Saturday, after losing to UCLA to kick off a three-game homestand that concludes against the Ducks.
"They'll be trying to right the ship after last week, and we need to be prepared," Helfrich said.
The Ducks figure to pay a significant amount of attention to Arizona junior running back Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher. Carey averages 150.33 yards per game, and has scored 12 touchdowns.
"You need to try to limit him; you're not going to stop him," Helfrich said.
Oregon counters with a defense averaging 4.42 yards per play, seventh-fewest in the nation and best in the Pac-12. The Ducks are also top-10 nationally in some of the most important metrics that determine success, including turnover magin (seventh, plus-1.2), plays of 20-plus yards on offense (second, 84) and plays of 20-plus yards allowed (tied for first, 23).
Individually, the Ducks have their own offensive star in quarterback Marcus Mariota. The sophomore is sixth nationally and first in the Pac-12 with a passer rating of 176.24, and his Pac-12 record of attempts without an interception is now up to 353.
Asked about that streak Sunday, Helfrich said he could "elaborate (but) I can't explain it."
Mariota's sore left knee has limited him in the run game, Helfrich acknowledged. But physical defensive fronts for recent opponents Stanford and Utah plus other breakdowns by Oregon have also affected the UO running game, he said.
"There's a lot of things we can do better that we need to improve on," Helfrich said. "In every phase we played well in spurts Saturday, but not really a complete game."
The Ducks go about trying to fix that Monday, perhaps with a bit more pep in their step than a week before.