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Mariota's return to form sparks offense
Courtesy: GoDucks.com
Release Date: 12/30/2013
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by Rob Moseley
Editor, GoDucks.com

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — On Oregon's second play from scrimmage Monday, Marcus Mariota was trapped in the backfield.

A cheer rose up from the heavily partisan crowd at the Alamo Bowl, as Texas looked to have the UO quarterback bottled up. Instead he turned on the jets, and turned a potential loss into a four-yard gain.

The cheers quickly died. What the silence said instead was: Uh oh. This could be a long night.

With Mariota back near 100 percent for the first time since injuring his knee against UCLA, the Oregon offense was back near peak efficiency at times Monday night. The Ducks continued to have trouble reaching the end zone on red-zone trips, but they used three Matt Wogan field goals, a record-setting night by Josh Huff and Mariota's rejuvenated running game to beat the Longhorns, 30-7.

"It's just so refreshing to see him do what he can do," UO offensive coordinator Scott Frost said of Mariota. "I'm proud of him, because I think he was judged unfairly when we lost a couple games, even though he played well."

Despite Mariota's 133 rushing yards — an Alamo Bowl record for a QB — the Ducks had just two field goals on offense until late in the first half. Then, Josh Huff capped a scoring drive with his 12th receiving touchdown of the season, tying Jeff Maehl's UO single-season record.

Later, Huff would get to 1,140 receiving yards for the season, breaking the UO record Bob Newland set in 1970 — an 11-game season, it should be noted.

"Records come and go," Huff said with a shrug. "But victories stay forever."

Huff, a Houston native, eagerly anticipated the matchup with the Longhorns because they spurned him in the recruiting process. But afterward, he expressed no ill will.

"I wouldn't call it revenge," Huff said. "I just came out and played my game, against a great Texas defense, and we were able to come out with the victory."

The UO offense managed just three points after halftime, with the Ducks getting a second defensive touchdown of the night to pad their lead over Texas. Oregon played after halftime with Mariota cramping up, and with senior Everett Benyard in for two-year starter Tyler Johnstone at left tackle.

Benyard entered the game in the first half after Johnstone suffered a knee injury, which he later revealed to be a torn ACL. That meant Benyard had the task of blocking Texas all-American Jackson Jeffcoat, leading Frost to adjust his play calling a bit.

"He's a real good player," Benyard said. "He ain't all-American for no reason. I went hard; he beat me a couple times, I beat him a couple times. We went at it, and it was fun."

Mariota seemed to be having a bit less fun, regularly getting stretched out by trainers during breaks in the action. He chalked his cramps up to not being in shape, but afterward teammates posted online a photo of Mariota receiving an IV, and Mark Helfrich jokingly grabbed a banana to offer him in the postgame locker room for some potassium.

"That's mostly on me," Mariota said. "I should have been running after practices. It's been a while since I've been running like that."

The UO offense managed to secure the win despite just five touches for 37 yards by De'Anthony Thomas, a star of Oregon's two previous bowl games.

"We've got three backs, and it was a rotation," Frost said. "De'Anthony's been an unbelievable piece of our puzzle for a long time, and I'm just glad he came to Oregon."

Byron Marshall started at running back and finished with 43 yards, giving him 1,038 for the season. Thomas Tyner ran six times for 22 yards.

With 469 yards of offense on the night, Oregon finished with 7,345, a school record in Frost's first season as coordinator. It might have been more if not for the injury that robbed Mariota of health in November, but he at least was able to put a final flourish on the year Monday night.

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