What was supposed to be a shootout between two of the nation’s fastest and most potent offenses ended as a lopsided rout as the No. 3 Oregon Ducks knocked out the No. 22 Arizona Wildcats 49-0 Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks (4-0, 1-0) leaned on a brilliant performance from their defense, shutting out the Wildcats’ fourth-ranked offense in the nation and returning two of their four interceptions for touchdowns. Six times Arizona found itself in the red zone — even creeping to the Ducks’ four-yard line once — but on a night where Oregon’s prolific offense got off to a slow start, their defense had just about everything covered.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota found wideout Daryle Hawkins for a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but it was the only drive out of the Ducks’ first five to put points on the board. They would add kicker Rob Beard’s first two field goals of the year to take a 13-0 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Arizona’s offense completely derailed. After punting on four consecutive drives, Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott threw interceptions on back-to-back drives, the first one taken back to the end zone by cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. After an eight-yard TD run by backup quarterback Bryan Bennett, fellow cornerback Troy Hill added one last score, a pick six down the Oregon sideline to make it 49-0.
Out of the stable. Sophomore Colt Lyerla exploded for a career game, but not at his listed position of tight end. Instead, head coach Chip Kelly unveiled a new wrinkle in his offense: a set package with Bennett under center and Lyerla in the backfield as a tailback. On seven carries, the Hillsboro native bruised the interior of the Wildcats’ defense for 63 yards. He also caught two passes and led the team with 116 all-purpose yards. Kelly acknowledged he’s still toying with Lyerla’s role in the offense, an exciting thought given the 6-foot-5, five-star recruit’s versatility.
“You gain a confidence from your preparation,” Kelly said after the game. “You can’t fake it. (Lyerla) had a great week of practice himself.”
After playing both sides of the ball in high school and excelling at linebacker, Lyerla said Oregon’s willingness to play him on offense played a role in his recruitment.
“i was probably lobbying for (playing time at running back) in the back of my head, but I don’t have the guts to make suggestions like that,” Lyerla said. “I just lucked out.”
Turning point. After Oregon’s offense was relatively dormant in the first half, a 38-yard punt return by sophomore De’Anthony Thomas in the third quarter ignited the crowd and gave Mariota & Co. great field position in Arizona territory. Three plays later, Lyerla barreled it into the end zone from a yard out, although the play may not have been meant for him. A botched read option led to Bennett and Lyerla sharing the ball and running over the goal line together.
“My inexperience at tailback, I didn’t really let the ball go,” Lyerla said. “I don’t really know what to say about that. It was two man, one ball into the end zone.”
The score made it 21-0 after a converted two-point conversion, and the deficit only widened from there.
On the horizon. The Ducks now travel to Seattle to play the Washington State Cougars, playing outside of their usual home in Pullman, Wash. The Cougars lost a nail-biter to Colorado on Saturday, 35-34.