Mariota fires six TD passes as Oregon routs Cal

Jake Curtis, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Oregon struggled for a while against injury-plagued and slumping Cal on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, but quarterback Marcus Mariota made certain the Ducks would not suffer the same fate that befell Alabama earlier in the day.
Mariota tied a school record with six touchdown passes, including four in the second half, as the Ducks pulled away for a 59-17 victory that presumably will lift Oregon to the No. 1 ranking in the polls for the first time this season. The Ducks were ranked No. 2 in the most recent polls but No. 3 in the BCS standings.
Whether the win was enough to earn Oregon the top spot in the BCS remains to be seen. Regardless, with Alabama's loss earlier in the day, Oregon (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12) now seems virtually assured of a berth in the national championship game if it wins its remaining games, starting with next week's home game against No. 15 Stanford.
The Bears bottled up Kenjon Barner, who was limited to 65 yards after rushing for 321 a week ago against USC, but they had no answer for Mariota. The redshirt freshman was 27-for-34 for a career-high 377 yards with no interceptions.
"He's a special player, and he keeps getting better and better," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
Mariota had to leave the game briefly in the second quarter when he landed on his left shoulder on a run, aggravating a previous injury, but he returned later in the period and showed no ill effects as he dominated the game.
He was aware Alabama lost, but he did not attach any significance to that for the Ducks.
"That has no effect on how we play," Mariota said.
Cal, playing without starting quarterback Zach Maynard and its best player, wide receiver Keenan Allen, was still in the game midway through the third quarter. The Bears (3-8, 2-6) trailed just 24-17 and were moving the ball consistently well behind Maynard's replacement, Allan Bridgford.
The Bears, who lost their fourth game in a row, pulled within seven points of Oregon in the third quarter on a 74-yard touchdown drive. Isi Sofele, who finished with 134 yards rushing, had 56 yards on the drive, including a 31-yard gain and a 4-yard touchdown run.
The game turned when Oregon's Boseko Lokombo intercepted a pass from Bridgford at the Cal 35-yard line. On the next play, Mariota threw a touchdown pass to Josh Huff to make it 31-17 midway in the third quarter.
"I think that two-play sequence may have been the game-changer," Kelly said.
"That really flipped the momentum," Mariota said.
Mariota tossed a 39-yard scoring pass to Huff to make its 38-17 later in the third quarter, and that put the game out of reach.
"It's very disappointing," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "We were playing well when we stopped them the first series (of the second half) and came down the field and scored. It was a very tight game, and everything was very competitive. As they do, in the second half, they made a lot of big plays. Their big plays tonight came in the pass game."
The Ducks made the game look like a rout when Mariota threw two more touchdown passes before sitting down for the night.
"I feel like I'm getting better every week," Mariota said.
Oregon entered the game ranked second in the nation in rushing, but it managed just 180 yards on the ground against the Bears.
"Cal filled the box, and that gave us opportunities in the passing game," Mariota said.
The Ducks seemed to take control of the game with a touchdown late in the first half. They held a tenuous 17-10 lead when they took over at their own 31-yard line with 2:02 left before halftime. They went 69 yards, nearly all though the air, before scoring on Huff's 10-yard touchdown reception with 44 seconds left.
The Bears scored first in the third quarter and were in position to pull a major upset before collapsing after Bridgford threw his first interception.
Bridgford finished 9-for-21 for 113 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
NOTES: Barner left for a series in the first half due to a hand injury, but he came back and played the whole second half. ... Oregon safety Avery Patterson had to leave the game in the first half with a leg injury. ... Oregon's 13-game winning streak is now the longest in the nation with Alabama's loss. ... The Ducks set two Football Bowl Subdivision records. They scored at least 30 points for a 23rd consecutive game, and they posted 42 points or more for the 13th straight game. ... Bridgford made his second career start. He started the season opener because Maynard had missed a tutoring session during the summer and was held out of the starting lineup for the first game. Bridgford came into Saturday's game having completed just four of 16 passes for the season.

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