Soft label fuels UO fire
PASADENA, Calif. — In the process of forcing five turnovers, using all of them to score touchdowns and amassing more points than any other Rose Bowl victor, Oregon sent a message to the rest of the nation: These Ducks are not made of rubber, papier-mâché or wax.
“They tried to call us soft, our whole team soft,” Ducks wide receiver Darren Carrington said. “That was just fuel for our fire.”
The resulting inferno consumed Florida State — the defending national champion — during a 59-20 rout in Thursday night’s national semifinal.
“We were able to come out and step on the gas from the get-go,” said Carrington, a redshirt freshman who caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns — all career highs.
“People have been doubting us all year, calling us soft, underestimating us,” added linebacker Derrick Malone Jr., who forced one fumble and recovered another. “But each and every week, we’ve been stepping up to the challenge and proving people wrong.”
The Ducks blazed especially fiercely in the second half, when Oregon scored 34 unanswered points after the Seminoles narrowed their deficit to 25-20 with 8:07 left in the third quarter.
“It didn’t even matter how many touchdowns we scored,” Carrington said. “We just wanted to keep on scoring touchdowns.”
A 27-point third quarter — with 20 points resulting from turnovers — devastated the Seminoles, who had won 29 consecutive games until Thursday night.
“They quit,” Oregon wide receiver Byron Marshall said. “We expected that. You could visually see that in the third quarter. They were just tired of getting their (posteriors) kicked.”
Life without Ifo
The absence of linebacker Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who suffered a season-ending knee injury Dec. 18, provided motivation for Oregon’s defense.
“Man, I think we came out harder,” said freshman Chris Seisay, who replaced Ekpre-Olomu in the starting lineup. “I think we played with a chip on our shoulder. We play harder whenever someone goes down.”
As a result, the Ducks not only recovered four fumbles and intercepted a pass but made two pivotal defensive plays in succession to keep Florida State from scoring an early touchdown.
With Oregon holding an 8-3 lead, the Seminoles advanced to the Ducks’ 1-yard line. But on third-and-goal, safety Reggie Daniels and lineman Alex Balducci stopped Karlos Williams for no gain as time expired in the first quarter.
On fourth-and-goal, the Seminoles appeared to move ahead on quarterback Jameis Winston’s 1-yard lunge three seconds into the second quarter. But a video reply showed linebacker Tony Washington grabbing Winston’s left leg and forcing his knee to touch the ground before Winston placed the ball over the goal line.
The Ducks took over on downs and ended the ensuing drive with Aidan Schneider’s 28-yard field goal to build an 11-3 lead.
“I’ve never seen this group so dialed in, so ready and so prepared,” Malone Jr. said. “This is the best week of preparation we’ve ever had. Every single thing we did, we were focused on what we had to do.”
Nelson provides help
Though Charles Nelson did not score Oregon’s first touchdown — despite a somersault over the right pylon — his play enabled the Ducks to engage in some trickery.
Following Royce Freeman’s 1-yard scoring run, backup quarterback Taylor Alie — the holder on conversion kicks — threw a pass to Christian French for a two-point conversion with 6:55 left in the first quarter.
Before Freeman’s run, Nelson took a pitchout from Marcus Mariota and ran for 14 yards to the Seminoles’ 1. He tried to somersault his way into the end zone but video replay denied the touchdown.
“After we scored, they looked like they were a little bit tired after that long drive,” said Alie, who added that he noticed, “a kind of confusion with whether Charles scored or not.
“Once we broke out they didn’t look ready to go.”
So Alie said he called for the two-point conversion attempt.
“We practice all sorts of stuff and we’re on our toes all the time,” Alie said. “So we’re ready to do anything.”
Mariota added to his collection of records by setting the Pacific-12 Conference’s single-season record for touchdown passes Thursday night. Mariota threw two scoring passes to surpass USC’s Matt Barkley, who established the standard in 2011, and now has 40.
Mariotta also amassed 400 yards of total offense, and needs 135 to move into second place on the Pac-12’s all-time list.
Freeman moves up
With two touchdowns, Freeman moved into fifth place in Oregon’s single-season scoring list. He will enter the Jan. 12 national championship game with 112 points, two more than De’Anthony Thomas scored in 2011. Nathan Villegas owns fourth place with 117 points.
Special day for Loyd
Former Oregon basketball standout Johnathan Loyd can tell his children that he played in the Rose Bowl.
Loyd made three fair catches on punts in the fourth quarter, as both the Ducks and Florida State spent the fourth quarter playing reserves.
After completing his basketball career, Loyd — who also played football at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas — walked on to the Ducks’ football team during the second week of spring workouts. He returned 10 punts for 122 yards, second on the team in both categories, and caught four passes for 19 yards and a touchdown.
A four-year letterman in basketball, Loyd ranks fourth in Ducks’ history in career steals (152) and fifth in assists (468).
Redshirt freshman Devon Allen suffered an undisclosed injury while returning the opening kickoff 20 yards. Allen, the Ducks’ leader with seven touchdown receptions, had an ice bag on his right leg and left the field in a wheelchair.