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Ducks inhospitable in Carrington’s return

EUGENE — Darren Carrington’s return to Autzen Stadium resulted in lots of catches for lots of yards for the former Oregon receiver, but the only touchdown he was responsible on Saturday went the other way.

Ugochukwu Amadi’s strip, scoop and score off Carrington was the turning point in a 41-20 victory against Utah at Autzen Stadium, and highlighted a standout performance by the Ducks’ defense.

“Watching film on him, he was very vulnerable having the ball out,” Amadi said. “And in practice, coach (Willie) Taggart always emphasizes stripping the ball no matter who it is.”

On the play, a swing pass to Carrington on the Utes’ side of the field, Amadi knocked the receiver back for a 6-yard loss before reaching in with his right hand and ripping the ball away just before Carrington’s left knee touched the turf.

The junior cornerback scooped up the loose ball and went 47 yards unchallenged into the end zone to put Oregon up 17-3.

“That was a huge play for us, that was a big momentum change in the football game for us,” Taggart said. “That was big.”

It was also was gratifying, Taggart said, since the coaches “harp on that so much in practice. We have coaches running after our guys all the time in practice telling them to strip the ball, strip the ball, strip the ball. … We have been preaching it for a while and we hadn’t done it. We finally did it in a game.”

Carrington was dismissed from Oregon in July after being cited for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

The senior, who had already graduated, transferred to Utah and has been having a solid season for the Utes, with 45 receptions and a Pac-12-leading 92.7 yards per game coming into the day.

But his former teammates were fired up to play the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Carrington, who had 112 receptions for 1,919 yards and 15 TDs in 33 career games for the Ducks.

Even though he finished with nine catches for 130 yards, Carrington was kept out of the end zone and without a victory.

“It was a fun time,” cornerback Arrion Springs said. “We heard throughout the week, the (defensive backs), that Darren’s going to do this, Darren’s going to do this, and yeah, he had some good yards, some good plays, but overall I felt we did great. We stopped him from scoring. Everybody said, ‘I wonder what he’s gonna do when he scores a touchdown?’ We’ll never know.”

The Utes didn’t get many chances to celebrate thanks to a defensive effort by Oregon that held them to 384 yards on offense. Utah was 4-for-14 on third down, had 10 plays result in negative yards and was held to field goals on a pair of trips deep into the red zone.

“I thought they did a good job,” Taggart said. “All week long we said we weren’t making this thing about Darren Carrington coming back. We had to play total defense and play their entire offense, and I thought our guys did a great job of containing their entire offense.”

Taggart met up with his former player after the game and embraced him on the field.

“I told him I was proud of him,” Taggart said, “and keep working hard and keep his nose clean and learn and keep growing.”

HERBERT DRESSES: Injured quarterback Justin Herbert was in uniform for the Ducks and took part in pre-game warmups four weeks after suffering a broken collarbone against California. He spent the game signaling in plays from the sideline.

“I think if we needed to play Justin he could’ve played,” Taggart said.

When asked directly if his sophomore starter was medically cleared to return, Taggart responded: “He’s throwing the football. He’s practicing, and it’s great to see.”

The Ducks are 1-3 in Herbert’s absence, with freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister earning his first win as a starter since taking over.

Burmeister was 9-for-12 for 47 yards and one touchdown against the Utes.

REACHING 1,000: Senior running back Royce Freeman had 139 yards on 20 carries to increase his season total to 1,082 yards. It’s the third time in his career that Freeman has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark, tying him with LaMichael James for most in Oregon history.

Freeman also became the first Oregon player to accumulate 6,000 all-purpose yards. He now has 6,036.

MARIOTA ATTENDS: Former quarterback Marcus Mariota was at the game watching from the sideline as his NFL team, the Tennessee Titans, are on a bye week.

Freeman said it was inspiring to see the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner hanging around the Oregon football center this week.

“Seeing alumni like Marcus, guys who have been so successful here at the university, it kind of motivates you,” Freeman said. “There’s no better guys around that you ask to see.”

Utah's Darren Carrington II runs between Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., left, and Oregon linebacker Justin Hollins after a reception during the first quarter on Saturday. [THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]