College football in November is tough.
Despite escaping Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium with a solid 51-27 win, celebrating that win might be a little too tough this week. Yes, it was a win that booked Oregon’s trip to the Pac-12 Championship. Yes, the win means the team’s path to the National Championship is still intact. And yes, the win kept Mariota in front of the Heisman Trophy race. In the mix of all that excitement however, is a big fat grey cloud looms. In short, the win was very costly.
In the dog fight that was Oregon vs. Utah, several key players on both sides left the field wounded- some limping, some carted and some, in the case of Oregon Tight End, Pharoah Brown, by ambulance. It was an ugly night in Salt Lake and both teams saw their teammates dreams halted, if not shattered. It’s hard to celebrate after that.
Now back in Oregon, the Ducks will begin the work of re-shuffling as three starters, two of which are All-Americans, were victim to the injury-stricken madness in Utah. Cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, left the game early with a toe injury, but is expected to return after a much-needed bye week. Tight End, Pharoah Brown, however is reportedly out for the season and is in fact still recovering at a Hospital in Salt Lake City. Though Oregon does not discuss injuries, video footage of the game clearly indicates he suffered a gruesome knee injury. Brown’s loss will be felt as he has been a stand-out playmaker this season after bouncing back from previous injuries the past two years. That being said, the amount of offensive weapons in Mariota’s toolbox should lessen the blow a little bit. The third major loss, however, might not be so easy to recover from.
In the 4th quarter, as the Ducks were rolling past Utah, Senior Center, Hronis Grasu, sustained what appeared to be a knee injury. Though it is unknown how extensive Grasu’s injury is, should he be out of for the season, the Ducks will have to overcome yet another very big hurdle as they chase their Natty hopes. As fans have already witnessed, losing a veteran offensive lineman can spell disaster and losing Grasu presents the same, or even bigger, challenge that losing a guy like Jake Fisher did. Mariota can, and has, carried the team in many ways but needs a decent line protecting him– especially as the team looks to face a very tough Arizona State team in the Pac 12 Championship and perhaps even tougher teams should they make it into the College Football Playoffs.
If you look at the problems that plagued Oregon a couple of games into the season, one of the main issues was “communication”. That communication quickly improved when Jake Fisher returned. As Grasu explained shortly after Fisher’s return, the veteran guys on the line, along with Mariota, are able to “communicate” easily between them with even just a look. That apparently goes a long way. If the leader of that line, an All-American expected to be a top NFL draft pick, who is responsible for much of that communication isn’t there, what will it mean for the Ducks? Only time will tell.
Should Grasu not be able to play following the bye week, he will be replaced by Red Shirt Freshman, Doug Brenner, a 3-Star Oregon Native from Jesuit High School in Portland, OR. Though very capable, Brenner will have big shoes to fill. After the game, Mariota told reporters,
“Doug did a good job stepping up. We’ve got a lot of trust in him.”
With that trust, though, will come the need to establish some familiarity with Brenner which Mariota also addressed saying,
“There’s a little difference in his snap but its all on us quarterbacks. We got to make sure we catch and see the ball.”
Make no mistake, Mariota will do what he has done all season long. He will make plays and do whatever he can to get the win and carry the team on his back. For Brenner, that looks like being coached up and encouraged by the best quarterback in the country should he become the “next man up”.