Oregon Football: What Oregon's First Real Challenge Told Us About the Ducks

Jeff BellCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2013

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Oregon QB Marcus MariotaOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

For those naysayers of the Oregon Ducks, the only argument remaining in their back pockets was destroyed on Saturday afternoon as the Ducks took care of business against the Washington Huskies in a 45-24 victory.

Mark Helfrich's team finally went up against a ranked opponent, and the result was a comfortable three-touchdown victory.

What else is there to say at this point?

One week after the Huskies did everything they wanted against Stanford except win, they played host to a Ducks team that was in control throughout the entire game.

One week after Washington's Keith Price threw for 350 yards against the Cardinal, he was held to 182, and one week after coordinator Justin Wilcox's Husky defense made Stanford work for every yard, his unit was sliced and diced by Marcus Mariota.

What did the victory prove?

In short, that this Oregon team is one of the top three or four teams in the country and is every bit the national title contender we began to think they were during the month of September.

Oregon WR Bralon Addison
Oregon WR Bralon AddisonOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Many Duck fans scoffed at the notion that this team was unproven, but none of the first five opponents really gave us an idea of how good the team could be. Blowout victories were an indication that this group could be special, but Saturday evening was the first time we could definitively talk about Oregon as one of the very best.

Quarterback Mariota is playing better than anybody in the history of Oregon football. Sound a bit sensational?

Maybe you weren't watching the same game then, because the super sophomore passed for 366 yards and three touchdowns to go along with his 88 yards on the ground. In his first real test, he threw darts all over the field, maintained his poise in the pocket and made plays that simply left your jaw hanging.

With the Ducks clinging to a 21-14 lead after Bishop Sankey ran it in from 60 yards out, Mariota tossed a picture-perfect 65-yard pass to Josh Huff. Later in the game, after taking a sack which put the offense in a 2nd-and-17, he threw a frozen rope in between several defenders that hit Bralon Addison right in the numbers for a first down.

To put into perspective how good Oregon's signal-caller was yesterday, check out this stat (via Oregon's SID Andy McNamara):

There are a lot of good quarterbacks in the country, but yesterday proved that Mariota is playing the position better than anybody else in college football.

While the offense is fun to watch, we also learned a lot about the Ducks defense. In the third quarter, it gave up 17 points and far too many rushing yards. The other three quarters? Seven points.

Remember, too, that while Nick Aliotti's gang looked porous at times, Sankey is one of the best running backs in the country, and the Huskies scored 28 against Stanford on the road.

Make no mistake, the defense is very good and the secondary is second to none in the Pac-12.

DE DeForest Buckner harasses QB Keith Price
DE DeForest Buckner harasses QB Keith PriceOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Saturday's game also told us about this team's ability to handle any kind of environment. In the past few years, the Ducks have been road warriors and have arguably played better away from Autzen. The 2013 version looks no different, and despite several false starts, the offense was never really out of sync or flustered.

Washington provided the toughest environment Oregon will be in this season, so you have to feel confident moving forward about the Ducks ability to handle adverse road environments.

Let's not write this team in to the title game just yet, however.

UCLA is going to be another tough test and Stanford, despite the upset loss to Utah, will be ready to do battle in November. Oregon State is lighting up defenses, and even the Utes appear to be a tricky out.

But the Ducks have answered every question and doubt thus far. They've handled bad weather, powered through slow starts and stomped on a ranked foe away from home.

Remember De'Anthony Thomas? Yeah, he didn't even see the field against the Huskies.

It won't be always be smooth sailing, but the Ducks victory over Washington made a national statement that should resonate with voters and fans alike.


All stats via ESPN unless otherwise noted.