Oregon crossed another hurdle in its quest to reach college football’s four-team playoff with a 51-27 victory over Utah on Saturday night. The win over the Utes clinched a spot in the Pac-12 Championship for coach Mark Helfrich’s team, and the Ducks have won five in a row since a 31-24 loss to Arizona in early October.
However, Saturday night’s win over Utah could be costly in the long run. Oregon doesn’t release much in the way of injury reports, but a couple key players left the game and were unable to return.
The biggest concern from Saturday night has to be the status of standout center Hroniss Grasu. The senior made his 50th consecutive start in Saturday night’s win over Utah and is one of the leaders for an offense that averages 46 points a game. Grasu left the game with a knee injury and was replaced by Doug Brenner.
In addition to Grasu, Oregon lost tight end Pharaoh Brown due to a serious leg injury, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu left with a toe injury, and defensive end DeForest Buckner left the locker room with ice on his knee.
Considering Oregon’s policy of not discussing injuries, it’s hard to know how long this team could be without Grasu or Buckner. Ekpre-Olomu commented after the game he expects to be ready for Colorado.
While the injuries against Utah are troublesome for Oregon, this team has a bye in Week 12, followed by games against Colorado and Oregon State. The Ducks should be able to beat the Buffaloes and Beavers without being at full strength.
However, it’s the Pac-12 Championship that should be of concern for Helfrich.
Arizona State has won five in a row, and its defense creates a lot of havoc around the line of scrimmage (73 tackles for a loss). And the Sun Devils certainly have no trouble scoring points, as coach Todd Graham’s offense averages 36.7 points per game.
Arizona State still has work to do in order to reach the conference championship, but the Sun Devils are a threat to Oregon’s playoff hopes if they meet in the Pac-12 title game – especially if the Ducks are at less than 100 percent in the injury department.
With the return of tackle Jake Fisher and quarterback Marcus Mariota’s continued play as the best quarterback in college football, Oregon has scored at least 42 points in each of its last five games.
The high-scoring offense has helped to mask some of the issues on defense, where the Ducks rank ninth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per play (5.7) and last in the conference in third-down defense.
Getting Fisher back was huge for the offense, but how much of a blow would it be to this team if Grasu was out for an extended period?
So far, the Ducks’ national title hopes have yet to be derailed by injury. And with a couple of weeks to get everyone at full strength before the Pac-12 title game, that’s a huge break for Helfrich’s team.