With a beat-up offensive line, Oregon will keep getting beaten down

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota pitches the ball away while being tackles by Arizona's Jared Tevis on Oct. 2 at Autzen Stadium.
(Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images)

They don’t yell “Ducks!” anymore at Oregon.

They yell “duck!”

Arizona went to Eugene on Thursday night and did to Oregon what Washington State almost did 12 nights earlier in Pullman.

Arizona fell two sacks short of matching the seven Washington State had of Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.


Oregon needs a bulletproof bubble to protect Mariota, the nation’s best player stuck behind the nation’s most offensive offensive line.

We said injuries might dictate the course of a championship season.

Thursday was proof. Arizona left Eugene 5-0 after a 31-24 win that could foreshadow a wild, wind-shifting weekend.

Mariota, sacked 12 times in two games, looked shellshocked as he walked out of Autzen Stadium.

Offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Mariota had not recovered from the beating he took at Washington State.

One loss won’t take Oregon out of the national chase in the new four-team playoff. What will take Oregon out is an injury-ravaged offensive line that can’t run block or pass protect.

Oregon will lose three or four games, starting next week at UCLA, with the unit that is suiting up right now.

The good news is Coach Mark Helfrich has, at least temporarily, abandoned the school’s ridiculous policy of not acknowledging injuries.

How else are you going to win over the sympathy vote?

“We’ve got a bunch of hurt guys,” Helfrich said of the line. “So it’s kind of coulda-woulda-shoulda.”

Arizona’s win exposed Oregon and further demonstrated that the addition of coaches such as Rich Rodriguez has made the Pac-12 a very deep well.

“I bet you people didn’t think this was going to happen,” Rodriguez said.

We’re not sure what folks are thinking at Michigan, which didn’t think much of Rodriguez up to the time it fired him.

Why would a school not warmly welcome one of the best, most respected and innovative coaches in the sport?

Ah, maybe Michigan has other things to worry about these days.

Oregon’s defeat put the Pac-12 onus back on one-loss Stanford, which needs a win at Notre Dame on Saturday. And also on UCLA, which will be the league’s rankings bell cow if it beats Utah at the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, college football’s pivot swings east from Eugene to Mississippi, primarily known until now for a river and William Faulkner.

The Magnolia state tries to tilt the axis of power, one state to the west. Alabama has put a team in the national title game every season since 2008, winning four straight until Florida State clipped Auburn in the last game.

Is Mississippi ready to host two games, involving four top-12 teams, only 76 miles apart?

ESPN’s GameDay crew makes its first trip to Oxford to over-cover the undefeated showdown between No. 3 Alabama and No. 11 Mississippi.

Ole Miss has been building for this day ever since Coach Hugh Freeze landed a top-10 recruiting class in 2013. After which many asked: “How could that happen without cheating?”

It turns out the NCAA has opened up a case against Ole Miss, but apparently it doesn’t involve Freeze.

Must everything be a competition? Mississippi has three major NCAA probations in its history and needs one to tie Mississippi State for the state record.

The outside haters won’t dampen an Ole Miss pregame picnic ready to welcome the world to its famous Grove.

“I really want our people to enjoy the journey,” Freeze said.

Mississippi thought it was ready for Alabama last season but was shut down, 25-0, in Tuscaloosa.

Freeze is trying to downplay the significance of any one SEC game.

“You can’t make too much of it,” he said. “Too much of a win . . . or too much of a loss.”

A few miles down a country road, undefeated Mississippi State hosts undefeated Texas A&M in the biggest even to hit Starkville since . . . ever.

The SEC Network’s on-site coverage crew includes Tim Tebow, who played quarterback at Florida under offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, now the head coach at Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs had been miserable in big games under Mullen until recently stunning Louisiana State in Baton Rouge.

“This is what it’s about in the SEC,” Mullen said of Saturday’s big day.

More positive publicity . . . just what the conference needs.