EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon knew that keeping quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy this season was a must if it wanted to make the College Football Playoff.
The Ducks needed to look no further than last season to see how a diminished (even a mildly diminished) Mariota could affect their game plan and alter how defenses attacked the Ducks.
So from that perspective, this season has been successful. Mariota has been -- for the most part -- healthy.
It’s just everyone else that hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
First Bralon Addison, Mariota's leading returning receiver, went down in the spring with a torn ACL. Then the injuries to the offensive line started to pile up (and they really haven’t stopped since). Running back Thomas Tyner, defensive lineman Arik Armstead and wide receivers Keanon Lowe and Dwayne Stanford have all missed game time.
And then most recently, the Ducks lost cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu for the rest of the season.
With each injury Oregon’s mantra has stayed the same, as it has with every other college football team in the country: Next man up.
And it's been the same with Ekpre-Olomu. Despite losing the three-time All-Pac-12 selection, defensive coordinator Don Pellum said that the “game plan stays the same.”
“It’s been kind of the theme of our team, I’d say, this year,” Armstead said. “Just persevering through injuries and down times in the year.”
However, despite the multitude of injuries the Ducks have suffered and how good they’ve become at overcoming this type of adversity, the injury to Ekpre-Olomu strikes at the foundation of the team.
With the offensive line suffering injuries and readjusting, the Ducks suffered their one and only loss of the season. But still, that was something that they were able to overcome. And with every offensive line injury and shift, the group became more versatile and able to adjust to a new position and lineup nearly every game.
Ekpre-Olomu’s injury strikes a secondary that had seemed to finally hit its stride. In the final four games of the regular season, Oregon allowed just 32.9 percent of completions to go for more than 10 yards, the fifth-best percentage nationally during that period.
During that same time, Oregon allowed just 44.3 percent of completions to go for 10 yards or a first down, fourth-best nationally.
Now, rather than a player who has been picking up reps throughout the season stepping into a starting spot (like has been the case for the offensive line), it’ll be an inexperienced player, redshirt freshman Chris Seisay, taking over for the Jim Thorpe Award finalist Ekpre-Olomu.
Earlier last week defensive coordinator Don Pellum was asked if Seisay, who has only accounted for 20 tackles (Ekpre-Olomu had tallied 63), was ready for this kind of a challenge in the Rose Bowl.
“I don’t think there’s any question -- we have to go play,” Pellum said. “We have one game. We have to go play, right? That’s the bottom line.”
That is the bottom line.
But the biggest question at that line is whether the Ducks can continue to withstand the onslaught of injuries. Will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Mariota has stayed healthy. Not everyone else has. Will that still be enough to beat Florida State?