Marcus Mariota insists his left knee isn't a concern and that he'll be ready to go Saturday when No. 6 Oregon hosts Utah.
There are lingering questions about how much the mysterious knee injury contributed to the Ducks' loss at Stanford last Thursday. Oregon doesn't discuss injuries, and the sophomore quarterback hasn't been specific about what's going on.
Asked this week whether his knee is an issue, Mariota replied: "Not at all." Pressed whether he is 100 percent, he said: "That's something that I can't tell you." Mariota remains a Heisman Trophy hopeful with a stellar season thus far. He's completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns with no interceptions. And he's ranked second on the team with 495 yards rushing with nine additional TDs.
He has gone 327 attempts without an interception, an ongoing Pac-12 record that dates to last year. But against the Cardinal, it became apparent that Mariota's mobility was hampered. He passed for 250 yards and two TDs. Three of his six rushes were sacks, putting him in negative yardage on the ground. Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) lost 26-20.
"My knee is what it is. I'm not going to use that as an excuse," he told reporters after practice. Mariota is believed to have injured his knee in the Ducks' 42-14 victory over UCLA, and he played the second half with a brace. He wore a brace throughout the game at Stanford.
He was practicing this week with the first team, again wearing a brace. Backup Jeff Lockie worked out with the second team. He said, "Yes, for sure," when asked whether he'd play against the Utes (4-5, 1-5).
The loss to Stanford dropped Oregon from No. 2 to No. 6 in the AP rankings and all but ended the Ducks' bid for a spot in the BCS championship game. It was much the same last season when Stanford defeated Oregon 17-14 at Autzen Stadium, effectively shutting the door on both a title game bid and the Pac-12 championship for the Ducks.
For Oregon fans, Mariota's knee brought back painful memories of the 2007 season, when Dennis Dixon was one of the front-runners for the Heisman and had helped put the Ducks in line for the national title.
Drawing comparisons to Vince Young, Dixon completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and had just four interceptions. He also ran for 583 yards and nine scores. But Dixon's season abruptly ended when his left knee buckled early in then-No. 2 Oregon's upset loss to Arizona. Dixon had actually torn ligaments in his knee in a prior game, but he thought he could close out the season. Instead, he needed surgery, and the Ducks went on to finish 9-4 and play in the Sun Bowl.
This year, Oregon will need to win its remaining games and hope the Cardinal drop one of their final two conference contests to get back in control of hosting the Pac-12 championship. Stanford visits USC on Nov. 16 before hosting rival California, then finishes out-of-conference against Notre Dame.
After Utah, the Ducks travel to Arizona and end the season by hosting rival Oregon State in the annual Civil War game. Should the Ducks win out, they'll likely earn a trip to the Fiesta or Orange bowl.
Utah's lone Pac-12 victory this season was over Stanford. The Utes have lost three straight since then. "Our guys believe 100 percent in our process," Ducks coach Mark Helfrich said. "We got beat by a very good team. You look at what you did well and you look at what you didn't do well, and you try, obviously, to do more of the former than the latter. And move on."