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The play of the game was the kickoff return. It swung all the momentum back in their favor and we never recovered. The wheels came off after that. —Kyle Whittingham, Utah head football coach

EUGENE, Ore. — There were times, a couple anyhow, when the short-handed Utah Utes gave the sixth-ranked Oregon Ducks a real battle at Autzen Stadium. By the time it was over, though, there was a whole lot of quacking going on.

Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, the Ducks eventually overpowered the Utes 44-21 on Saturday.

“That was a very good football team we played today. They had playmakers,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Give them a lot of credit. Give them all the credit. They did a nice job.”

The loss overshadowed the first career start of Utah quarterback Adam Schulz and the return of tight end Jake Murphy from a broken wrist suffered on Oct. 3. Schulz started in place of Travis Wilson, who didn’t make the trip because of an unspecified head injury.

Whittingham said he would expound on Wilson’s situation Monday when he has more information, but noted it was an ongoing issue throughout the week.

“What I can say is it’s a head injury. He was not able to practice at all last week. Part of it was something that happened in the game last week (against Arizona State),” Whittingham said. “And so there’s more than that going on right now. So rather than say something that is not completely accurate I’m going to wait until Monday and talk a little bit more about that.”

Whittingham then added what he called a bottom line.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with him,” he said. “And it’s something that all that matters to us right now is his health. Whether or not he plays is not a factor — it’s Travis and his health overall.”

Schulz, who completed 13 of 30 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown (to Murphy), got off to a sluggish beginning. His first drive at the helm ended with an interception when a pass intended for Sean Fitzgerald was tipped by Oregon’s Troy Hill and picked off by teammate Terrance Mitchell.

Three plays, 38 yards and 51 seconds later, the Ducks cashed in on the takeaway. An 8-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to De’Anthony Thomas put them ahead for good with 8:43 to go in the first quarter.

Oregon later added a 31-yard field goal by Matt Wogan, who followed the previous score with the extra point, to take a double-digit advantage.

Utah’s defense tightened in the second quarter. The Utes sacked Mariota three times while forcing the Ducks to punt on their first two possessions.

Following the second kick, Utah embarked on a 10-play, 72-yard scoring drive. The Utes converted on third down twice along the way before capping things off with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Schulz to Murphy. Andy Phillips followed with the PAT to close the deficit to 10-7 with just less than three minutes remaining in the opening half.

Oregon, though, needed only 45 seconds to retaliate. A 5-yard touchdown toss from Mariota to Josh Huff and a PAT by Wogan capped off all scoring before the break.

Trailing 17-7, Utah made another run on the first drive of the third quarter. A 4-yard TD run by Schulz concluded a sustained drive by the Utes that took nearly five minutes off the clock. Following the extra point, they were once again within three at 17-14.

This time, however, the margin reduction proved to be even more short-lived.

Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown to restore Oregon’s comfort zone and usher in a run of points that eventually swelled to 44-14 early in the fourth quarter.

“The play of the game was the kickoff return,” Whitttingham said. “It swung all the momentum back in their favor and we never recovered. The wheels came off after that.”

The scoring barrage included a 14-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to Johnny Mundt and a pair of rushing TDs from Byron Marshall, who scored from 17 and 16 yards out.

Utah responded to the outburst with a 10-yard touchdown run by Bubba Poole with 6:01 remaining. Phillips hit the PAT to end all scoring in the first Pac-12 meeting between the schools.

“We’ve got to close out games,” said defensive end Trevor Reilly. “ ... It’s just one of those things where — I don’t know what it is — but we have not been able to step on people.”

Reilly was especially displeased with the number of blown coverages and missed assignments the Utes had during the pivotal stretch.

“My little sister could have caught some of those passes,” he said. “Those guys were wide open.”

The setback drops Utah to 4-6 overall and 1-6 in Pac-12 play. The Utes need to close out the season with wins at Washington State next week and at home against Colorado on Nov. 30 to become bowl eligible.

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