When third-and-one became third-and-11 in overtime, there was not much doubt where Oregon would aim to get the ball.
Junior receiver Dillon Mitchell lined up in the slot and ran toward the sideline to bring in a 17-yard reception from Justin Herbert.
“That’s a play we run 20 times at practice,” Herbert said. “Dillon knew how to get open and ran a great route. He’s a guy that just makes plays whenever he’s on the field.”
That was the eighth and final catch of the day for Mitchell. Three plays later, CJ Verdell ran in to the end zone to finish off No. 17 Oregon’s 30-27 win over seventh-ranked Washington Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium as fans rushed to join the Ducks on the field.
“First time I’ve ever seen people run on the field like that. It was crazy,” Mitchell said.
After Washington kicked a field goal to open overtime, Verdell ran the ball twice to get Oregon to the 16-yard line. A holding penalty on the next play moved the ball back to the 26 before Mitchell’s catch got the Ducks a first down at the 9.
“We felt like we could get it,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “Obviously the holding penalty was brutal for us to have in a situation like that, but it goes back to what we have been stressing about the next play and we did that. The protection was good and Dillon did a heck of a job getting out of his break and then what can you say, Justin put it on the money and we kept the sticks moving.”
If Mitchell had not caught the pass, the Ducks would have been looking at trying to convert on fourth-and-11 or sending out kicker Adam Stack for a 43-yard field goal after he missed one earlier from 42 yards.
“I had the nickel over the top of me and he was trying to wall me off like the last couple games since Stanford,” Mitchell said. “I gave him a move and went behind him and he turned and thought I went the other way. So I sat and the No. 1 NFL draft pick found me.”
Herbert has found Mitchell 29 times in the last three games.
“We’ve done a good job moving him around and putting him in different spots,” Herbert said. “We run different routes with him so he is not a one-dimensional guy. He goes out at every position and knows what he’s doing. To have a guy like that makes our offense so much more potent.”
Herbert’s first four completions against the Huskies were all to Mitchell for a total of 68 yards. The first reception by another receiver came on Oregon’s final drive of the first half.
“(Washington) was definitely trying to target me,” Mitchell said. “I could see it and going through the game they were trying to get into my head and talk to me, knock me out of my rhythm. They have a good group, but I feel like I am the type of player who will not let anybody try to hold me back or stop me. I have to contribute to the team and help us win.”
After opening Pac-12 play with 14 catches for 239 yards in a 38-31 overtime loss to Stanford, Mitchell had seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in a 42-24 win over California. With 119 yards and a score against UW, Mitchell’s 29 catches in three conference games have gone for 463 yards and two touchdowns.
“I don’t want to get too much into how we are able to decipher coverages to help our quarterback, but by what we do formationally and from our motions, the quarterback has a really good indicator of where to find not only Dillon, but the rest of his progressions,” Cristobal said. “There isn’t always a primary target, but certain times there are some match-up opportunities we will take and we have done a lot of that over the past three weeks. It’s obvious with the production and the number of times we have targeted Dillon.”
Mitchell’s second catch of the day was a 12-yard touchdown when he got the ball at the 9-yard line and made a couple Huskies miss on his way into the end zone.
“Dillon has stepped up his game with preparation and took on a leadership role,” said sophomore receiver Jaylon Redd, who had three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown. “I’m here to follow him. I believe he’s the best in the Pac-12.”