Throwing for 456 yards and four touchdowns on 23-of-33 passes, the redshirt sophomore eviscerated the Volunteers secondary for the better part of three quarters before exiting the game. The 456 yards matched bowl performances by former Ducks quarterbacks Akili Smith and Danny O'Neil and Mariota hit three different receivers for touchdowns during a stretch where the Ducks scored on eight consecutive drives to amass 59 unanswered points on a stunned Tennessee defense.
But, post game the man who couldn't escape a camera lens or voice recorder was a true freshman starting on short notice: tight end Johnny Mundt.
Mundt made the most of his first collegiate start, hauling in five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, which were also firsts. It was the most receiving yards by an Oregon tight end since Ed Dickson's 148-yard, three touchdown day against Cal in 2009. Post game, the Modesto (Calif.) product was humble and happy, giving credit to some motivational words from head coach Mark Helfrich.
"Coach Helfrich always says work hard, give it your all and look at the results after," Mundt said. "Right now is a little new, a little overwhelming for me, but it's a great experience."
Mundt started in place of Colt Lyerla, though the reason isn't entirely known why Lyerla was absent. Though Mundt said that he had heard Lyerla was sick, coaches were mum during the post game press conference as to why he was missing, with Helfrich saying it was due to "circumstances". It wasn't until yesterday that Mundt learned he was starting, according to him.
"My mindset was just to make the best of my situation," Mundt said.
Regardless, Mundt took advantage, hauling in his first catch on the Ducks second play from scrimmage. As the Ducks struggled early on to get anything going offensively after falling behind for the first time all season, it was Mundt who stepped up with a 16-yard touchdown catch to put them back ahead. If he was nervous in the least bit, he wasn't showing it.
"It just built up my confidence," Mundt said. "I got my first catch out of the way and from then on it was just building on that."
Mundt continued to make big plays, hauling in a 57-yard catch to close the first quarter that set up a Mariota nine yard touchdown run on the next play. In the third quarter, he struck again with a 17-yard touchdown reception from Mariota. In addition to his stellar offensive play, Helfrich praised Mundt for his work ethic and blocking ability during post game. Mundt didn't want to take too much credit, giving a lot of it to his teammates, but even they knew it was Mundt's day.
"I'm so proud of that guy," Mariota said. "As a freshman you expected him to be wide-eyed, but he was ready to go. He was calm and collected and looked like he had a lot of fun and that's good to see."
What happens now is the big question mark. Until there is clarification on Lyerla's status, Mundt could see a lot more playing time in two weeks when the Ducks open up Pac-12 conference play against Cal and their revamped offense that was installed by new head coach Sonny Dykes.
If Mundt does get more snaps, he has certainly displayed his ability to be effective and Helfrich said that he got to learn a lot about him on Saturday with his performance.
"You learn a lot about those guys when they get hit in the face by an all-SEC defensive end and bounce back and play like that," Helfrich said. "Going forward we'll see how his role changes, adapts, etc."