Finally, Ducks Get Some Respect
EUGENE, Ore. -- Remember way back when USC would walk into pretty much any stadium in the country and say to themselves, "we are USC and therefore, we will be victorious" and then they would kick the crap out of everybody?
Those days are over.
OK well maybe they're not over. And I don't really think USC players said that to themselves before every game, but you have to admit there was a time when Trojans struck fear into the hearts of everyone and won games because they were supposed to. Oregon coach Mike Bellotti might have put it best afterward when he called USC the "flag-bearer" for the Pac-10 the last three years.
But it was Oregon 24, USC 17 on this beautiful Saturday in Eugene and that makes it almost impossible to not give the Ducks quite a bit of credit.
It was definitely a team effort here at Autzen, but when you talk about the Ducks winning you have to talk about running back Jonathan Stewart, who gained 103 yards on 25 carries. I'm not sure what adjective best describes this kid: amazing, impressive, talented, humble ... they all seem to fit. I think I'd describe him as "great in the clutch," because he came up on more than one occasion with big yardage when the Ducks needed it.
"This is a big win," Stewart said. "To the people that think our defense is lacking our offense might break down, it shows them we're a complete team."
And then, of course, there's Dixon, who completed 16-25 passes for 157 yards and rushed for 76 yards and one touchdown. Spectacular? No. But the Ducks will take what they can get right now and that's a solid QB whose leadership and play-making ability has skyrocketed since last season.
Bellotti pointed out it's not just Dixon who's more relaxed this year.
"We are more patient overall and don't feel like we have to go for broke every time," he explained, adding that the attitude change has made a huge difference for the Ducks in crunch-time situations.
When we're picking a player of the game though, let's go with FS Matthew Harper, a senior, who had two HUGE interceptions. Not a bad time to grab your first picks in a Duck uniform.
"Pretty much our defensive backs gave up a lot of plays last week [against Washington] which we shouldn't have and we wanted to control that this week," Harper said. "I don't think they had too many big plays today and that helped us win."
"This was a defensive victory," Bellotti said. "I can't say enough about Matthew Harper, coming up with some big, big plays, but our entire football team ... never wavered and knew what they could do."
The Ducks had to earn every yard they gained, and you have to give them points for persistence. Bellotti wanted to make sure everyone understood that USC's defense did a good job defending the Ducks (and they did) but it was still Oregon that came out on top.
Oregon won, but it wasn't like USC just keeled over and handed it to the Ducks. Sanchez completed 26-41 for 277 yards and two touchdowns and Patrick Turner had seven receptions for 107 yards. In fact, the Trojans had more total yards than the Ducks did (378 compared to 339). The penalties did hurt though. USC finished with six penalties, losing 80 yards while the Ducks lost only five.
"Oregon didn't make any critical errors," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "When you give teams the ball it's so hard to win, especially with a team that's as loaded as Oregon is."
Carroll admitted Oregon's defense was much better than he anticipated (all of us know how you feel, Pete) and said he felt like his guys struggled to get anything going.
"Our defense plays for those moments," said Harper about his interception with 11 seconds to go when the Trojans were threatening to tie. We want to play at the last minute, we want to show everybody what we're about and that we don't let down. We might bend, but we won't break."
Play/Player of the Game: Easy pick (ah! how do you not love puns?) to go with Harper. With 11 seconds to go and USC at second and 10 on the Oregon 33, Harper snatched his second interception on the 16 and returned it 34 yards. The Trojans had slowly been moving downfield before that, and I wouldn't have been surprised if the game had gone to OT. Harper easily had the game of his life, and I'm sure he'll enjoy it for the next few days.
Next up for the Trojans: USC returns home to play Oregon State. OSU doesn't seem to pose much of a threat but their defense is suffocating at times and the Beavers did upset the Bears in Berkeley, playing great D on the goal line, It should be a win for the Trojans but in a season when UConn (UConn! UConn football!) is ranked, who knows what's going to happen?
Next up for the Ducks: This one is big. Really big. Oregon plays host to Arizona State, a "where-did-they-come-from?" team lead by first-year coach Dennis Erickson, who knows a thing or two about winning championships. Oregon has shown so far that the Cal loss didn't deflate them like last season, and they need to hold on and beat the Sun Devils if they want a shot at the BSC title game. First though, ASU plays Cal tonight, which might be the biggest game of the day now that this one is over.
A few random notes:
--Stewart became the 13th player in Oregon football history to rush for 1,000 yards, a first for the junior.
--This is the Ducks' first win over Southern Cal since Sept. 22, 2001.
--During Bellotti's press conference you could hear Oregon players singing and whooping it up in the locker room. I'm also betting there was a lot of chest-bumping involved.
--Stewart said afterward that he was still "jittery" from Harper's late interception. "Oh my God," he said, putting his hand over his heart and widening his eyes. "That was AMAZING."
If there's anything that sums up the Ducks' season so far, it might be that quote. And if Oregon keeps this up, it's just going to get better.