Ducks top ASU, could play for National Championship
EUGENE, Ore. -- Last week Matthew Harper talked about how Oregon's defense may bend, but won't break. You might be able to say that about the entire Oregon team right now.
They've lost more than a few key players as the season has progressed, and fans took a collective gasp today when Dennis Dixon went down holding his knee. They've screwed up on defense and offense more than once late in the game. And they've still managed to come out on top -- this time it was Oregon 35, Arizona State 23.
Coach Mike Bellotti said "We played far from a perfect game," and he's right. But it was still pretty damn good by the guys in green and yellow. Specifically, it was pretty good by two guys on the defensive side of the ball: Patrick Chung had 15 tackles -- 11 of them solo -- and Nick Reed had 11 tackles.
But Reed's most important statistic was his 3.5 sacks. ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter had a great night, going 22-36 for 379 yards and two TDs, but he was also sacked nine times. NINE TIMES. You have to wonder how different the game could have been if that was just cut in half.
"I think a lot of people underestimate their defense because they have so many star on offense," said ASU coach Dennis Erickson. "Their defense is pretty tough, too."
Offensively for the Ducks Dixon finished 13-22 for 189 yards and four TDs. He also rushed for 57 yards on 11 carries. Stewart had 21 carries for 99 yards and one TD and had one reception of 13 yards for a TD. Jaison Williams, who caught some passes and dropped a lot more, finished with five receptions for 106 yards and two TDs.
Dixon said he wants Williams to know that regardless of drops or catches, he and the team are behind Williams: "I told him, 'Hey, I've been there, done that. The team is 110 percent whether you drop it or make the touchdown.' We just lift everybody up when there's adversity."
The Ducks did a great job jumping on the Sun Devils early, especially with all the talk about the Sun Devils dominating in second halves of games.
"Jumping on a team lets them know early that we're here to play," Stewart said. It shows a lot about the character of our team."
"It was a shocker to me," Dixon added. "That defense is really talented. We just had to take what they gave us."
Bellotti emphasized that the Ducks still have a lot to work on, and their bye week is going to help. Oregon has 12 days off before they play at Arizona, a team that's given the Ducks fits before and a team that usually does well in November. That will give Dixon time to rest his knee (which he says is going to be fine) and a few of the other Oregon players time to heal some bumps and bruises.
Unfortunately, the Ducks did lose another starter in LB John Bacon, who probably tore his ACL.
"Our depth is hitting the bottom," Bellotti acknowledged.
However, the Ducks have some time to figure out how to replace Bacon.
With BC's loss to Florida State the BCS poll becomes very interesting, and I'll be surprised if Oregon isn't No. 3 behind Ohio State and LSU. How strange could it be for a Pac-10 team not named USC to be playing for a national championship?
And now, for the awards:
Player of the Game: So much is said about the UO offense -- and rightfully so -- but I'll be giving this one to Nick Reed, who had a stellar game and then couldn't stop talking about his teammates in the press conference. His 3.5 sacks gives him 10 total for the year and he had some big-time tackles that helped the Ducks get this win.
Play of the Game: It wasn't huge, but I think Dixon's TD pass to true freshman Drew Davis in the third quarter was a big-time play from a small-time player. Oregon's receivers have suffered a lot of injuries so when a freshman to step up in the biggest game of the week in college football, Mike Bellotti's got to be feeling good about the future.
Next up for the Sun Devils: The road doesn't get much easier for ASU, who has to travel to UCLA next week. The Bruins lost to Arizona today, so who knows what will happen next week.
Next up for the Ducks: Oregon has next week off then plays at Arizona on Nov. 15. This one's on ESPN, too, at 6 p.m.
And with that, goodbye from Autzen!