On a day of dreary weather and crazed shoppers all over the nation, the top-ranked Oregon Ducks looked like they too were coming off of a tryptophan low from the Thanksgiving dinner a day earlier. The Ducks got off to their usual slow start on senior day against the visiting #21 Arizona Wildcats, who brought their stout defense and well-rounded offensive game to Autzen Stadium and showed early why they have been ranked in the top-25 every week this season. The Ducks did not look sharp early with an array of penalties, bad decisions and miscues littering the box score in the first half. However, in the second half after making adjustments in the locker room and having worn down a considerably less athletic team in Arizona, the Ducks came out on a tear and seized a victory and their second consecutive Pac-10 crown by beating Arizona 48-29.
Coming off of a game where the prolific Oregon offense was in effect dominated by a talented and motivated Cal defense, the Ducks had something to prove on Friday against an Arizona team that has one of the best defenses in the conference and the nation. But it was slow going again for the veteran offensive line for Oregon, a group that has simply not performed up to the expectations over the past few weeks. Quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James were harassed routinely in the first half leading to only 14 first half points for the Ducks. Thomas threw an early interception with Oregon driving that turned into points for Arizona. Drives were stalled by a tough Arizona run defense that held the Ducks to 90 rushing and 175 total yards in the first half. It didn’t help the Ducks when they lined up for a punt and the slippery ball was snapped over punter Alejandro Maldonado’s head and through the endzone for a safety. These miscues forced an undersized Ducks defense to play on their heels much of the first half, with Arizona quarterback Nick Foles being allowed to basically play catch with 6-4 wide receiver Juron Criner much of the night. Foles racked up 448 yards through the air and 3 touchdowns, 2 of which were to Criner who hauled in 109 on only 3 receptions. True, allowing only 3 receptions to the most dangerous receiver on Arizona’s offense isn’t too shabby, but when those receptions were made in the endzone 60 yards away from the nearest Oregon defender there was clearly a bit of an issue. Safety John Boyett did snag his 4th interception of the year in the first half against Foles during a drive that was already well within Oregon territory that would have led to an even larger deficit at halftime for the Ducks. As it stood Oregon went in at halftime trailing 19-14 with more questions than yards and points.
In the second half the Ducks came out on a mission. Darron Thomas led the Ducks down the field for 34 second-half points, including a dominant 99-yard drive that is tied with about 100 other teams for the longest scoring drive in NCAA and NFL history. Thomas was not spectacular on Friday, but he was a leader when he had to be and his tentative throws that resulted in turnovers and incompletions in the first half turned into confident and effective completions in crunch time in the second half. He finished with 148 yards through the air for 3 scores and the interception. He also ran for 62 yards on 6 carries, continuing to show his versatility and comfort in Chip Kelly’s offense. The running lanes opened up after the Arizona defense began to wear down a little, leading the way for Heisman hopeful LaMichael James to run for 126 yards and 2 scores. The spark on offense came from freshman receiver Josh Huff. Huff ran the ball on a reverse to start the second half for 85-yards through the Arizona defense which was the longest play from scrimmage of the year for the Ducks. It was all downhill from there, with Oregon outscoring the Wildcats 34-10 in the second half. Foles continued to pick the Ducks apart on defense, but the run game was held to 58 total yards in the game and eventually the gas ran out for Arizona on offense and the Ducks time of possession began to rise. Oregon finished right around their averages, having racked up 537 yards and 48 points when the final horn blew above Autzen Stadium.
The win came on the same day that the Auburn Tigers survived an Alabama team that showed why they won a national title last year in the first half. Unfortunately for the Crimson Tide they showed in the second half why they have now lost 3 games this season. Oregon and Auburn are both one win away from meeting in Arizona on January 10th for the championship game, with Auburn taking on Steve Spurrier, Marcus Lattimore and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Cam Newton can solidify his Heisman trophy with a quality performance and a victory. TCU could move into the game if Oregon or Auburn should lose, but many believe that Boise State will jump them. Wait, this just in…Boise State lost? No that’s impossible, they play in the Wac, a conference where no “best team in the nation” could lose. Well I’m not one to kick a horse when it’s down, but if I were to kick the Broncos maybe their kicker would learn how do make a field goal. Sorry Boise fan(s) I had to do it.
The victory over Arizona put the Ducks at 11-0 for the season and in position for at least a Rose Bowl berth on New Year’s Day. The Ducks will travel north next Saturday to face their rival Oregon State in the annual Civil War Game. Last season the two teams met at Autzen with the winner going on to play in the Rose Bowl, and Oregon won that game 37-33. This year Oregon State has been far from the power they were last year but have shown the ability to be competitive with top-ranked opponents. They have beaten USC and Arizona this season and played TCU and Boise State early in the year. Oregon State fans would love nothing more than to keep the hated Ducks from reaching Glendale for the National Championship game. But this is something Oregon fans have waited a long time for and the men from Eugene will not be denied when they travel up to Corvallis. The Oregon Ducks are now one win away from a chance to play for a national title. Man that sounds good to Oregon fans.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.