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#4 LSU Takes Advantage of #3 Oregon Miscues in Cowboys Classic

Posted By Rob Parness On Sep 5 2011 @ 2:22 am In Oregon | 1 Comment

When the #3 Oregon Ducks ran into Cowboys stadium to take on #4 LSU they were a team on a mission.

They wanted redemption after 7 months off following a heartbreaking loss to Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. They wanted to gain respect for themselves and for their whole conference, which are all thought inferior to the vaunted SEC. They wanted to prove they belonged with the elite.

But on this night desire did not outweigh the mistakes made by Oregon, and the Ducks fell to the Tigers 40-27.

The Ducks were ahead 13-9 just before halftime, but LSU scored a late first-half touchdown on a pass to Reuben Randle then opened the second half with 17 straight points to all but end the night for Oregon.

Oregon was without their All-American cornerback/kick returner Cliff Harris, and that loss proved to be a huge impact in the game.

In the first half running back Kenjon Barner took Harris’ place as a punt returner and was stripped of the ball inside the Oregon 5 yard line, which was recovered by Tyrann Mathieu and returned for a touchdown.

Later in the game true freshman De’Anthony Thomas lost the ball on a kickoff return, another duty usually handled by Harris. LSU then promptly scored their second touchdown in 3 minutes to slam the door on Oregon’s comeback hopes.

The fumble on the kickoff return was Thomas’ second in two touches, having fumbled on a run play that set up LSU’s previous score.

Thomas was used primarily at receiver in the early parts of the game, but when starters LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner both struggled with cramps and injuries, Thomas was used at running back alongside quarterback Darron Thomas. The combination of those two in the same backfield will be as frustrating to explain in articles as it will be for defenses to stop on the field, but LSU was able to contain both on Saturday night.

The talented true freshman showed flashes that will give defensive coordinators nightmares, but his youth showed in his turnovers.

Many will look at LSU’s 40 points and assume the Duck defense was handled by the Tigers, but Oregon played better than most would have expected.

Yes, LSU was missing their quarterback Jordan Jefferson and starting receiver Russell Sheppard, but both were replaced by quality players that were not much worse those suspended at their positions.

Quarterback Jarrett Lee was thought to be a better passer than Jefferson, who utilizes his legs as a weapon. But Lee was held to just 10 completions on 21 attempts and less than 100 yards passing.

The 40 points given up were a result of a touchdown on special teams by LSU and 4 other scoring drives that resulted from LSU starting the possession in Oregon territory. There are not many defenses in the nation that could stop an LSU team time and time again with their backs against the endzone like the Duck defense had to deal with.

Harris’ replacement at corner, redshirt freshman Terrance Mitchell, actually played well (as Lee’s numbers would reflect). Mitchell was the victim of the touchdown pass to Randle on a play there really wasn’t much the undersized Mitchell could do against the 6-4 receiver.

The story of the game was Oregon miscues, bringing up the issue of whether LSU won the game or Oregon lost it.

LSU had 20 points off of Oregon’s 4 turnovers, clearly a deciding factor in the game. Also, the Ducks racked up 12 penalties for 95 yards, most on offense, which stalled any rhythm Oregon may have had.  

Oregon’s explosive offense mustered only 95 yards rushing, led by James’ 54 yards on the ground. James, who became the Ducks’ all-time leading rusher in the game, did not play well. He seemed to play hesitant and did not put his head down when tackled in his typical hard-nosed manner.

The holes were probably not as large as James is used to and LSU did a very good job against him. But James’ performance looked less like a running back and more like a “Dancing with the Stars” audition. He put on muscle this offseason to become more of a power back, but continued to try and outrun LSU athletes that were just too good.

James is Oregon’s best player, possibly the best in the nation. He still led both teams in total yards with 132, showing his versatility. James will need to bounce back strong for the Ducks because they will not face another defensive front like LSU all season.

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas threw the ball poorly for most of the game, in many cases having to fire the ball at receivers only a few yards away due to pressure. Many of those passes were off the mark, while others were difficult for receivers to run after the catch when they were able to pull the ball in because of bad placement.

Thomas threw the ball 52 times, a career high, completing 31 of them for 240 yards and one touchdown late to receiver Josh Huff. Thomas also threw one interception, which is impressive considering the pressure he faced and the amount of time he had to put the ball in the air.

Oregon outgained LSU in all 335 yards to 273 yards, but the yards were not enough when the drives did not end with points.

With the starting position that Oregon gave LSU by way of mistakes, the Tigers just didn’t need to go that far to put the Ducks away.

The fact of the matter is that Oregon was once again bested at the line of scrimmage, forcing them to adapt their offense in ways that did not allow them to get into rhythm. When they found a groove, they scored. But for most of the game LSU played the Ducks perfectly, and that should be acknowledged.

So yes, the argument can be made that Oregon gave away the game with their mistakes.

But it must be noted that LSU, to their credit, took advantage of those mistakes and stepped on the Ducks’ throats when they had the chance. That is what great teams do. That is what Oregon did last season.

As for this season, Oregon has a long way to go before attaining that respect they so desire and believe they deserve.

The season has just begun; each team still has an opportunity to define their season on their own terms. One game cannot do that. One upset win does not make you a powerhouse and one loss does not make you a bad team. That is what college football is all about.

Nothing is impossible.

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