One Down Eleven to Go

Oregon extended its home-win streak to 21 games Saturday evening by defeating the Wisconsin Badgers 31-28, before the largest home opening game crowd of 45,919. The game see-sawed back and forth for the entire contest and it was only until when Wisconsin's Nick Davis was unable to hold onto Jim Sorgi's pass were the Ducks able to breathe easy.

The Ducks playing their first game of the season while the Badgers played their second game, over came a number of mistakes that most likely won't be seen again for the rest of the campaign. Oregon started the game out as if they had not missed a beat from the 10-2 season last year and every bit looking like the number seven-ranked team in the country. After forcing the Badgers to punt on their first possession, the Ducks took possession and marched down the field to Wisconsin's 3-yard line before being forced to kick a field goal. On the next possession, Wisconsin stalled their drive and on the ensuing Oregon possession the first of several mistakes occurred when Wisconsin's Mike Echols picked off Duck Quarterback Joey Harrington's pass. What happened next was a good example of the entire game. On the Badgers next possession, the drive was stopped when Oregon' s Quinn Dorsey caused a Sorgi pass to be picked off by Darell Wright. The course of the game seemed to be set. Oregon would mistakes and would then redeem them.

Another example was Maurice Morris who was held to 18-yards on 22 carries. In steps Onterrio Smith making his playing debut after sitting out last season, the Tennessee transfer responded by carrying the ball eight times and racked up 88-yards, including a spectacular 51-yard dash in the third quarter.

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti said that Wisconsin had shown great improvement over their first game of the season. "They did a great job of taking away Maurice Morris," Bellotti said.

Oregon's headman said he was satisfied with his team's performance, but was guarded in his comments as he felt many mistakes were made. "Overall it was good enough to win," said Bellotti.

"I feel like we escaped," said Bellotti, "even though we made typical first-game mistakes."

Wisconsin played Saturday like the team that had won three straight Bowl games including the Rose Bowl.

In some ways, the game had an eerie similarity to last year's contest in Madison. The Ducks jumped out early, only to have a Wisconsin running back break a long touch down run. And of course there were the dropped passes.

"He (Harrington) had 3 to 5 passes dropped," said Bellotti, "I thought it was déjà vu of the Wisconsin game (last year.)"

One of the dropped passes was by sure handed tight-end Justin Peelle, and Keenan Howry missed a sure long gainer when he lost the ball in the sun. Mistakes made, but then it was also Peelle who caught two touch down passes, and Howry was the leading receiver with seven catches for 90-yards.

Joey Harrington, who is considered a Heisman Trophy candidate was 22 for 47 and 277-yards, two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Harrington also dove into the end zone on a fourth and inches to on the 1-yard line to give the Ducks the go ahead touchdown.

"I think we showed resilience and bounced back," said Harrington in regard to the team's play. Harrington acknowledged the mistakes but pointed out the team fought back. "We showed we have a lot of people who could play, but we made mistakes."

When asked about one of the interceptions Harrington raised hand and said, "my fault." Harrington also said he doesn't dwell on the mistakes. He must not as he directed the game winning drive in the fourth quarter and it was simply Hesiman quality.

Harrington thought Smith was a bright spot. "He's a spark," said Harrington regarding Smith.

Smith's play did indeed seem to light up the team as well as the crowd. Showing the ability to shift gears and stop and go in his running style, more then one Wisconsin ended up tackling air instead of Smith.

Smith not only played in the backfield he also was on Special Teams and returned kickoffs.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Ducks showed they were better than some pre-season critics had questioned, but still gave up a 69-yard touch down run by Anthony Davis. Davis ended the game with 134-yards on 13 carries. Davis follows in a line of great Wisconsin running backs including Ron Dayne and Michael Bennett.

Senior Zack Freiter, who is finally healthy was a key element in the front line effort and anchored the defensive line. Bellotti indicated he felt he could rotate eight players in the defensive front without much drop-off. Igor Olshansky played his first game and had a blocked field goal attempt.

A.K. Keyes, who many feared could have been lost because of an injury during fall camp, broke up a pass and filled in nicely for a hobbled Steve Smith.

"A.K. did a great job for him (Smith) and knocked away a key pass," said Bellotti. "We have some depth at that cornerback position.".

It seemed Rashad Bauman was not on the field because Wisconsin didn't throw to Bauman side. However, it was Bauman who broke up Sorgi's last serious deep pass, and ultimately doomed the Badgers.

"I think everyone stepped up when they needed to," said Bauman about the Ducks defensive efforts.

Bellotti reported that David Morretti broke his thumb early in the contest but continued to play. Morretti may miss one game. Kevin Mack injured his PCL in his right knee and may be out six weeks.

For the fans the game was just another sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat variety that has become the trademark of the Ducks. Duck fans know one thing for sure, the Ducks always make the games exciting.

"It's a sweet victory," said Harrington putting the game in proper perspective, "because it is a great start to a great season."

Great season indeed. Next week is Utah, and a chance for two down and ten to go.


eDuck Top Stories