Fumbles and Interceptions

The last time Indiana beat a Pac-10 school was on Sept. 23, 1978. They beat Washington. On Saturday, they beat Oregon 30-24 at Autzen Stadium, ruining Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti's perfect record against non-conference opponents on the home turf. <br><br> "A lot of things need to be improved," remarked a sullen Bellotti after a disappointing end to a game that the Ducks nearly came back to win.

Trailing 23-0 at halftime, the Ducks came back in the second half and looked like a team that should be rated in the top-25. Unfortunately the game was a tale of two halves. Fumbles in the first half, and interceptions in the second half. The game was Oregon's first for the 2004 season, and perhaps as can be expected in any first game, the jitters were showing up in the most inopportune time. The first kickoff saw senior Kenny Washington regaining his all Pac-10 form when he took the ball two yards deep in the Oregon end zone and return the ball all the way back for a touchdown – except that it was called back for a holding penalty. Oregon then started on its own 16-yard line and promptly was called for a false start. Two touches two penalties. Junior quarterback Kellen Clemens was able to guide the Ducks to two first downs, but just as things looked like they were settling in, disaster struck. Clemens fumbled the ball and Indiana recovered in great field position on Oregon's 32. The Duck defense came on the field and held Hoosiers to three and out, and Indiana could only manage a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Second possession for the Ducks looked promising as the men in green managed to move the ball the midfield, but the Ducks punted putting the Hoosiers back onto the Indiana side of the field. Again, the Duck defenders only allowed the Midwesterners three snaps and a punt.

Unfortunately, the Ducks stepped on another land mine, this time it was because junior Aaron Gipson fumbled the punt return and the snake-bit Ducks couldn't find the football to save their souls. Indiana took possession deep in Oregon territory on the Oregon 30. This time, the Hoosiers took just three plays before BenJarvis Green-Ellis rolled into the end zone on a 19 yard run. 10-0 Indiana and the Oregon faithful started feeling that their razing of Oregon State's mistakes and turnovers the previous evening might have been a bit premature.

Again, Oregon was able to move the ball on the ensuing possession for a nine-play drive, but the drive stalled and Oregon's special team problems continued. Punter Paul Martinez could only manage a 19-yard punt from his own 40 to the Indiana 41. The Oregon defense again held Indiana to three plays, but unbelievably, the Ducks' Terrence Whitehead came in to do the punt return duties and promptly fumbled Indiana's punt and the Hoosiers recovered even deeper in Duck territory on the 14-yard line. Three plays later, Indiana quarterback Matt LoVecchio found Courtney Roby for an 8-yard touchdown and it was Indiana 17, Oregon 0.

The half rounded out with one more flub by the Ducks when on the ensuing drive, Whitehead again fumbled as he scooted through the line of scrimmage, and Indiana's Victor Adeyanju forced the ball onto the ground.

Indiana's ball on Oregon's 30.

Oregon's defense held Indiana to a field goal but the score now was 20-0. The Ducks offense again moved the ball on the next possession from its on 32 to Indiana's 32, but when the Ducks tried to convert on fourth-and-one, Clemens pass to Dante Rosario was tipped by Indiana's Jake Powers. The ball was turned over on downs and Indiana made its one impressive offensive drive of the day, moving the ball from its own 32-yard line and 10 plays later placed the ball in field goal territory. Indiana's Bryan Robertson hit one from 32 yards, making the halftime score 23-0.

"I've been coaching for 32 years, so that was a typical first game response, special team turnovers," said Bellotti. "Unfortunately I did not expect those things to happen to this football team."

In the second half the Ducks seemed to be more energized and in fact Indiana's first drive ended on the second snap of the first possession when LoVecchio was picked off by Oregon's Marley Tucker on the Hoosiers' 28-yard line. It looked like the Ducks would enjoy some good field position, but that hope was quickly dashed when Clemens threw a ball that was intercepted by Buster Larkins in the end zone. Finally though, the real Ducks came back and played well in the third quarter. Clemens connected with Rosario for 35-yard scoring pass cutting the score to 23-7. Oregon's defense would not allow Indiana much movement on the next drive and after trading possessions, the Ducks again scored on a Jared Siegel 33-yard field goal making it 23-10.

As if to emphasis the point that this was not going to be Oregon's day, Indiana's Lance Bennett returned the next kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown since 1999 for Indiana, and it was the first kickoff return touchdown the Ducks have given up since the Holiday Bowl on December 29, 2000.

The Ducks did manage to score 14 more points on touchdown receptions by Demetrius Williams (59 yards) and Rosario (seven yards) but despite the Oregon defense giving the offense great field position, the Ducks could only throw the ball away. Clemens had two interceptions in the final quarter inside the 20-yard line and that ultimately quieted the large opening day crowd of 57,550.

It was too bad for the Ducks because statistically they had a good day. Clemens had a solid passing performance, save the three interceptions. He was 24-of-44 for 317 yards, and three touchdowns. Williams had a sensational day snagging five balls for 129 yards and one touchdown. Rosario had five catches for 60 yards and two scores. Marcus Maxwell and Garren Strong both had three catches. Tim Day, who wasn't even expected to play three weeks ago because of his recovery from a stress fracture, caught two passes. Washington led the Duck rushers with 78 yards on nine carries with a long of 44 yards. Whitehead also had 50 yards on nine carries. Clemens had the most carries with 12 for a net of 24 yards. The Ducks ended up with more first downs (21 to 12), more yards rushing (178 to 127), more yards passing (317 to 71) and more turnovers (seven to two).

For Bellotti's part, he had few explanations for the performance. He thought his team played hard and put out a great deal of effort, and he was proud of their second half play. The players in the locker room said they realize that they need to put this loss behind them quickly because next week they travel to Oklahoma. Bellotti thought most of the problems the Ducks experienced on the field could be corrected.

"Most of it (the miscues) is controllable by us," Bellotti said of the mistakes

On the injury front, corner back Justin Phinisee suffered a hamstring injury and sat out a portion of the game. Jared Siegel had a sore quad muscle, Robby Valenzuela had a sore shoulder and Demetrius Williams experienced some soreness. Bellotti reported no other injuries.

The opening game was the second consecutive game that Clemens has thrown for more than 300 yards, and in the case of the Sun Bowl last December, the results were the same – an Oregon loss. There were high expectations around Eugene about this 2004 team, but now questions have to be asked: just how good is this very talent rich team? Bellotti indicated that he reminded his charges of the 1994 Ducks that ended up going to the Rose Bowl, and how that team started the season off losing two early games. Perhaps the message will get through to the team and the mistakes made in game one will be improved upon.

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