Reflecting on the WSU game

Milwaukie, Ore. -- Now that I'm back home I can reflect on last Saturday's game. I recall that just before kickoff last Saturday, I jotted this question on my note pad, "who will be the playmakers?" I asked myself this question because Mike Bellotti had indicated essentially three reasons why the Ducks were struggling before the Washington State game -- execution, finishing drives and the need for playmakers.

(Photo) Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens (11) runs past Washington State's Alex Teems (21) for a touchdown as Oregon's Geoff Schwartz (75) celebrates in the second quarter Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004, in Pullman, Wash. Oregon won, 41-38. (AP Photo/Rajah Bose)

Bellotti called for playmakers on both the offensive and defensive side, but clearly it was the offense that had the bigger problems in the first four games of the season (saving the effort against an out manned Idaho team.) The offensive line had difficulty giving quarterback Kellen Clemens opportunities to set his feet and deliver his throws. The line also had not consistantly opened holes for Oregon running backs. The Ducks seemed to lose their confidence as the season progressed to convert third down chances and with that all in mind, my question was who were going to be the difference makers.

After the first series when the Ducks went three and out and Washington State's Josh Swogger connected with Jason Hill for a 39-yard scoring pass play, I looked around the press box and saw on a number of regular faces an expression of "here we go again."

But as the game progressed the playmakers emerged. Terrence Whitehead's running the ball (22 carries for 166 yards, with a long of 53 yards and a 7.5-yard per carry average.) Demetrius Williams catching the ball (12 receptions for 126 yards, with a long of 24.) Tim Day emerging from his injuries (eight catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns.) Marcus Maxwell arriving (four catches for 40 yards and one touchdown.) Cameron Colvin keeping drives alive (three catches for 35 yards and a long of 14.) These players were the offensive skill players who benefited from a quarterback that just refused to give up or let the Ducks lose, Kellen Clemens.

Clemens set his personal best for the game and was spectacular. He was 36-for-55, 437 yards, three touchdowns passing. He rushed 14 times and scored three touchdowns running the ball, including the game-winning touchdown with 1:21 left on the game clock. Walking off the field back to the dressing room, I asked Clemens if he realized he'd set a personal record for passing.

"What we did, was win our first Pac-10 game," responded Clemens. "That's all I'm thinking about."

His personal achievements were far from his mind as he celebrated the team victory with his teammates walking through the tunnel.

All these achievements by the skill players would not have happened without the pass protection and line surge of the big men on the offensive line. Whitehead's first big run of 53 yards would not have happened if big Mike DeLaGrange and Ian Reynoso had not sealed the right corner allowing Whitehead to take off down the right side line. Clemens found the time to set his feet because of the blocking on the blind side by Adam Snyder, and center Enoka Lucas. In the fourth quarter when De La Grange left after being shaken up, he was replaced by freshman Geoff Schwartz, and there was no drop off in performance.

Defensively, Aaron Gipson and Justin Phinisee made interceptions. Chris Solomona and Devan Long continued to put pressure on Swogger all day long and despite giving up some big plays to WSU, in the critical drives of the third quarter, the Duck defense responded.

I asked Bellotti after the game, about who were the playmakers.

"I anointed everybody," responded Bellotti. "I said every single one of you have the opportunity and capacity to be playmakers." (Click here for the complete quote.)

While there is still plenty the Ducks have to work on -- reducing penalties (Oregon was penalized 13 times for 104 yards compared to WSU's four penalties for 40 yards) and punting (Oregon punted seven times with an average of 31.6 yards and only had one punt inside the WSU 20.) The Ducks were impressive by the fact they held onto the ball longer than the Cougars (38:55 to 21:05) and converted 6-of-7 times in the red zone for scores. It was clear the Ducks had found some playmakers to execute the game plan and finish drives by scoring.

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