Ducks down Cougars 38-24

The Oregon Ducks started off the 2005 campaign they way they wanted – beating the Houston Cougars 38-24 at Reliant Stadium in Houston That sounds simple enough, but the game was what one might expect for the first game of the season with a new offense, some mistakes and some uncertainty. Oddly enough it was the defense that had the mistakes, and not the offense. However, when the cobwebs of the off season were finally shaken off, a dominant Oregon team celebrated its first win of the season.

(Photo) Oregon wide receiver Garren Strong grimaces and grabs his leg after scoring on a 2-point conversion in the first quarter against Houston Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti thought his defense initially sleepwalked through the first quarter and gave up some explosive plays that put the Cougars in the lead. Bellotti conceded that Houston had the better of it in the first half. However, a better-conditioned Oregon team overcame the adversity of being behind, the jitters of a first game, an opened stadium roof and a hot, humid field. Ultimately, it was Oregon's big offensive line that bullied their way around in the second half of the game.

"Our offense wore their defense down," said Bellotti of his team. "They (Houston) were flat out tired."

The first half of the game was marked by poor secondary coverage on the part of the Oregon defense and steady gains by the Oregon offense. Oregon was able to move the ball at will on offense but when the Houston offense led by quarterback Kevin Kolb needed a big play all he had to do was throw the ball deep. Kolb hit two bombs for 70 and 62 yards that resulted in touchdowns. The Ducks also gave up a big special teams play that let Houston's Ricky Wilson ramble for 74 yards to the Oregon 17 yard line and after a 5 yard penalty was tacked on for off sides on the kickoff, the Cougars moved 12 yards for their first score.

The Ducks managed to move the ball between the 20s but could only score one touchdown – a 3-yard scoring pass from Kellen Clemens to Demetrius Williams. Place kicker Paul Martinez was the scoring story in the first half for the Ducks, kicking three field goals from 22, 39 and 51 yards, but missed his last attempt in the half with time running out.

Oregon secondary looked similar to the same team that played the first half of the 2004 Washington State game, giving up the two long scoring plays. Kolb was 9-for-15 for 195 yards but 132 of those yards were on two tosses. Kolb ultimately ended up 24-of-42, 312 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

And just like the 2004 Washington State game, the Ducks came out in the second half squawking by scoring and moving the ball up and down the field. Martinez kicked two more field goals (29, 24) and Dennis Dixon also scored his first rushing touchdown of his career with a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter. Clemens hit Dante Rosario with a sweet 14-yard throw and score to conclude the scoring, but by that time there was no doubt Oregon was completely in command. Clemens had perhaps his best game since that day last fall in Pullman by ending up 30-of-47, 348 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly he did not turn the ball over or was sacked. If that wasn't enough, Clemens also managed to end up as the leading rusher for the evening with 80 yards on 12 carries including a 43-yard run that ended up 1-yard short of the end zone. Clemens came out after his run and Dixon finished the drive off with the scoring plunge. Did Clemens want to come out after nearly making it 44-yards and touchdown?

"I didn't ask to come out," said Clemens reflecting on the long run. "But I wasn't complaining either."

Clemens had a host of receivers to chose from and surprisingly his big target, Tim Day only had one catch for seven yards. However, Demetrius Williams and James Finley came up big for the night. Williams had nine catches 133 yards and a touchdown meanwhile Finley had one more catch for 95 yards. Finley whose status was up in the air up until the day before the game had a simple philosophy he picked up from his father regarding taking advantage of his opportunities.

"Make plays when they come your way," said Finley of his catches.

The playmakers seemed to be all over the place. Cameron Colvin also contributed four catches for 55 yards, Dante Rosario had two catches including one for a touchdown for 28 yards, Garren Strong had two catches for 19 yards and a 2-point conversion. Terrence Whitehead also had two catches for 11 yards. Jonathan Stewart had an impressive run of 33 yards that caught everyone's attention and with all the players contributing, Bellotti thinks the weapons were apparent for good reason.

"There are a lot more this year that are healthy and can be featured within the offensive structure," reflected Bellotti of his playmakers.

What exactly happened at halftime on Thursday night to turn things around? Bellotti attributes it to simply adjusting and playing better. Cornerback Justin Phinisee thought it had to do with the pace and speed of the game -- once the Ducks became accustomed to the pace of the game as opposed to practice the team was able to shake the jitters and play much better. Houston only score in the second half was a field goal in the fourth quarter when the outcome of the game was obvious.

About 90 minutes before kickoff, the roof to the stadium was opened, however the sun never hit the playing field. Bellotti was a bit miffed as he indicated that Houston officials had told him that the status of the roof at game time would be the same as it was during the walk through on Wednesday night. The roof was closed on Wednesday, but for some reason it was opened just prior to the game. Bellotti thought the conditions on the field were hot. Some of his players felt that the hydration regime the Ducks instituted offset the heat and allowed them to perform.

With a victory in hand the Ducks now have the luxury of taking a couple extra days off as they return home and prepare for the game on Saturday, Sept. 10 against Montana in Autzen Stadium. The Ducks will appreciate the rest particularly savoring their first win of the season.

Notes:

Demetrius Williams' 133 yards receiving was his third consecutive 100-yard plus opening game and was also his eighth career 100-yard receiving game.

James Finley's 10 catches tied the record for most catches in a Duck season-opener. Tony Hargain also had 10 catches against San Diego State in 1990.

Cameron Colvin tied a career high in receptions.

Paul Martinez tied the school record for field goals made (5) and attempts (6), tying Tommy Thompson and Kirk Dennis for successful kicks and Thompson for attempts.

On the injury front, Bellotti indicated Devan Long has a knee sprain, Garren Strong has a strained groin along with a number of other minor injuries to other players.

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