Fast Step Found Too Late

Pullman, Wash. -- Too many turnovers, too many errors, too many missed chances are the reasons most would come up with why the Oregon Ducks (5-2, 3-2) fell to the Washington State Cougars (5-3, 3-2) by a score of 34-23. The Ducks dug themselves into a hole early in the game (trailing at halftime 13-3) and could never find the extra quick step until it was too late.

"The start of the game was sheer madness is the only way I can put it," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti. "Turnover after turnover."

The Ducks turned the ball over four times, two fumbles and two interceptions that led to 13 points for the Cougars. The bungling was so bad in the first half that Jonathan Stewart sat down in the first half in order to calm down and ended up only contributing 32 yards on 11 carries. A bewildered Stewart faced media after the contest and had few words to explain his or his teammates' performance today.

"It got me down a little bit," Stewart said of the circumstances of the game. "I tried picking my head up, things were just...just a bad day."

Stewart was dogged by the Cougar defense at every step. Every time he touched the ball, somebody dressed in a red jersey was in his face. When Stewart came out, Jeremiah Johnson came in and was able to run similar plays with substantially more success. Johnson finished the game running for 63 yards on 12 carries and obviously the tough WSU defense figured out how to stop the Pac-10's leading running game.

"I'm not pleased with the way our offense performed," confessed Bellotti. "We didn't do what we needed to do. Give credit to Washington State, they've outplayed everybody's expectations and we didn't test them the way we really wanted to."

The passing game fared some better. Dixon finished the day going 12-for-20, 105 yards and two interceptions before being spelled by Brady Leaf. Leaf had 262 yards of passing on 16-for-27 and two touchdowns. When Leaf made his appearance halfway through the third quarter and his team trailing 27-3, the Ducks went into a hurry up offense and actually started smoothing their execution out. Bellotti said in the second half the choices were few for the Ducks because of the deficit they found themselves in.

"There are three different tempos that we run and we were in a huddle mode in the first half," explain Bellotti of the pace of the game. "Dennis wanted to stay in a huddle mode. We talked about going to a no-huddle. We went to the no-huddle exclusively in the second half because we were down after that first possession by three scores."

However, why the Ducks seemed to be more in synch when Leaf was in as opposed to Dixon is still somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps part of the reason is that a fair number of players were unable to practice during the week and consequently the offense was not rehearsing at the same speed hey would when they stepped onto the turf in Martin Stadium.

"We're not able to practice the way we'd like to because of our situation at defensive line," indicated Bellotti. "It's frustrating, it's not an excuse."

Leaf moved the offense up and down the field finding three primary receivers, Jaison Williams, Brian Paysinger and Jordan Kent. Williams had another huge day with 163 yards on nine catches while Payinger had nine catches for 88 yards. Kent had four catches for 50 yards and two touchdowns.

"Brady stepped up really well," said Kent of Leaf's play. "He's a great scrambling quarterback and obviously had a lot of confidence to come in off the bench to do the things he did in the second half."

Is there a possible quarterback controversy brewing because of Leaf's performance in the game?

"I've said all along we have two quarterbacks that can win in this conference, and I believe that and we'll just evaluate this thing as it goes," observed Bellotti of the quarterback situation. "Dennis is still our starter. Brady may play; it just depends on the situation."

Defensively the Ducks played well enough but too often the offense left the defense in poor field position and in situations that had the Cougars and their crowd revved up. J.D. Nelson led the team in tackles with 15 (five solo) with Blair Phillips recording 14 (eight solo) and Patrick Chung with 11 (five solo).

Little fault can be laid with the defense even though WSU's Dwight Tardy had 145 yards of rushing which is considerably better than his 49 yard per game average up to this point in the season. Alex Brink finished the day going 20-of-23 (.870 a WSU single game record), 179 yards and two touchdowns.

Maybe it was blessing in disguise that Duck fans did not have a live television broadcast to endure.

Looking back on the game, Jaison Williams summed up the day very succinctly.

"Turnovers. Plain and simple. Too many turnovers," Williams said flattly of the main problem Oregon had against Washington State. "We went out there and did not play our game. Once again, just too many turnovers and we need to fix that. Every day at practice we need to fix that. Every day at practice we need to go out and fix that problem."

Next week the Ducks take on Div I (Championship, formerly 1-AA) Portland State at Autzen Stadium. The game should allow the Ducks to get back into a rhythm that seemed to be missing today providing Oregon can practice at a speed that will allow them to find that missing rhythm. While the injury bug hit the Ducks, it must be remembered that nealy all teams have injuries at this point in the season.

While Washington State enjoyed the victory it certainly could be lost on many of their fans as Martin Stadium had many empty seats and only 35,117 in attendance. Hopefully, the Ducks will have a packed house at Autzen Stadium next week, and the quick step they rediscovered when it was too late against the Cougars.

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