Big Playmakers Made the Difference

Eugene -- It was two big plays by two team leaders that won the game for the Oregon Ducks, 48-27 – rover Patrick Chung's interception in the endzone and an 80-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dennis Dixon. Up until then it wasn't much of a stretch to think that the 2007 season for Oregon would be long and disappointing.

(PHOTO) Patrick Chung makes a diving interception off a Case Keenum pass during Oregon's 48-27 win over Houston at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 1, 2007. (Photo by Chris Wilson).

Throw in some revved up play by Oregon special teams and a would-be distraught crowd left feeling pretty good about their team.

Things started off well enough for Oregon. After receiving the kickoff the Ducks scored in just under a minute and a half. Helped by a Dixon scramble of 50-yards in a play that answered many people's question of why is he the starter – because he can flat out run. Oregon would score later in the quarter when Houston running back Anthony Aldridge coughed up the ball after being stripped by Duck defensive tackle David Faaeteete. From that point on, it would be the only mistake Aldridge would make while the Duck defensive front looked pretty porous.

Aldridge lit the Ducks up for 205 yards rushing on 22 carries including a gut wrenching blast of 60 yards, right straight up the middle.

The way Houston ran the ball down the Ducks' throat started bringing up a lot of bad memories from last season for anyone wearing green and yellow. Regardless of what combination of veteran defensive tackles the Ducks inserted, nothing quite seemed to work. Head Coach Mike Bellotti thought it wasn't entirely the fault of the defensive line that the Ducks were worked so badly, instead there was some blame to be spread around. Bellotti called it misalignments.

"That was partly the fault of our front seven, and partly the fault of our safeties missing some assignments," said Bellotti. "We can play better run defense. We better play better run defense."

Bellotti thought that some of the defensive backs were not in good position to stop the run. That was obviously clear when Aldridge blasted through the middle and took off untouched for the big scoring run. What stung even more, it was on a fourth and short from Houston's 40. Duck defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti thought much of the problem had to do with Houston being a very good offensive team and the Ducks having a fair amount of inexperience up front. It was Michael Speed's first extended playing time along and William Tukuafu is a junior college transfer. Matthew Harper made his first start as a Duck as did John Bacon.

"We're young, we're new, we've got growing pains," admitted Aliotti. "The good news is that we're walking away here with a win. Convincing win? No, but a win, a good win against a tough team to defend."

While Aldridge piled up the yardage, the Ducks continued to move people in and out of the line up. When it looked the darkest for the Ducks in the third quarter and Houston had the momentum driving for a score, Chung stepped in and made a diving interception in the endzone. Suddenly, the team and crowd were revived. The Ducks took possession and capped off an 80-yard drive with a scoring pass from Dixon to Brian Paysinger to give the Ducks a 27-20 lead. On the next possession, Chung again made a huge play by blocking Houston's Chase Turner's punt. Freshman Malachi Lewis recovered the ball and the Ducks were sitting 1st and 10 on Houston's 6. Dixon hit Jaison Williams on a scoring pass and it looked like the Ducks had awoken from a bad dream – well not quite totally awake yet.

The next possession Houston's Case Keenum found Aldridge for an 86-yard touchdown passing play. Houston was still hanging around, 34-27.

When Dixon took the snap on the next possession, he faked a pitch to Jonathan Stewart and turned up field. The crowd went wild as Dixon sprinted untouched for 80 yards and a touchdown. Dixon's two runs of 50 and 80 were part of his career high of 141 yards rushing. The 80-yard run is the longest for a Duck since 1992 when Ricky Whittle had an 80-yarder of his own against California. Dixon, relieved after the contest that the questions about baseball and his commitment might be put to rest, was modest and sounding very much like a leader as he talked about his rushing figures.

"They were option plays," said Dixon of the two runs. "I need to thank the offensive line for the opportunities."

With the Ducks leading 41-27 and still the fourth quarter to play, the Duck defense looked like it had settled down. While there were still some rough spots the play was much better. One of the brighter spots on the defensive line was freshman Tonio Celotto. The true freshman is just a week out of the hospital having been treated for a staph infection. However, he made his presence felt when he was in. Celotto showed a lot of strength and while there is plenty for him to learn, he is as Bellotti describes a "bull in a china shop."

Eight true freshmen saw time on the field today with Celotto seeing the biggest share of playing time. He'd like to see more and with the performance he had today, it's not much of stretch to see him with increase playing time and making a difference, just like another Duck strongman from the past, Zach Freiter.

Chung may have summed the key to the defense's success up well.

"People got to make plays," remarked Chung of his and the team's effort. "There's also some luck, he (Houston quarterback Case Keenum) could have thrown somewhere else, but he threw it to me where I had coverage. I got to make that play when the opportunity comes."

Several players stepped up and made the most of their opportunities today. Jeremiah Johnson scored twice and had 70 yards on 11 carries. Dixon had 134 yards passing on 9-for-15, two touchdown tosses and no turnovers. Stewart had 103 yards in kick returns. Matthew Harper had a total of 15 tackles (8 solo) and forced a fumble while Jairus Byrd had a fumble recovery and an interception. Celotto recorded his first tackle and it was for a loss of seven yards. The game was relatively penalty free. Oregon was whistled five times and lost 65 yards while Houston got flagged 11 times for a minus 71 yards.

For the most part Bellotti is happy to take the win and knows his team has to make some big improvements by next week when they travel to Michigan to take on the Wolverines.

"There were lots of good things we did today, times when we had to respond and we made some big defensive plays in the second half," reflected the Head Coach. "It will help in the future to have been tested in this game, especially because all aspects of our team, defense, offense and special teams, played a role."

Notes:
* Attendance for the afternoon contest was 57,662, the 49th consecutive sellout at Autzen Stadium.
* Place kick Matt Evensen had a field goal of 45-yards.
* Chung's interception now gives him a total seven for his career.
* This was Johnson's third career two-touchdown game.
* Ryan DePalo appearance in the game completed his miraculous recovery from a torn ACL left knee. DePalo returned only 18 weeks after surgery was done.
* The last quarterback to rush for over 100 yards in a game was Tony Graziani (108 against Oregon State) in 1995.
* Bellotti reported no significant injuries.

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