Ducks Blow Out Bulls 56-21

The Oregon Ducks came out after halftime and put on a show worthy of the 74th Annual Sun Bowl and beat the University of South Florida 56-21. The Ducks blew the door off the hinges in the third quarter back scoring 28 unanswered points to take complete control of the game.

(PHOTO) Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart races down the sidelines for a 71-yard touchdown run during the second quarter of the Sun Bowl football game against South Florida Monday, Dec. 31, 2007 in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Stewart, named MVP of the game set a Sun Bowl and personal record by rushing for 253 yards on 23 carries including a long of 71-yards for a touchdown.

"It came down to two things, Jonathan Stewart running the ball like we knew he is capable of," observed Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti of the game. "And Justin Roper directing the offense."

The Ducks dominated in all phases including penalties, but if the Ducks struggled to get along with the officiating crew in the first half, Oregon settled down in the second half and did whatever they wanted. Oregon in El Paso was the same team Duck fans had come accustomed to seeing during the season by racking up 533 yards of total offense including 353 yards on the ground and 180 through the air.

Red shirt freshman Justin Roper was smoking hot in the second half connecting on 17-of-30 passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns, but three of the scoring strikes occurred in the third quarter. Roper's four touchdown passes tied a Sun Bowl record held by another Duck, Joey Harrington.

Oregon also scored two defensive touchdowns on inceptions by Walter Thurmond and Michael DiVincenzo. The Ducks picked off four of the Bulls' passes on the afternoon. Byrd was Oregon's leading tackler with eight (seven solo) plus two interceptions and four break ups.

"The reality was that I was pleased with Justin Roper's development over the course of our practices," said Bellotti of his freshman quarterback. "He was sort of the secret weapon people did not know about."

Roper was making his first start of his career was never seriously in any kind of trouble as the big Duck offensive line provided him with plenty of time and Offensive Coordinator Chip Kelly's game plan kept the Bulls off balance in the explosive third quarter.

"I was very pleased with the way we handled the line of scrimmage," revealed Bellotti.

Fenuki Tupou represented the Duck line by being named Lineman of the Game.

The Ducks found success all day with the run, but it may have been a simple shovel pass that bothered the Bulls the most. In the early part of the game, Jeffery Maehl came across the field and ran in front of Roper, who would then toss the ball to Maehl. The play worked well, even though Maehl eventually left the game with a possible concussion. While the Ducks struggled with penalties in the first half and allowed South Florida to stay in the game, in the second half Oregon executed near flawlessly, with the offensive line pushing the South Florida defensive front around and allowing Roper to set his feet and pick out targets.

Then of course there was Stewart tearing up the middle on runs of 71 and 41 yards and his usual array of 4-to-6 yard carries. After the game, awards were passed out and Stewart, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player stepped up to the microphone as the Oregon crowd chanted "one more year." The first question asked Stewart was whether he would stay a Duck for his senior season. Stewart, would not answer the question, rather he said he was "living in the moment."

Later on he was asked the question again, but this time he said in all sincerity, "I don't know what I'm going to do." As the team was allowed to travel home on their own, Stewart was one of the firsts to depart El Paso and had to catch a flight.

For Roper's part, the limelight may just now be starting to shine from the shy young man from Atlanta, Georgia. Waiting to go into Media Area and face the cameras, Roper looked around and said silently, "I feel a whole lot better now."

A number of Bowl records were set today. The 56 points was the most Oregon has ever scored in a bowl game. Stewart's rushing mark eclipsed the previous mark of 197 yards. The Ducks' 28 points in the third quarter was also a new mark for scoring and while a statistic Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti would just as soon forget about soon, the penalties in terms of yardage and number was an all-time low. A total of 21 flags were thrown for a combined 202 yards. Oregon accounted for 13 of those calls for a minus 138 yards.

"The penalties were not acceptable by any means," confessed Bellotti. "They (the infractions) cost us a lot in the first half, it gave them two touchdowns."

Jaison Williams was the leading receiver with four catches for 40 yards and touchdown. Garren Strong also had a TD catch along with 36 yards and three receptions. Stewart scored on a screen pass of 21 yards and Ed Dickson had a touchdown catch of 15 yards.

Matt Evensen kicked two field goals of 30 and 39 yards. Evensen was named Most Valuable Special Teams Player for the game. Matt Grothe was 18-for-35, 197 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. When Grothe went down in the fourth quarter, his replacement Grant Gregory came in and threw 11 passes, completing six for 39 yards but was picked off twice. Taurus Johnson had four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown, while Jessie Hester, Jr. also had four receptions for 40 yards. A.J. Love also scored on a reception of 11 yards. South Florida had two field goals by Delbe Alvarado of 29 and 35 yards.

The win breaks a 4-bowl game losing streak and also gives the Ducks a 9-4 record for the season. The dominance of the performance over a team that was ranked No. 2 nationally and one that Bellotti calls a "team to watch out for" is meaningful and helps salvage a great season. When the Ducks lost Dennis Dixon, it was a huge blow, but injuries cost the Ducks in many more ways including two wide receivers, two middle linebackers, three quarterbacks and a running back that was a significant contributor to the Oregon offense.

What's left now is to see if Stewart will stay at Oregon or will he be lured off to the NFL. At this point, no one including Stewart know what he will do. As there was during his recruitment out of Timberline High School in Lacey, Wash., Stewart most likely will put great thought and prayer into his decision. If he were to depart for the NFL, his performance in El Paso will be long remembered. For Roper, while much speculation has been made about his future, it is obvious come April during spring workouts, that this could well be his team.

Official Box Score.

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