Explosive First Half Propels Ducks Past Cardinal

Oregon scored 28 points in the first quarter and went on to easily defeat Stanford 41-14, Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The win snapped a two-game losing streak, insured the Ducks of their ninth straight winning season and most importantly made them bowl eligible for a post season appearance.

"This game is about confidence as much as anything else," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti. "And execution."

The Ducks came out of the tunnel ready to rid themselves and their fans of the memories of the last two losses against Arizona State and USC. The Duck offense scored on drives of 70, 78, 52 and three yards in opening quarter and their confidence soared with their success at running the offense. Meanwhile the Oregon defense held Stanford to nine yards passing, no first downs and total of minus 15 yards offense for the quarter. Oregon special teams recovered an errant snap on a Stanford punt attempt that lead to the three-yard touchdown plunge by junior quarterback, Jason Fife. Fife again was very consistent in his play. He was 20 of 36 for 254 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Junior tight end George Wrighster had four catches for 41 yards and one touchdown. Wrighster also had a rush on a pitch-out that resulted in a one-yard touchdown run. Redshirt freshman tight end Tim Day had his first collegiate touchdown reception. Keenan Howry extended his Pac-10 streak of consecutive games with a reception to 44. Howry had three catches for 87 yards. Senior fullback Matt Floberg also had two catches for seven yards and one touchdown.

"George Wrighster came up with some big plays," said Bellotti..

The Ducks found out prior to the game that star running back junior Onterrio Smith would not be available and true freshman Terrance Whitehead started in Smith's place. Whitehead responded by rushing for 132 yards on 29 carries, including one run of 42 yards.

"We all knew as a team that he could do that," said Bellotti of Whitehead's performance.

Whitehead was originally recruited to Oregon as a safety, but failed to qualify for entrance to the University in 2001 and had to sit last year out. The talented running back from Los Angeles was on the roster in fall camp but had to sit out two games because of an anonymous challenge of his test scores. He retook the necessary tests and passed again. Whitehead scored his first collegiate touchdown pass reception against Arizona and against UCLA he had his first carry for 37 yards and a touchdown. Whitehead is a player talented enough to play several positions including linebacker and defensive back. Whitehead also caught three passes for 14 yards. The depth of the Oregon running game reveals more than just talent, as there is camaraderie between the players.

"Me and him have the same relationship that me and Mo (Maurice Morris) did last year," said Smith of his teammate Whitehead.

The Stanford game was obviously determined by halftime but to the discontent of many fans, Oregon was not the same efficient machine in the second half as they were in the first half. Oregon led at halftime 38-7. Stanford received the opening second half kickoff and used up over ten minutes on a drive to score the only touchdown of the second half. The Ducks were unable to restart their offensive fire in the second half and could only score a field goal in the fourth quarter.

"The offense got cold sitting on the sideline for about a half-an-hour," Howry observed of the long Stanford drive.

For whatever reason, Oregon has not had the same energy in the second half as displayed in the first half in the last three games. There does not seem to be any reasonable explanation of why such a high-powered team as Oregon seems to go into the doldrums in the third quarter. Don Essig the Public Address Announcer even announced that a horn would sound five minutes prior to the second half kickoff so that fans could return to their seats to provide the famous Autzen advantage for the home team.

"We have to continue to look at that," responded Bellotti answering a question of why the third quarter has been less productive over the last three games. "I really don't have an answer."

Defensively, the Ducks in the first half showed more intensity and were more physical in their play. They managed to stop the Stanford running game, excluding a meaningless play at the end of the first half that resulted in a 41 yard run as time expired. In the second half the Ducks allowed one touchdown drive, but Stanford took up over 10 minutes for the drive and still trailed 38-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

"Certainly Stanford is not the test we've had in the last two weeks nor we'll face in the next two weeks so we know that," said Bellotti referring to next week's game against Washington State and the following week against Washington.

Sophomore defensive tackle/end Igor Olshansky had two quarterback-sacks including one hit that knocked Stanford freshman quarterback Kyle Matter out of the game. The Oregon cornerbacks, who have been under a great deal of scrutiny and discussion over the last three weeks did not give up any big plays and there were a total of six pass deflections by the Oregon secondary. In a game that is as much about attitude as it is physical play, the Duck defenders found some positive reinforcement from their play against Stanford.

"If you don't have confidence, you shouldn't play the game," said junior safety Keith Lewis.

The Ducks (7-2, 3-2 Pac-10) face conference leading Washington State in Pullman next week. Last year after suffering the only loss for the season, the Ducks defeated WSU 24-17 in a game that saw Smith rush for 285 yards and four touchdowns. This year the Ducks will have to contend with a talented Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser and a host of tall receivers. But there are some things the Ducks can keep in mind. Bellotti's record in November while head coach at Oregon is 19-3. The Ducks have a four game win streak going against the Cougars and the last two games were in Pullman.

"That's the game that got us back in the Pac-10 race last year," reminded Smith.

Oregon must have a strong game from their young defense as well as consistent output from the offense against WSU. A third quarter letdown against a senior quarterback led Washington State could result in the third loss of the season for the Ducks. Oregon will need all the confidence and execution they can muster if they want a shot at repeating as the Pac-10 champion - and another 285 yards of rushing from Smith or Whitehead won't hurt either.

eDuck Top Stories