Two Halves Too Close But Oregon Wins

Eugene – Mike Bellotti had to be wondering if he somehow woke up in the middle of the fourth quarter and was in the Twilight Zone or some other bad dream. When his Oregon Ducks had gone into halftime at Autzen Stadium, they held a 45-17 lead but in the second half the Arizona Wildcats rolled up 24 points to pull within 3 and scare the beegeebes out of everybody.

(PHOTO) Masoli's performance was beyond brilliant. (Photo by Chris Wilson)

"I told our coaches and players at halftime that the score really doesn't matter," said Bellotti. "We got them, we made the most of our breaks and we have to continue to make those breaks. We didn't make those breaks in fact we had some breaks go against us in the second half, and we need to be aware we were in for a battle."

The Ducks did anything they wanted by racking up 411 yards of total offense, 137 yards on rushing and another 274 passing. Sophomore Jeremiah Masoli erasing all memories of last week's bout of booing as he ran for three touchdowns including a long of 66 yards and threw for two more. The Ducks were rolling up the Wildcats and it was sort of surprising to see the large crowd of 58,369 still hanging around for the third quarter with the victory so seemingly in hand.

"Masoli throws the ball incredibly well," observed Arizona Head Coach Mike Stoops. "He's better than a lot of people think. Today he executed very well."

Good thing the home folks stayed because the Ducks needed the extra karma in the final few minutes as they struggled to find some sort of solution to Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama and his favorite target Ron Gronkowski. Time after time Gronkowski seemed to be in the right place and Tuitama was dead on throwing the ball. Gronkowski finished the game with 12 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. Even though his long was only 24 yards many have thought the big tight end had a million catches for a billion yards. The Wildcats only managed to muster up 188 yards of offense in the first half but finished the game with a grand total of 527 yards. Tuitama was 29-for-45 for 328 yards and two touchdowns but gave up two interceptions and was sacked twice. Arizona also kicked the running game up by ending the contest with 199 yards rushing.

"I give a lot of credit to Rob Gronkowski," praised Bellotti of Arizona's tight end. "We tried man-to-man, match-up zones, zones - and to no avail. They still found him. He's an exceptional player. We weren't able to cover him."

Meanwhile, the Ducks saw the lead of 25 star to dwindle. The only scoring Oregon had in the third quarter was on a 39-yarder by Morgan Flint on Oregon's first series of the second half. After that though Arizona rolled off 25 points on three touchdowns, a field goal, two 1-point PATs and a 2-point after.

The Ducks needed some sort of a break and up popped LeGarrette Blount. With the score now at 48-45 Oregon, the Ducks and just over three and half minutes left in the game, Oregon deperately needed to score or at least keep the ball out of Arizona's hands. Getting the ball at the 3:50 mark and starting on the Arizona 45, Blount took a handoff ran to the Arizona 40 for a 5-yard gain. The Wildcats took the first of their remaining timeouts to cool off the clock but on the next snap, Blount ran though the right side and off he went.

"We blocked it perfectly and it was a footrace and he won," said Bellotti of Blount's big run. "He's coming up with a knack for coming up with making those plays, which I sort of like. The timing was really good."

The scoring run of 40 yards was eerily similar to a touchdown run he made against UCLA again in the later stages of the game when the outcome was still in doubt. After the PAT the Ducks were back up to a 10 point lead leading by the eventual margin of victory, 55-45.

Offensively the Ducks have made major headway from the group that look stale in the last couple of games. Masoli set his career high in passing with 298 yards on 21-of-26 passing (.807) and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 89 yards and three more touchdowns. The vertical passing game came back into existence and any continued talk that Masoli can't throw the ball should be permanently buried.

"He did a great job of getting the ball around to different people on our offense," Bellotti said of Masoli. "He had confidence throwing the ball with it not being wet. He cut it loose and we caught it."

During last week's preparation in practice there was a heightened sense of intensity that sometimes broke out in skirmishes. The increased focus between the receivers and defensive backs may have spelled the difference for the Ducks especially in the first half.

"I really believe we need competition in practice. We need to play at speed and I think we did it. We actually added a couple of periods of getting good versus good. One because we knew this was a tough team and two because we have a bye coming up. I think it did do some good for us just in our tempo and timing at least offensively. Going against our scouts is not the same as going against our defensive backs and their reaction."

While many of the defensive players struggled to find an explanation for why Arizona was able to move so easily down the field in the second half, many thought they'd need to watch film to figure out the reason. Perhaps that is so, but maybe at this point of the season it is enough to recognize the Ducks are 8-3 for the year and 6-2 in Pac-10 competition. It's too late in the year to make too many make-overs on defense, so those wanting to see some changes in the defense are going to have to wait until next year. Until then the Ducks have a shot finishing the season with 10 wins, and in some circles that's not a bad dream at all.

Masoli tied the Oregon single-game record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with three (Kellen Clemens vs. WSU, 2004; Joey Harrington at Arizona, 2001).
Blount tied Oregon's single-season record for rushing TDs with 15 (Asladin McCullough, 1996)
With 92 points on the season, Blount ties Bobby Moore (Ahmad Rashad) for fifth on the single-season chart.
The Ducks went unbeaten at home in Pac-10 play (4-0) for the first time since 2000 (4-0).
Masoli's 65-yard TD pass to Jeffrey Maehl was the longest scoring pass of the season and a career long pass/catch for both players.
DE Nick Reed moved into a tie for second on the all-time school sacks list with Saul Patu (1999-00) with 26.5.
Rover Patrick Chung's ‘Pick-6' in the first quarter was the first of his career and the first Oregon interception return for score since DE Mike DiVincenzo's last year in the Sun Bowl. It was also Chung's second career touchdown, his first being a score on a punt return.
Oregon's 21 points in the first quarter tied a season high against WSU on Sept. 27th.
The 45 first-half points by Oregon were its highest total since scoring 49 in the opening half against Nevada in 1999. Oregon eventually won that game 72-10.
Oregon debuted a black helmet and uniform for this game.
Oregon has eclipsed 50 points four times this season and three times in conference play.
The Ducks reached six Pac-10 wins for the sixth time in Bellotti's era (1995-present) and the first time since going 7-1 in 2005.
Chung and center Max Unger now have 49 consecutive starts including all 25 at Autzen Stadium since 2005.
Today's sellout crowd was the 61st consecutive game dating back to 1999.
Bellotti said that Andre Crenshaw and Walter Thurmond III had sore backs, Garrett Embry had an ankle injury, Ed Dickson suffered a thigh injury and Javes Lewis may have had a minor concussion but nobody would be out even next week and "certainly not in two weeks."

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