It was a roller coaster ride as the Ducks held on for four quarters against the unranked Purdue Boilermakers, in a game that tested the emotional mettle of a fragile Oregon squad coming on the heels of a disastrous performance against Boise State some nine days ago.
After Oregon went three and out on their first offensive possession of the game, it began to establish some semblance of an offensive tempo that was non-existent the week previous. Oregon junior quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli paced the Ducks in the first half, rushing for 60 of his 84 yards on the ground, keeping the Ducks in the game as the rest of the offense tried to find its rhythm.
"He's a winner," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly of Masoli, "And the one thing I love about him, he never gets rattled. He's never down, he's never up, he's just the same. He's steady. I think he's a calming influence and I think he really got the two young guys [running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner] to kind of calm down and play. He's such a weapon with the ball in his hands that I think it makes the defense have to defend the whole field."
In addition to his 84 yards rushing, Masoli added 163 yards through the air on 11-of-21 passing.
With Masoli providing the offense, the Ducks and Boilermakers answered each other blow-for-blow in the first half. Morgan Flint drew first blood, putting the Ducks ahead 3-0 on his 28 yard field goal. Purdue countered with a five-yard touchdown run by running back Jaycen Taylor to make the score 7-3 before Andre Crenshaw gave the Ducks the 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter with his two-yard touchdown run. Purdue opened the second quarter with an impressive scoring drive that was capped off by running back Ralph Bolden's 19-yard touchdown run. With Purdue leading 14-10, the Oregon offense sputtered and was forced to turn to the defense for points, where senior cornerback Walter Thurmond happily obliged. With just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Thurmond intercepted Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott and returned it 18 yards for the touchdown, giving the Ducks a 17-14 lead.
"They had one receiver out there," said Thurmond of the pick six, "and I had seen his split was kind of close to the offensive line of scrimmage and he ran a slow out pattern. I didn't think the quarterback was going to throw the ball and I just jumped it."
The Boilermakers were able to tie the game at 17 apiece just before halftime on a 23-yard field goal from Carson Wiggs.
In the second half, the defense would continue its opportunistic play and provide the momentum for an offense that was just finding its traction. After Bolden tacked on his second of three touchdowns on the evening making the tally 24-17 in favor of Purdue, the Oregon defense came up with arguably the play of the game, as the Ducks forced a fumbled that was recovered by sophomore Javes Lewis and returned 28 yards for the Oregon score.
"I just saw the ball and picked it up and ran," said Lewis of his fumble recovery, "Being opportunistic is something we pride ourselves on and making the best of each opportunity (afforded to us) and that's what we do."
The defensive touchdown made the score 24-24, and after a defensive stand gave the ball back to Masoli. With the running game finally coming to life on the legs of James and Barner, the Ducks drove down the field in impressive fashion, capping the drive with a 15-yard touchdown scamper by Masoli. In the fourth quarter, the electrifying Bolden struck again, scoring on a 22-yard touchdown reception from Elliott. Bolden proved to give the Oregon defense fits all game, finishing the game with 123 yards on the ground and 52 yards through the air.
"He's just such a slasher," said Lewis of the difficulty in defending Bolden, "He hits the hole hard and he's a downhill runner. We mainly just need to focus on wrapping up and getting him to the ground and we kind of struggled on that throughout the game … he's a very versatile back and a good player."
The Ducks blocked the PAT following the Bolden score, which proved to be vital later in the game. The Ducks extended their lead to eight points when Barner made the score 38-30 on his 21-yard touchdown run that came on a daunting 3rd and 20. With time waning, Purdue put together an impressive touchdown drive that ended with Keith Smith throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Valentine on a gutsy wide receiver reverse pass on 4th down. Down two, the Boilermakers attempted the two-point conversion to tie, but were denied as Elliott's pass was caught out of bounds in the back of the end zone.
Kelly admitted to being nervous during Purdue's final drive, but was noticeably relieved after the game knowing that his first win as a collegiate head coach was in the books.
"It's a lot easier to teach from a winning perspective," said Kelly afterward. "They (the team) understand that when you play good football teams this is what you have to do. We certainly have to cut down on turnovers on the offensive side of the ball … but if we can stay away from the self-inflicted wounds that we're doing a little bit on the offensive side of the ball, I think we'll start to come together."
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