Defense Determines Outcome In Duck Victory

Though the stats might not show, the Oregon defense has performed beyond expectations this season, keeping the Ducks within striking distance when the offense has sputtered. Today was no different, as the speedy Duck defense carried Oregon to victory in a thrilling 31-24 win over the 18th-ranked Utah Utes.

"I thought our defense played unbelievable today," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, "Before the season started, I think some people doubted me that we'd rely on our defense and they played an unbelievable game today."

The Oregon defense set the tone early and their intensity never wavered, as the Ducks swarmed and confused Utah quarterback, Terrance Cain, forcing two interceptions and completely neutralizing the Utah running game en route to their victory over the Utes on Saturday.

"We knew he was a young quarterback," said Oregon senior cornerback Walter Thurmond of Cain, "It was a big away game (for them) and we prepared very well the previous week."

Thurmond made his impact felt immediately in the first quarter, returning Utah's first punt of the game 78 yards for a touchdown, but it was the play of his teammates on the defensive side of the ball that kept momentum on the Duck sideline for the majority of the game. The play of Thurmond, Brandon Bair, Spencer Paysinger, Eddie Pleasant, and John Boyett proved to be outstanding today as the defense held Utah to 297 yards of total offense, the Utes lowest output of the season.

Kelly singled out Boyett -- the redshirt freshman from Napa, Calif. -- after the game, commenting specifically on the interception he made late in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for the Ducks.

"He needs to learn to get out of bounds after he makes that interception," Kelly laughed, "That was the only thing I kept thinking when he started weaving across the field, but John has been great. He's a student of the game, he's always in our office watching film. He's a gym rat and he's put himself in a position to make plays and I'm really happy for him."

Three games in to the season, a pattern of opportunistic play has developed defensively for the Ducks and has become a trait the Oregon defense expects out of itself every time they take the field.

"That's kind of our mentality when we come out on to the field," said Oregon senior defensive end Will Tukuafu, "It's to fly around and make big plays and help our offense out and help this team exceed to where we need to be at."

While the defense played with tremendous swagger and executed the Oregon defensive game plan to a T, the offense continues to be marred by inconsistent play. Despite rushing for 47 yards and two touchdowns, junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was wildly erratic throwing the ball, finishing the game 4 for 16 for 95 yards and one interception.

Masoli said it was a combination of things that contributed to his disappointing play today.

"Myself and my receivers need to work a little extra and get on the same page … and myself with my reads."

Kelly mentioned that going into next week's showdown against Cal at Autzen, Masoli will need to focus more on ball security and making better decisions from the quarterback position.

"You got to know where you are," said Kelly, "and you got to know the game situation. We practice the game situations a lot, but that's on us as coaches to put him in a situation where he has a chance to be successful, and we'll continue to harp on that because you have a really, really good Cal team coming in here next week."

Though the passing game was decidely subpar, the Oregon running game was impressive. Redshirt freshman running back LaMichael James announced his arrival on national television this afternoon with an inspiring 152 yard effort on the ground to go along with one touchdown, his first of his collegian.

"It's very exciting," said James of his first collegiate touchdown, "it's always exciting to do something good … (today) I just blocked out everything. I didn't even notice the defenders on the field."

Kelly submitted praise for James and for the running game, which paced the Ducks for 217 of their 312 yards of total offense.

"I thought our running game started to come alive," admitted Kelly, "LaMichael really started to pick up and made some nice runs and became a dynamic player and obviously Jeremiah's a dynamic player when he can keep the ball and come out the backside and force the defense to defend the whole field."

Today proved that there is still plenty of work to be done and as satisfying as this win might be for coaches and players tonight, Kelly mentioned that the team's focus is already beginning to turn to the matchup with the Golden Bears next Saturday.

"It doesn't get any easier," said Kelly, "but we feel our pre-conference schedule – in terms of the three teams we played – will prepare us for what our conference is going to be … every week is a season and we'll come back Monday morning with our first lifting group at 6:55 am and we'll go to work and try to put a good gameplan together for Cal."

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