Despite losing a fumble on the opening kickoff – not to mention their star cornerback for the remainder of the game – the Oregon Ducks showed no mercy Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium, blowing out California in impressive fashion and potentially derailing the Heisman hopes of one Jahvid Best.
Walter Thurmond's fumble at the beginning of the game eventually resulted in a 47 yard field goal by Cal kicker Vince D'Amato after the Golden Bears couldn't take advantage of the short field afforded to them. While the Ducks didn't expect to hand the ball to Cal to begin the game, the real disappointment was losing Thurmond for the rest of the game due to an apparent knee injury. Though results on Thurmond's knee won't be known for a few days, Kelly doesn't anticipate the knee injury to be season-ending.
Thurmond was seen standing, walking around on the sideline with an ice pack on his knee for the majority of the first half.
As it turned out, the field goal would turn out to be the only points Cal would put on the board in this game, as the Oregon defense completely dominated the Golden Bear offense. The Ducks limited the Bears to a meer 207 yards of total offense and stymied the typically dominant Best.
So what was the secret?
"Tackling," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, "and that's what we talked about. That's what we said last week. Tackling. We were going to get eleven guys to tackle him. If we could hit him when he was coming off the bus, we would have done it…they knew where (number) 4 was every single time and you got to wrap him up…and it wasn't one guy making a tackle on him. You saw a couple of times, I said ‘eee, God I think he's gonna go' because he's that talented a player."
Best – arguably the Heisman front runner at this point in the season heading in to this week's game – was only able to manage 55 yards on 16 carries as the Duck defense swarmed and swallowed up Best before he could find a hole to use his incendiary open field speed. In Marvin Johnson's eyes, it was the Ducks understanding of the gameplan and their ability to execute which allowed them to be so dominant today.
"We've got to know our defense and execute our defense," said Johnson, "We had a good week of practice. We anticipated a lot of their moves, so when they did it, we were ready for it. We just reacted to it fast."
Offensively, Oregon had their best outing of their entire season against one of the best defenses – statistically speaking – in the Pac-10. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and tight end Ed Dickson were in rare form this afternoon, connecting eleven times for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Seemingly, every drive that was orchestrated by the Duck offense was either capitalized or assisted by a big play from Masoli to Dickson. The talk leading up to this weekend's game was that Dickson needed to assume a bigger role in the offensive gameplan. Dickson, however, didn't necessarily plan on being the offensive centerpiece.
"I would hope I would be involved in the offense," said Dickson, "If that takes me blocking or catching the ball and scoring three touchdowns…that's fun to do, but the object is to get this victory."
Dickson went on to credit the offensive line and Masoli – who finished an impressive 21-of-25 for 253 yards and three touchdowns – for his performance today, but it was also the play of the Oregon running game – led by LaMichael James – that provided the Ducks with a balanced attack that kept the Cal defense on their heels. James finished with 118 of Oregon's 236 yards on the ground, to go along with a four-yard touchdown that capped the first half for the Ducks. The appearance of the passing game with nab the headlines this week, but Masoli said that the play of the running backs – particularly James – shouldn't be overlooked.
"I think his play has kind of been understated in this offense," said Masoli, "they way he moves the defensive line and stuff like that. Maybe a bigger back wouldn't be able to run through there, but the way he' so shifty and the way he can accelerate on people definitely gives us an edge."
While all appears well, the Ducks don't feel that they can rest on their laurels knowing that they'll face a game Washington State team who will be inspired to spring an upset next Saturday.
"This game has no impact on next week," said Kelly, "You just go around the country and guys are getting knocked off left and right. Every week somebody is the darling and you've got to guard against that…we'll keep our head down. We'll stay up here in the Northwest and I hope nobody talks about us."
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