Oregon-Arizona rife with Rose Bowl implications

November, 20, 2009
11/20/09
8:00
AM ET
Remember Master Po, the blind monk in the "Kung Fu" TV series from the 1970s? The guy who always called the child-version of David Carradine's character "grasshopper"?

Oregon coach Chip Kelly is nothing like Master Po. But more than a few times this season it seemed like he was about to conclude a response to a reporter's question with the edgy, perhaps off-color, East Coast equivalent of "grasshopper."

Such as: Chip, have you talked to your players about the Rose Bowl implications of your game at Arizona on Saturday?

"I haven't talked about the Rose Bowl," Kelly replied. "I haven't even talked about the idea. We're not an end-goal operation. We're a process deal. You've got to win the day. If you want to get to the top of the mountain, you better concentrate on your next step or you are going to fall off that mountain."

'Ya freaking grasshopper!

Ah, but locker room wisdom only goes so far. While Kelly has been steadfast about looking no further than the present moment, his players, possessed by curiosity, may have flipped forward a few chapters ahead. The scent of roses wafting through the air is hard to ignore.

"We all know that," Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. "It's not a big secret here. It's not like we don't talk about it at all."

"That" and "it," of course, are the Rose Bowl.

If No. 11 Oregon (8-2, 6-1) beats Arizona (6-3, 4-2) and then wins the Civil War vs. rival Oregon State on Dec. 3, it goes to the Rose Bowl.

On the other sideline, however, the Wildcats face a similar situation. If they beat the Ducks, then beat Arizona State and USC, they go to the Rose Bowl.

So the big picture is sorta hard to ignore for both teams, even if they aspire to be all football-Zen with the moment.

"I know the big picture," Arizona quarterback Nick Foles admitted. "You always are aware of the big picture."

Arizona's big picture got a little smaller with a loss last weekend at California. That knocked the Wildcats out of the national rankings and eliminated the one-game cushion they shared with the Ducks heading into the home stretch.

There are myriad possibilities of how the Pac-10 might play out -- including a six-team tie in which USC prevails.

But these two are the only ones who control their own destiny.

An added curiosity this week was last year's peculiar game. Oregon led the Wildcats 45-17 at halftime -- 45 points at halftime! -- but suddenly found its lead whittled down to 48-45 with 6:30 remaining. A 40-yard touchdown run from LeGarrette Blount iced things 55-45 for the Ducks and allowed the fans in Autzen Stadium to finally breathe again.

"They kind of clamped down and made some plays against us in the second half," Kelly said. "It really was one of those deals when time ran out on them."

Did we mention Blount? By the way, odds are good that Blount will see his first action Saturday since he was suspended for punching a Boise State player in the season-opener. Blount was reinstated last week but didn't play in the win over Arizona State.

Arizona coach Mike Stoops didn't seem to think last year's game was relevant, but Kelly wondered if perhaps the Wildcats saw some things in the second half that might carry over this weekend.

"That's the chess match that goes on within the game -- what do they keep from last year's game plan? What do they add new?" Kelly said. "You kind of figure that out as the game goes on."

Arizona has enough speed on defense to keep up with Oregon. But do they have the discipline, particularly their linebackers, who sometimes freelance? They did in the second half last year, not so much in the first half.

Another line of intrigue is how well Foles bounces back from his struggles at California, which included a critical penalty called on him in Bears territory -- he tried to throw a deflected pass a second time -- that killed what could have been a game-winning drive.

While Kelly didn't want to talk about what the game means, Stoops found it hard not to state the obvious, even going as far as to admit he may have stated the obvious to his team.

"They know it's a big game," he said. "For us to stay alive in the Pac-10, we need to win."

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