When Oregon looked down, it surged
October, 16, 2011
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
EUGENE, Ore. -- How bad did things look for Oregon early in the third quarter against Arizona State? Let us count the ways.
One, running back LaMichael James, the best running back in college football, was on the Ducks' sideline in street clothes with a dislocated elbow. Two, he had been joined by QB Darron Thomas, who hurt his knee on a three-and-out possession to start the second half. Three, the Sun Devils took the ball and raced 67 yards in four plays -- all running -- to take a 24-21 lead. And four, redshirt freshman QB Bryan Bennett was coming off the bench cold for his first meaningful career action on ESPN.
The Four Sun Devils of the Duckapocalypse!
Number five is the doozy: With Bennett running the show, Oregon asserted its will, wore down the Sun Devils, took over the game and won impressively, 41-27, rushing for 269 of its 327 yards in the second half.
"I had to pull myself together and be poised and go out there and lead this offense," Bennett explained.
Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireBryan Bennett stepped in for an injury-ravaged Oregon offense and closed out the win against Arizona State.
Oregon has an unquestioned superstar in James, a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner. And it has a second-team All-Pac-Conference QB in Thomas. But there's more to this team. The Ducks also have a defense that can make a stand and several players who are mostly unknown outside the Ducks' maniacal fan base but fully capable of breaking an opponent's heart.
Or his ankles, which is a good transition for taking note of James' backup, Kenjon Barner, who led the second-half charge by rushing for 148 of his 171 yards after the break. He began the day with a fumble, but ended it by looking a lot like, well, James.
"Kenjon could start at a lot of schools in this country," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
But it wasn't just Barner and Bennett, who completed just 2 of 5 passes, but rushed for 65 yards. It also was true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who rushed for 73 yards on seven carries (10.4 per carry) and two TDs, and caught four passes for 24 yards. It also was tight end David Paulson, who caught three passes for 41 yards and a TD, one of six receivers who caught at least one of the Ducks' 22 pass attempts. It also was a defense that yielded 460 yards but only 10 second-half points.
Heck, it also was cornerback Cliff Harris returning from Kelly's purgatory to grab a critical interception, which he returned 50 yards to set up a TD drive just before halftime.
"You take the good and the bad with Cliff," said Kelly, who noted that Harris fumbled after he was tackled -- the Ducks recovered -- and also was beaten for a touchdown. "We need Cliff to be good for the football team."
At various moments of the back-and-forth affair, which featured 170 yards in penalties, a majority of which were from personal fouls, Arizona State seemed to be asserting itself. QB Brock Osweiler was the player of the first quarter, completing 11 of 13 passes for 122 yards and two TDs.
But Thomas owned the second quarter, completing 9-of-11 for 147 yards and two scores as the Ducks took a 21-17 lead into the break. Still, that the Ducks had only 58 yards rushing at halftime seemed to hint that things might be leaning slightly toward the Sun Devils.
"We've been in these situations before," Kelly said. "Our defense really had our back."
That's how things often are with Oregon. They lose a quarter. They trail at the half. They give up yards. But they adjust and explode. And break an opponent down.
"Oregon did a really good job matching our routes and that was what the major difference was between the first half and the second," Osweiler aid. "They just came out of the locker room and finished the game with a near-flawless second half."
It was Oregon's 20th straight victory at Autzen Stadium and 15th straight victory over a conference foe.
Oregon, now 5-1 and 3-0 in the Pac-12, visits Colorado next weekend and then returns home to play host to Washington State. They should win those games, with or without James and Thomas. Then things get tricky with a visit to surging, hated rival Washington before the trip to Stanford on Nov. 12 -- a game that has been circled in red since the preseason as the Pac-12 North game of the year.
Arizona State's season certainly wasn't ruined. It remains the overwhelming favorite to win the South Division and to advance to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2. ASU will be favored in all of its final five games.
"The bottom line for us is we got beat by a good football team," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "We've got five football games left. We have a lot to play for."
So does Oregon, which is refusing to exit the national picture as some projected it might after a season-opening loss to LSU.
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