Thursday, December 3, 2009
Civil War for the Roses
By Ted Miller ESPN.com
EUGENE, Ore. -- State pride is the fundamental stake in a rivalry game, and that's certainly at issue tonight in the Civil War.
But so is the Rose Bowl.
Jeremiah Masoli threw for 274 yards and three scores in last year's Civil War.
The winner goes. The loser knows it operated as a travel agent to Pasadena.
That's never been the case in 112 previous Civil Wars between Oregon and Oregon State, which means the joy and misery on opposite sidelines figure to touch unprecedented extremes when the clock strikes zero in Autzen Stadium.
The simplicity is elegant.
But there's more.
The winning coach? He's almost certainly the Pac-10 Coach of the Year.
The winning quarterback? He's likely the first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback.
The winning fan base? Well, let's just say bragging rights might extend a little bit longer than a year on this one.
The game's national ramifications and the 12 days of hype-accumulation -- both teams were off last weekend -- has created an electric and contentious atmosphere that has consumed the state.
"You just mention the Civil War and you get goose bumps," Oregon tight end Ed Dickson said.
Both coaches have been preaching about "living in the moment" and focusing on the task at hand -- the game itself, not what it means. If either program knows the pratfalls of looking ahead, it's Oregon State. It needed only to win last year's Civil War to advance to the Rose Bowl but suffered a historic 65-38 faceplant -- the most points the program has surrendered -- in front of Beavers fans whose roses brought along for an expected celebration ended up cast down among the detritus of the Reser Stadium stands.
"We really did fall into the trap of being consumed by the thought of going to the Rose Bowl," Oregon State linebacker Keaton Kristick said.
The last of Oregon's four Rose Bowl trips followed the 1994 season. The Ducks would have gone to the Granddaddy after the 2001 season, but it was the BCS title game that year and the computers saw fit to send Nebraska to face Miami instead of the No. 2 Ducks, who stomped Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl. (The Buffaloes had crushed Nebraska in the regular-season finale. Ask any Oregon fan about how it went down -- the skulduggery! -- if you have an extra hour or two).
Oregon State has been to the Rose Bowl three times, the last time in 1965. In 1971, the Beavers began a streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons. Ah, but they are 6-5 in the Civil War since 1998, a year that is typically cited as the program's turning point.
The last time either team won a Rose Bowl was 1942, but that's the story for next week.
Both teams didn't exactly explode out of the gate. Oregon looked terrible in a 19-8 loss at Boise State to open the season, and looked worse afterward when running back LeGarrette Blount melted down. The Beavers, typically slow starters, were 2-2 after four games and mostly off the national radar.
The seventh-ranked Ducks (9-2 overall, 7-1 Pac-10) roared back with seven consecutive wins, including beatdowns of California and USC. The No. 16 Beavers (8-3, 6-2) climbed back quietly, re-entering the BCS standings on Week 10 and the AP rankings the following week (in all likelihood a number of poll voters responded to the computers recognizing the Beavers first).
The Ducks will have their hands full with running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who has scored 20 touchdowns.
Beavers coach Mike Riley seemed comfortable embracing the underdog role.
"I think a lot of people didn't notice us until all of the sudden -- poof -- you look up at the last game and we're playing for the conference championship," he said. "I kind of think that's a neat thing. I do think it surprised some people."
While every year and every team is different, and it's often misleading to bring up last year's game for reference, it's hard to ignore what happened in Corvallis, and both teams were asked about it repeatedly this week. Oregon rolled up 694 yards against one of the nation's best defenses. A few weeks later, that defense pitched a shutout in a Sun Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.
The big question: What will the Beavers do differently to stop the Ducks high-powered spread-option offense, which again has quarterback Jeremiah Masoli at the controls? It seems like Oregon coach Chip Kelly is as curious as anyone.
"We've got to use the first quarter or the first couple of drives to confirm if they are staying with what they've normally done or have they changed to face us," he said.
One of the best things the Beavers can do? Play keep-away, with quarterback Sean Canfield and running back Jacquizz Rodgers churning out first downs as they have done much of the season.
While Riley, who grew up in Corvallis, has played along with reporters looking for colorful quotes about the grandeur of this year's Civil War, Kelly has stuck with his "every game is a Super Bowl for us" line.
Make no mistake, though, everybody on both sides knows what's at stake.
"We are one game away and everybody knows it," Masoli said. "There's one team standing in the way. One more stone to step on before we get to our goal. And Oregon State is it."