Saturday, September 20, 2003 Updated: September 25, 5:13 PM ET
Forget cute, Ducks pack a punch
By Bruce Feldman ESPN The Magazine
EUGENE, Ore. -- With a bubble of fresh blood peeping out of the bridge of his nose and a sea of yellow-shirted Oregon fans banging on his shoulder pads, Anthony Trucks couldn't resist playing to the crowd.
"Who's Michigan?" the Oregon outside linebacker yelled at them. "Michigan ain't nuthin'. They ain't nuthin'."
Crazy game, this college football. Just last week we were all calling Michigan a lock to play in the BCS title game. And on Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines -- fresh off their domination of Notre Dame -- ventured out to the Pacific Time Zone and ended up being the ones who got smacked around. The Wolverines were outgained 233-46 in the first half en route to a 21-6 hole they could never escape, eventually losing to No. 22 Oregon, 31-27.
Michigan's John Navarre struggled, but he also had Oregon chasing him all over the field.
"Give Oregon credit," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "We have no excuses. We just made too many mistakes to win."
What happened? Well, let's recap: Michigan QB John Navarre was wild and high with his throws; his go-to receiver Braylon Edwards dropped passes, including a sure touchdown; safety Marlin Jackson, the team's best player, missed a bunch of tackles and, maybe most shocking of all, the Wolverines got mauled on the line of scrimmage. Chris Perry, the Michigan RB some were already handing the Heisman to, managed just 26 yards on 11 carries. As a team, Michigan ran for minus-three yards on 19 carries.
"We kicked their ass," said Duck defensive lineman Igor Olshansky. "Our D-line is legit. You can't run on us."
The 6-6, 309-pound Ukrainian might be right. And, as the nation's elite teams -- USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Miami -- will tell you, if you have a great defensive front, you have the ingredients to be disruptive force and a title contender. Against No. 5 Michigan, the Ducks showed they may just have that.
It was a pretty stunning display considering some Michigan insiders were touting the Wolverines offensive line as their best in 10 years -- and given that UO is missing potential All-American DT Haloti Ngata, its 345-pound run stuffer sidelined for the season with a knee injury. Still, entering the game, the Ducks had only been giving up 2.8 yards per rush, despite having faced two impressive runners, Nevada's Chance Kretschmer and Arizona's Clarence Farmer.
The Ducks pass defense, however, was a bigger question mark. Despite playing three teams with modest passing games, Oregon still had surrendered six TD passes and 225 yards per game. And in 2002, the Ducks were dead last in the Pac-10 in pass defense. However, thanks to a constant pass rush and some solid secondary work, Michigan was able to hit on only 5-of-16 third down conversions and kept Navarre to 5-of-12 for 42 yards in the first half.
Oregon DB Marley Tucker said he thought the Wolverines came into Autzen Stadium with "their noses wide open ... Like they thought they would win just because they were Michigan. And we couldn't have that. It was a pride thing."
If the Ducks sound angry, it's because they were. Still are to some extent. Oregon DE Devan Long said it wasn't just a case of hearing all about how great and mighty Michigan was, it was also the snide remarks about the Ducks' new bright yellow uniforms, their new state-of-the-art locker room and their billboard promotional campaigns. "I was reading something in the paper about how we were trying to buy our respect," said Long, who had 1.5 sacks Saturday. "That bothered me."
Long was quick to add that the Ducks are the Pac-10's winningest team over the last decade. Last year, though, they did go 7-6, losing six of their last seven games. But the Ducks say it wasn't for a lack of talent; instead they attribute a disappointing 2002 to poor chemistry.
"Last year's team wasn't a family," Long said. "This year we're playing as a whole, and when you do that, good things happen."
Some Wolverine fans will probably again heap the blame for Michigan's undoing on their perennial scapegoat Navarre, but that's a bit off-base. True, he had more than his share of overthrows, but he had Long, Olshansky and Robby Valenzuela in his chest all day.
Oregon also was able to do something Notre Dame couldn't, and that was challenge a suspect Michigan pass defense. The Ducks spread out the Wolverines secondary and exploited some mismatches with speedy TE Tim Day. They also targeted Wolverine CB Markus Curry. The quarterback rotation of Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife never seemed to miss a beat, combining to hit on 20-of-31 for 253 yards.
"It was everything that you dream of as a kid," said Clemens, a native of Burns, Ore. "It was unbelievable."
Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.