Friday, January 1, 2010
Updated: January 3, 7:37 AM ET
Punch, fumble bookend Ducks season
By Ted Miller
PASADENA, Calif. -- Oregon's season was encompassed by two bookends of disaster. While what lay in the middle was mostly outstanding -- historically good, even -- the boundaries were made by two terrible incidents, though of greatly different severity.
Both featured running back LeGarrette Blount.
Blount's punch of a Boise State player after the Ducks' humiliating season-opening defeat at Boise State became a launching point for a surprising run to the Pac-10 championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.
And Blount's fumble with just over five minutes left in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl was the critical, transformational play in the Ducks' 26-17 defeat to Ohio State.
"That was kind of game-changing," said Blount, who spoke to reporters for the first time since the night he melted down at Boise State and was suspended for eight games.
Blount fumbled on a second-and-2 on the Buckeyes' 18-yard line. At that point the Ducks were down 19-17, but their offense had driven for a touchdown on its previous possession and appeared to be finding its rhythm.
After that play, little else went well.
"That one turnover probably was the turning point," tight end Ed Dickson said. "That was probably the game right there. We had the momentum, but once we had that fumble, you could feel the momentum switch."
|LeGarrette Blount's fumble out of the end zone stopped a productive Oregon drive.|
With his mother in the stands sitting behind the Ducks' bench, Blount scored a touchdown to tie the game at 10. He mostly played well, rushing for 36 yards on five carries, looking like the physical 240-pound runner who was expected to be one of the nation's top running backs during the preseason.
Then the fumble.
It wasn't the stuff of fairy tales. But life is often messy like that.
The fumble, to be fair, wasn't completely Blount's fault. "It was just a miscommunication between me and [quarterback Jeremiah Masoli]," he said.
The punch was, Blount said. But he also wanted to deliver a clear message to reporters who encircled him in the back of the locker room.
No, he hasn't changed much as a person since the incident. Why? Because, he said, that terrible mistake wasn't who he is as a person.
"I'm the same person that I was back then," he said. "I made a mistake. That's all I can say about it. Emotions were running high and I just made a mistake. It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life and I take full responsibility for it. I shouldn't have done it. But you can ask my teammates. You can ask my family and friends. That's not the kind of person I am."
That was kind of game-changing.
-- LeGarrette Blount on his fumble
It caused a minor stir at Rose Bowl media day when Blount didn't show up to talk to reporters, despite BCS bowl game rules that every player should be available. Oregon coach Chip Kelly and other officials said Blount simply didn't want to talk.
"I didn't want it to be a distraction to my team," he said.
Blount's Oregon career ended with the Rose Bowl. Now he wants to move on, and that means the NFL. Once a solid prospect, Blount's stock has fallen. He's obviously aware of that.
"I haven't really put the NFL stock stuff into perspective," he said. "I haven't really been thinking about it. I've heard people say my stock is down to undraftable and all the way up to my stock is fifth, sixth or seventh rounds. It doesn't bother me."
His Oregon career didn't get its redemptive happy ending. Much like Blount's career, the evening started with promise but then featured a terrible mistake under a national spotlight.
But Blount is looking forward. That is, of course, all he can do. Maybe his happy ending is ahead? Maybe it will be in the NFL.
"I'm just trying to get there," he said. "I just want that shot. If I get that shot, I can definitely prove to people the [person] they think they saw [at Boise State] is definitely not what I am."
|Blount's first carry of the game was Oregon's first touchdown.|
Ted Miller covers Pac-10 football for ESPN.com.