December 26, 2008

Ducking the Competition: Oregon '08 review

With its games coming later in the day for us folks here in Big 12 country, it's not always easy to keep up with the Pac-10 teams and how they've fared over the course of the season.

And since Oklahoma State is playing Oregon in the Holiday Bowl in just a few days, it's high time to take a look back at how the Ducks got to their 9-3 regular season record.

For starters, the Ducks are coming into San Diego on a roll. UO finished the season winning its last three games. Included in that stretch is a big win over Civil War rival Oregon State. The Beavers went into that game only needing to best the Ducks in order to claim a spot in the Rose Bowl. But UO didn't let that happen and ended up demolishing the Beavers in Corvallis, 65-38. That win put the Ducks into a second-place tie with the Beavers in the Pac-10, which allowed the Holiday Bowl to select Team Nike.

But let's rewind things a bit further for a bit, way back to the end of August. On the same day OSU was in Seattle beating up on Washington State, the Ducks were at home in Eugene hosting the other Evergreen State team, Washington. In that game, the Huskies started off what would become a winless season with a 44-10 loss to the Ducks.

Two weeks later, after a 66-24 win over Utah State, the Ducks went on the road to take on Purdue in what would turn into a tight contest. It took two overtimes for UO to pull out a 32-26 victory. But the win was costly, as No. 2 quarterback Justin Roper was lost with a knee injury in the first overtime. This came just a few weeks after losing expected starter Nate Costa needed season-ending surgery before the first game.

The very next week, the Ducks were involved in another tight contest. This time, Oregon hosted Boise State in Eugene. At this point, the Ducks were down to their third-string QB, Jeremiah Masoli, a JUCO transfer. But he left the game with a mild concussion, meaning true freshman Chris Harper was thrust into action. But he didn't do well at all, so head coach Mike Belotti set the redshirt of Darron Thomas on fire. He ended up passing for 210 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn't enough, as the Broncos prevailed, 37-32, despite Boise State posting 40 less yards of total offense and 13 fewer first downs.

The Ducks rebounded nicely the next week, blitzing Washington State 63-14 in Pullman. That was followed by a rough outing against Southern California, as the Trojans pounded UO 44-10 in Los Angeles. The Ducks' next game wasn't their best effort of the season, as UCLA came to Eugene and gave UO quite a scare. At halftime, the Ducks were up 14-0, but going into the fourth quarter, UO was up only 21-14. A field goal and a touchdown in the final frame put the Ducks up 31-17, but a late Bruins touchdown brought the margin to seven with less than a minute to go.

At that point in the year, the Ducks were 5-2 and 3-1 in the Pac-10. After a 54-20 win over Arizona State in Tempe, Oregon headed to Berkeley to take on the California Bears. At that point, the Ducks were atop the conference standings. But a fierce rain combined with two costly turnovers deep in their own territory ultimately cost the Ducks. The result was a 26-16 loss.

That brings us back to the Ducks' final three-game stretch of 2008. Going home for their last two home games, Oregon bested Stanford, 35-28, and Arizona, 55-45. And in that aforementioned Civil War contest against Oregon State, the Beavers were on the verge of a Rose Bowl berth. At 7-1 in the league, the Beavers just had to win a game at home against its biggest rival to secure a trip to Pasadena. The Quack Attack had other ideas, however. All they did was fly into Reser Stadium and put up 695 yards of offense, 37 first-half points and killed the Rose Bowl hopes of a team that hadn't been there since 1964.

In all, it was a solid season for the Ducks, especially considering their problems at quarterback. And on Tuesday, they'll go up against another OSU to decide the Holiday Bowl title.

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