— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
A lot has happened in 95 years. No, I’m not going to give you a big dissertation on what’s occurred since Woodrow Wilson was president. (You can go to the History Channel for that one). But 1917 was the last time Oregon won the Rose Bowl. That is, until Monday.
For once, the Ducks did more than show up for a big game, defeating Wisconsin 45-38 in Pasadena. As a result, Oregon can discard some critiques about their football team.
They can’t win a BCS Bowl? Just did it. Same goes for beating a ranked non-conference opponent away from Autzen Stadium.
All that talk about how Chip Kelly was just an offensive gimmick coach? By winning this Rose Bowl, that perception will change things dramatically. You can also officially say Oregon is an elite college football program without a scoff here and there. There is more to this squad than a multiple choice of fancy uniforms.
However, this victory was not only crucial for validating the present. It was important for assuring an even brighter future. With USC primed to wrestle back the Pac-12 next season, it would’ve been a lot tougher to sell Oregon to potential five-star recruits without winning a game the Trojans used to take regularly.
Now you can expect that for the next few years, the Ducks and SC will battle for conference supremacy. Those games will be worth the price of admission.
But that’s a conversation for another day. Right now, let’s look at some of the great stories that came out of a milestone moment. Before we get to any of the great plays, I think you have to tip your hat to some of the fine assistant coaches like Nick Aliotti, Gary Campbell, Steve Greatwood, and Don Pellum.
These guys have been involved with the program since Rich Brooks was head coach and can remember the days when Oregon fans would be happy to get to any bowl. With their hard work, they set the foundation that made the program what it is today. Without what these guys put together, you never would’ve seen someone like De’Anthony Thomas set foot in Eugene.
Speaking of De’Anthony, he did a lot on only two carries, didn’t he? A 91-yard run for a touchdown in the first half (which set a new Rose Bowl record) followed up with a 64-yard dash early in the third quarter. I thought he might be the X-factor due to his athleticism, and the Badgers simply couldn’t match his speed when tested.
In fact, his spectacular day made LaMichael James’ 159-yard performance seem bland in comparison. If this was the last time he put on a Duck uniform, then he’s going out in style.
Ditto for Lavasier Tuinei. The senior wideout has been criticized for not playing up to his full potential. Yet he earned the offensive MVP honors with clutch catch after clutch catch, including two touchdowns. Having talked to him a couple of times, I’ve found him to be a decent fellow and I always like good things to happen to good people.
Of course, Tuinei can’t do that if quarterback Darron Thomas hadn’t played with great poise during the contest. True, he threw a pick and fumbled a ball that resulted in six points for the Badgers. But Thomas shrugged off his miscues and managed the game well enough to win. You remember how people were calling for Bryan Bennett earlier this year? They won’t be doing that going into 2012.
By the same token, kudos have to go to the Oregon defense. Yes, they gave up a lot of yards, particularly to Montee Ball. However, if you watched closely, it was clear that the Ducks weren’t afraid of the big running back or their super-sized offensive line. Look at the numerous times they’d answer one of Ball’s 10-yard bursts by knocking him on his keister on the next down. In the end, they made enough plays to contain a high-powered offense.
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by how they performed, based on how they grew as the season progressed. Look at the freshman cornerback Terrance Mitchell. At the start of the year, he had to endure a trial-by-fire against LSU when he started in place of (no-longer-on-the-team) Cliff Harris. Could you have envisioned then that he’d be the one who forced Jared Abbrederis to fumble late in the game?
Or how about linebacker Kiko Alonso? He’s been a troubled young man the past couple of years, and he started the year suspended. Without rehashing any incidents, it appears Alonso has put his transgressions behind him and he played out of his mind against Wisconsin. Where would they have been without his interception? That play was just one of many reasons why he was named the defensive MVP.
There are so many things you can talk about why the Ducks were able to pull out this amazing win. But you don’t have all day to read them, and I don’t have all day to write them. I will simply offer a couple more items before moving on.
First, enjoy this victory, Duck fans. It took a long time to get to this point and you’ve endured many years of heartache in similar situations.
Second, this win is not the end of a journey. It is the beginning of another quest of even greater achievements. Does this mean Oregon will win the Pac-12 every year from here on out? No. As stated earlier, USC is going to win a couple here and there, and schools like Washington will be formidable if they can get a defense.
But you won’t see the drop off that followed Joey Harrington’s departure in 2001. These guys will be in the hunt for BCS Bowls for a long time to come. Right now, I can’t wait for spring football to arrive.
Since it will take awhile before football rolls around again, let’s talk a little Oregon men’s basketball before I wrap this one up. As I’ve said many times, it’s hard to get a read on how good these guys can be this season.
The Ducks started off the Pac-12 slate in fine fashion by spanking Washington State 92-75 in Spokane last Thursday. Unfortunately, they ran into a buzz saw in Seattle, losing 76-60 to Washington on Saturday.
There have been reasons for optimism with solid play from Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler, Olu Ashalou, and Brett Kingma. What the Ducks have to do now is get a little more consistent and toughen up on defense. If they can do that, they might have as good a chance to win the conference as Cal, Oregon State, or UW. There is no front-runner in the Pac-12 at the moment, and one who cleans up their mistakes the quickest will likely take the title. Should be fun to watch, and we’ll know a lot more about Oregon after they play Stanford and Cal this week.
With that in mind, I’m tired after keeping up with all the stuff that has happened recently. You’ll hear from me in a couple of days, as I begin to ramp up the college and prep basketball coverage. I should also note that you will hear me talk about the Oregon women’s basketball team in the next column, and why they’ll need Amanda Johnson and Nia Jackson healthy to have any chance of finishing with a winning record this year.
So until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.