A Very ‘Rosey’ Victory


— 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.

Chip Kelly can officially call himself a big-time coach now. (Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

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.

De'Anthony Thomas went 91 yards untouched for a score in the Rose Bowl. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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.

Lavasier Tuinei saved his best game for last as the Rose Bowl Offensive MVP. (Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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.

Terrance Mitchell and the Oregon defense made plays when needed in Pasadena. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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.

Kiko Alonso came up with a critical interception against the Badgers. (Photo Credit: Harry How/Getty Images)

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.


Keys to a Rose Bowl Victory


— Sam Finley and Don Smalley, EDN Sports

What The Ducks Must Do…

There was a time when simply getting to Pasadena would be satisfactory enough for Oregon fans. But after winning the Pac-12 conference three years in a row, as well as appearing in three consecutive BCS Bowl games, the expectations have been raised a bit. The fact that the Ducks have been painfully close to winning these games only increases the yearning for more.

LaMichael James needs to have a good game for Oregon to win the Rose Bowl. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Two years ago in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, Oregon trailed the Buckeyes 19-17 late in the third quarter but were in position to take the lead.  Unfortunately, a fumble by LeGarrette Blount squandered the opportunity and Ohio State hung on for a 26-17 victory.

Then there was last year in the BCS Championship game against Auburn.  After a late touchdown drive tied it up at 19-19, it looked like the Ducks had the momentum for a potential overtime situation.  But, as proof you’ve got to play until the whistle blows, Eddie Pleasant couldn’t quite hang onto Tigers’ running back Michael Dyer.  As a result, Dyer rolled off Pleasant and busted loose for another 30 yards down field, setting up an eventual game-winning field goal.  A 22-19 edge for Auburn left many wondering what might’ve been.

So what does Oregon need to do to win this Rose Bowl?  First of all, their offense needs to get off to a good start.  If you look at the six losses during head coach Chip Kelly’s tenure, you’ll find a sputtering offense as the common thread. Because Wisconsin is going to try and limit the amount of possessions, the Ducks must take advantage of every opportunity they get.

The Badgers won’t be able to keep Oregon out of the end zone all day, but if they have a two-score lead late in the game, then the trophy is probably going back to Madison.

Conversely, if the Ducks can execute their offensive tempo and force ball-control happy Wisconsin to play chase, then you’ve got to like their chances.

Terrell Turner and the Oregon defense played very well against Stanford...whose offense is quite similar to the Badgers. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Of course, a great performance by the Oregon offense most likely means that LaMichael James will have a good day running the football. James has done almost everything you could ask for in the past three seasons.  Everything except have a superb showing in a BCS game.

The Buckeyes held him to 70 yards two years ago, and Auburn stifled him to 49 in the title game.  However, if James can run for 100 yards or more, it’ll open up the passing game and make life very difficult for Badgers’ head coach Bret Bielema.

Having taken what the offense must do into consideration, let’s briefly talk about the side that has shown up in the past two bowl games.  You really can’t fault the Oregon defense for the outcomes.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has drawn up some fairly masterful schemes in these events, particularly last year against Auburn.  He’ll need to do the same against Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who scored 32 touchdowns this year.  Ditto for their quarterback Russell Wilson, who can beat you with his arm or his feet.

By the same token, it’s not like this is an offense that Oregon hasn’t faced before. Stanford runs a fairly similar ground-and-pound style, and we know what happened with them.  So if the Ducks can handle the Badgers the same way they handled the Cardinal, then this Rose Bowl really could end on a happy note for them.

What The Badgers Must Do…

Wisconsin comes into the 2012 Rose Bowl in similar fashion as the Ducks, looking to redeem itself after a loss in last year’s game in Pasadena. The goal all along for the Badgers was to win the Big 10 ever since they found out former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson was coming to Madison.

Russell Wilson is very dangerous with his arm and his feet. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Wilson gives the Badgers a duel-threat in the backfield that they really haven’t had before. Although he isn’t formidable physically at just 5-11 like Cam Newton or Terrelle Pryor, Wilson is as accurate with his arm as he is deadly with his legs. If Wisconsin is going to come out victorious, Wilson having a good game will be one of the keys.

The Badgers’ offensive line is bigger than most lines you would see on the NFL level. Averaging at 6-5 and 325 pounds, Wisconsin is used to opening holes for All-American running back Montee Ball.  If Ball has a big game, that means the Badgers are keeping the clock moving and keeping Oregon’s offense on the sideline.

But Wisconsin has allowed 23 sacks on the season. Oregon led the nation in sacks with 47. Protecting Wilson in order to let him extend plays and throw the ball to his favorite target Nick Toon, is an absolute must for Wisconsin. If Michael Clay and Terrell Turner are in the backfield, it will be a long day for Bucky Badger.

Montee Ball has been a touchdown machine for Wisconsin. (Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Defensively, Wisconsin hasn’t been spectacular, but good enough. Oregon, however, will be the best offense it has seen so far. The Badgers didn’t face a Top 50 offense all season. They will need to find someway to counteract the Ducks’ speed on offense. But when teams have been given more than two weeks to prepare, Oregon has had trouble getting into an offensive rhythm. Wisconsin has to hope this holds true one more time.

If the Badgers put seven or eight in the box in order to stop LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner and finds a way to keep those speedsters from hitting the corners, Wisconsin gives itself a chance to slow down the Ducks. That will also put Oregon in third-and-long situations, forcing Darron Thomas to throw the ball to a group of wide receivers that have been a bit underwhelming this season.

This is true for any team that faces Oregon, but when given the chance, the Badgers must punch the ball in the end zone. Field goals do not defeat the Ducks. Touchdowns do.

Is LaMichael Staying or Going?


— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor

Looked at any interesting stuff about LaMichael James recently? The rumors have been flying since a report came out in The Oregonian on Thursday that the Ducks’ running back would enter the NFL draft after the Rose Bowl.

Or did he? Because there’s also been reports that contradict the story that has everyone talking. Aside from a brief denial on his Facebook page, James hasn’t been able to  address the situation until yesterday. Needless to say, he wasn’t thrilled that certain people were getting information about him from ESPN.

LaMichael James has not decided whether he'll enter the NFL Draft after the Rose Bowl yet. (Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“There’s really nothing going on,” said Oregon’s all-time leading rusher emphatically. “I don’t really know what happened with that deal. My family called me and asked if I had declared for the draft.”

Moreover, James wasn’t happy about hearing that he had make a decision he claims he hasn’t made.

“I think it’s kind of an unfair statement for someone to say something I didn’t say,” he explained. “If (running backs coach Gary) Campbell didn’t say it, then nobody really knows what happened. Because if I’m going to tell someone what I’m going to do, it’s going to be him. I haven’t discussed that with him or my family.”

In fact, James isn’t really focusing on what’ll he’ll do next until after a certain game in Pasadena.

“I’m really not thinking about it,” he stated. “The thing I’m thinking about is winning the game on January 2nd. I don’t want to make a decision or an announcement on it. My future is irrelevant right now. Come January 3rd, it will be relevant when the season is over. But I owe it to my teammates, the fans, and my coaches to think about the Rose Bowl. That is my important goal right now.”

De'Anthony Thomas is thrilled to be playing at home in January. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Ah yes, with all the scuttlebutt about their star back, you may have forgotten that the fifth-ranked Ducks are playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. They started up practices again over the weekend and James believes the team is going back to basics right now.

“We’re getting back to the fundamentals,” said James. “Everybody is pretty much healthy right now. I think we’re really happy to get back out here with each other.”

As for the drama surrounding James, his teammates aren’t letting it become a distraction. Just ask De’Anthony Thomas.

“That’s his decision,” explained the freshman phenom. “I’m happy for him and good luck to him. I would miss him if he was gone. Just being around him has motivated me to work hard and be a great leader. My job has been to contribute off him and he’s been my motivation.”

If anyone is excited for the matchup in Pasadena, it is Thomas. He grew up in the L.A. area and loves the chance to play in front of friends and family.

“It’s a great feeling to play back home,” said Thomas. “It’s just a great feeling to make it to the Rose Bowl. I know our team can’t wait, and we’ll see what happens.”

Speaking of which, a lot has been made about Wisconsin’s offensive prowess with good reason. The Badgers’ running back Montee Ball is a one-man scoring machine, and their quarterback Russell Wilson is a dual-threat.  But the Ducks aren’t overlooking their defense, either.

“They’re really good,” said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich with a wry smile. “They’re rock-solid end to end. Up front, they’re very good. Their linebackers are spectacular, and might be the two best guys we’ve played all year. They have tremendous tacklers in their secondary.”

There lies the challenge for the speedy Oregon offense.

“You don’t see anyone run out of tackles against these guys,” Helfrich stated. “When we get in a one-on-one situation, we try to make the guy miss. That doesn’t happen too often with these guys. They’re incredibly sound in what they do.”

Moving onto to some other stuff, I want to make some things clear about my views on the meteoric success of Tim Tebow and his Denver Broncos.  I don’t dislike the guy, but I haven’t been ready to crown him as the greatest thing going in sports at the moment.

Tim Tebow, contrary to some, isn't winning these games singlehandedly. (Photo Credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Sure, he’s been leading great drives in the final two minutes. However, hasn’t Denver’s defense had a role in setting him up for all those heroic comebacks?  They’ve been playing out of their minds the past few weeks.

For that matter, how the other teams have executed have had something to do with it, too. It seems like the opponents have played their usual schemes for three quarters well on Tebow, and then go (inexplicably) to a prevent defense.  Hasn’t any squad learned that the only thing a prevent does is prevent you from winning?

That’s particularly true against Tebow. While he doesn’t have the most accurate arm, he can inexplicably throw it on the money when the defensive backs are giving his receivers plenty of room.  It happened in the most recent miracle last Sunday against Chicago.

The Bears were leading 10-0 with a couple minutes left in the game, and had been aggressive against Tebow all day.  Then, they started playing soft and Tebow burned them for a touchdown that was the catalyst for another storybook affair.

But, in all fairness, Chicago’s defense wasn’t ultimately the reason they ended up losing 13-10 in overtime to the Broncos. You can blame that one on the Bears’ running back Marion Barber.

All he had to do on what should’ve been their final possession was take the handoffs and stay in bounds. That’s something you learn at the Pop Warner level when you have a lead and the other guys are out of timeouts.  Instead, Barber decided to run towards the sidelines and got pushed into the Chicago bench.

What a chowder head. If anything, he’s more responsible for the Broncos’ last win than Tebow. Did Tebow stop the clock for Denver in that situation, providing more than enough time to then tie the game? No.

Like I said, I don’t hate Tebow. I’m merely saying there have been other factors at work and I’ll wait a little longer before putting him in the same conversation of quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

With that, I’ve got some Christmas shopping to do. But check back here next Sunday, when I will have a very special column for you to read.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.