The Cerebral Vortex

 Masoli celebrates his rushing touchdown...


Rose Bowl Dreams Take Severe Shot in Corvallis



Last season, the weeks leading up to the Civil War had already devolved into a farce for Mike Bellotti and his football team from Eugene. Two games earlier, offensive leader Dennis Dixon crumpled to the turf as he cut awkwardly on his balky left knee while going left on an option play. A top-two squad in the nation became little more than cannon fodder for the Arizona Wildcats after that, and subsequently tumbled the following week to UCLA. The season finale at Autzen was a wake-up call for the Ducks, flying without their leader.


Mike Riley's Beavers would ultimately take the game in overtime, James Rodgers getting in for the winning score. But Oregon found its swagger yet again in that game, going on to route South Florida in the Sun Bowl 62-24. Oregon's season had already crumbled before the 111th Civil War game; coming into the 112th edition of one of the five oldest college-football rivalries west of the Missouri River, Oregon State had everything to play for and everything to lose.


By the time the clock wound down toward the final whistle at Reser Stadium, the dejected home fans swarming in droves toward the exits, it felt as though the clock had been turned back one season. Pundits before the game said that this had the potential to be the best game of the week, and neither team disappointed on the field in Corvallis. Oregon State had all the riches on the table -- sole possession of the Pac-10 title and, as reward, their first Rose Bowl berth in forty-four years. Oregon, sporting an identical record but with one more conference loss, could return the insult of the previous year to their in-state rivals with a road victory...


LeGarrette Blount was the crash... ... and Jeremiam Johnson the flash...


It was supposed to be the brilliance of the ground game which seized the day for the Ducks. Indeed there could be found little to decry about the rushing performance -- Jeremiah Johnson carried fifteen times for 216 yards and a touchdown, LeGarrette Blount ran seventeen times for 112 and his own touchdown. The Oregon offense hardly seemed to miss their bruising starting tailback of last season, Jonathan Stewart, now grinding against NFL defenses with the Carolina Panthers.


But it was their newest dual-strike threat at quarterback, the guy who let people move on from the specter of Dixon which haunted the Oregon fan base as yet another revelatory season slipped through their fingers, which played the biggest role for the Ducks as Oregon took their first Civil War victory on the road in a dozen years. The guy who came in as the late-term junior college transfer... unfamiliar with his surroundings after arriving late in Eugene from San Francisco, where he had just guided City College to the junior-college national championship as a freshman... mired in fifth on the depth chart behind incumbents Nathan Costa and Justin Roper and the pair of blue-chip prep prospects in Chris Harper and Darren Thomas. As Jeremiah Masoli arrived at the late-night preseason snack sessions, dousing hard-boiled eggs in hot sauce, little did he realize what a prominent role he would be playing at the end of the season in the traditional season finale for Oregon's two Division I-A schools.


At the beginning of the season, with visions of Dixon fresh in everyone's memory throughout the state, panic began to grip the airwaves as first Costa, then Roper, injured their knees. Why were Oregon quarterbacks, with all their state-of-the-art facilities and technology and Phil Knight's money to keep them healthy and prepared and ready, snapping like twigs? Was it Chip Kelly's offense?


No... they had simply not found the right man for their system. Funny thing was, he was there the whole time, the last guy on the depth chart and the one who would reignite the hopes of the Eugene faithful. Masoli has experienced highs and lows, the crests and troughs of the learning curve, as his sophomore seaosn has progressed. In his final regular-season game of his first season as a Duck, Masoli put it all together to snatch the Platypus Trophy for the ride southward back toward home campus.


Over three-hundred yards of total offense later, Masoli was coming out for the final series of the game to yield the field to Roper for the final chewing of the clock. Masterfully executing the spread-option offense which had the Ducks looking like sexy picks for the BCS title game before Dixon's disaster, Masoli had Oregon looking like they were picking up where the dominance left off on that Thursday night game from Tucson. Twelve carries for fifty-four yards, including a twelve-yard touchdown run after a superb fake to Blount, were complimented by an efficient 11-of-17 aerial performance for a productive 274 passing yards, three more touchdowns and not a single interception to mar the record.


There will be no BCS performances this season for Oregon despite their reawakening as one of the premier offenses in top-tier college football. But because of that offense's job in their biggest game of the 2008 season, their rivals from Oregon State are also forced to come to grips with the death of their own BCS dreams. The mascot has swallowed the roses; as though their warriors were Casey at the bat, there will be no joy in Corvallis tonight...


Yet there is still hope for both Oregon universities. USC, now in the driver's seat for the Pac-10 title, have yet to play their own rivalry game -- next weekend in the cross-town derby against UCLA. A Bruins win puts both Oregon and Oregon State in a three-way tie with the Trojans; the tiebreaker formula, in which the team longest removed from its last Rose Bowl appearance takes the title, would favor the Beavers in such a situation. Oregon most likely has played their way into a Holiday Bowl berth... Riley and crew must now wait and watch, crossing their fingers and hoping that UCLA can do to USC what the Beavers themselves accomplished...


Masoli takes off, leading the Ducks to Civil War victory...


But without the most Civil of the Warriors, Oregon State would already be Pasadena bound. Because of the emergence of Jeremiah Masoli and his ability to effectively manage the option-run offense concocted by Chip Kelly, Oregon looks set to compete by next season for another shot at that national title long desired...


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