OREGON 42, OKLAHOMA STATE 31:
Ducks Take Tenth Win in San Diego
2007, the first season of the Mike Bellotti-Chip Kelly partnership in Eugene, seemed as though the stars had finally aligned for the Oregon offense. Nick Aliotti was still putting out the same pseudo-stingy defenses which bent but didn't always break -- the kind of defense which begged for an offense that could go out there and hang six or seven touchdowns on the opponent each game. Dennis Dixon, far more comfortable in Kelly's scheme than he ever seemed when Gary Crowton had the reins, appeared the complete package for this wrinkle of the spread offense. With an accurate arm and nimble legs, Dixon came into his own during his senior campaign... at least for the first two months.
Then disaster struck on a Thursday night in the Arizona desert. A sure path to the BCS Championship Game vanished as Dixon's final collegiate snap ended with a snap of the ACL. The Ducks, rudderless, ended their season listlessly before reemerging to take the Sun Bowl over South Florida with Justin Roper under center. This season was supposed to be the year where Roper built on that bowl victory... or where highly-touted recruit Nathan Costa, injured last season before he could even take a snap, lived up to his billing.
After the past two games for Oregon, however, it starts to feel as though Kelly -- the newly-anointed heir to the head coaching position once Bellotti retires into the sunset of athletic director status -- has a signal-caller even better suited to execute his vision than Dixon or any of the others. Jeremiah Masoli, blessed with a more durable build than Dixon, shrewdly used both arm and legs to accomplish what his predecessor never could -- a bowl victory. Calmly rushing for three touchdowns and tossing another to Jaison Williams, Masoli guided his Ducks downfield for five second-half touchdowns to defeat the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Coming on the heels of Oregon's epic Civil War victory over Oregon State at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Masoli and the Ducks have turned around -- in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year after Dixon's departure -- and improved on last year's record. This game, though, against an upper-echelon squad from the Big XII Conference, appeared at first as though it would be a blowout loss for Bellotti's team. Oklahoma State took the initiative in the first half. Zac Robinson, the Cowboys' dual-threat quarterback, exposed the weaknesses in Aliotti's defense and surged to a 17-7 first half lead...
Steeled by Walter Thurmond's interception to head to halftime, the Ducks came out fired up and ready to take the game in their own hands. Thurmond took the third-quarter kickoff to the Cowboy 3. Two plays later, the shootout everyone expected in pre-game analysis came to fruition. The defense tightened the screws on Oklahoma State's offense, and Masoli did the rest. The sophomore junior-college transfer from Daly City, California found his rhythm and heated up the Oregon ground and air games.
Finishing with 106 yards on the ground with three touchdowns and another 258 yards and a touchdown passing, Masoli alone has compiled nearly 700 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns in the two biggest games of the Ducks' season. With two more years of eligibility left, he has room to grow even further as Kelly's favorite option quarterback. Oregon can build on this Holiday Bowl victory to regain national prominence next season... and with Masoli taking the reins, these Ducks have the potential to vault even higher than Dixon's charges ever could.
Bigalke is a freelance journalist who has been writing for FanNation since December 2007. He is also is a contributing writer at Helium and a managing editor of informativesports.com. Visit his personal site, The Cerebral Vortex, to find a full archive of his work both on sports and other subjects. Got something to say to Bigalke -- questions, comments, suggestions, derision to sling, vengeance to exact, commendations to render, or contracts to offer? You can reach Bigalke through FanMail, the comments box below or here...