SAN DIEGO – The Holiday Bowl has always been like a steamy soap opera. You know there's going to be a lot of drama, a lot of scoring and more mood swings than a jilted lover seeking revenge. I know all this coming into the game each year, yet the end result never ceases to amaze me.
The 2008 edition of "America's Most Exciting Bowl Game" certainly lived up to its lofty nickname with a game that saw five lead changes in the second half and 1,036 total yards as Oregon defeated Oklahoma State 42-31.
"I think the [Holiday Bowl] picks the teams that way, they want those kinds of games," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who has been in three Holiday Bowls. "It was certainly a back-and-forth game and the other games we've played here have come down to the last play. I think you know it's going to be that kind of game."
The Holiday Bowl certainly couldn't have picked two better teams to light up the scoreboard as both Oregon and Oklahoma State ranked in the nation's top 10 in scoring with more than 41 points a game. Early on, however, it appeared as if Oklahoma State would run away with it, taking an early 10-0 lead and a 17-7 halftime lead that really didn't indicate the Cowboys dominance. Oklahoma State had twice as many first downs (16 to 8) and had the ball more than twice as long (20:46 to 9:14).
None of that mattered, however, as Oregon's offense didn't need much time or many first downs to score. The Ducks just needed their special teams and defense to give them the ball in good field position and they would handle the rest. None of Oregon's five touchdown drives in the second half took more than seven plays or three minutes. In fact, the Ducks' first two touchdowns in the third quarter took up a total of three plays and 55 seconds. Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 258 yards and a touchdown, accounted for the first three touchdowns in the second half on quarterback draws that saw him run past and through Oklahoma State's defenders.
"Oregon was much more physical than we were in the second half on both sides of the ball," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "We couldn't run the ball effectively and they were running the ball effectively. We were not able to overcome their physicality."
While Gundy refused to make excuses, Oklahoma State's chances of winning the game effectively ended early in the third quarter when quarterback Zac Robinson injured his right shoulder on a late hit and threw an interception on the next play. After that play most of his passes in the second half were too short or too long and lacked the velocity they had in the first half. It also didn't help that his best receiver, Dez Bryant, who had a Holiday Bowl-record nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown in the first half, injured his right knee towards the end of the second quarter and limped his way to four catches for 57 yards in the second half.
"I don't know why [Bryant] came back in the game, when I tackled him I heard his knee shift a little bit and I knew something was bad," said Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd. "It shifted the momentum a lot but I don't know why they kept putting him back in."
Robinson, who passed for 330 yards and rushed for 53 to pass Gundy (7,749 yards) and become the Cowboys' career leader in total offense, was unable to use his right hand at all after the game, shaking Belloti's hand with his left hand and running back to the locker room to get treatment. "It affected his accuracy and his throwing in the second half," said Gundy. "He had an issue with his shoulder and he wasn't very effective after that."
The win was an extra special one for Bellotti, not only because it clinched his fourth 10-win season in the past nine years, but because this victory could be his last. Bellotti has already picked offensive coordinator Chip Kelly to eventually replace him when he steps aside to become the school's athletic director.
"I have no idea if this was my last game but if it was it certainly was [a good way to go out]," said Bellotti, who has been the head coach at Oregon for 14 years and said he still plans to recruit next week. "I'll be honest with you, when I've been recruiting I tell these young men that I probably won't be the head coach their entire career. I'll walk from one end of the building to the other but I'll be there for them for their entire career as a Duck."