Best Case Scenario- Oregon Ducks

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Best Case Scenario- Oregon Ducks
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New Mexico comes to Eugene as huge underdogs and with a big chip on their shoulder. Neither matters as the Ducks dismantle the Lobos in front of an approving Autzen crowd. 

Darron Thomas plays well in a reigned-in spread option passing attack. He completes 12-16 for 255 yards and 3 TDs, the longest a 59-yard catch and run by a faster and sharper 2010 version of DJ Davis.

Kenjon Barner makes huge plays in the run game and goes over 100 yards with LaMichael James cheering him on and the defense is even faster than anticipated.

No looking ahead for these Ducks: 55-6 Oregon.

Tennessee tuned up by whipping Tennessee-Martin 66-0 and the SEC honks began pumping the upset of the Ducks shortly thereafter. Believing no team from outside the SEC can possibly have more speed than they do, Tennessee puts together a gameplan that focuses on taking the matchups the Ducks give them and letting their athleticism win out. 

Bad plan. 

Darron Thomas shows his performance against New Mexico was not a product of his competition on the first play of the game, a play action pass to Jeff Maehl that goes for 78 yards to the endzone.

Tennessee is completely unable to get anything going on the ground against a fast and experienced set of Oregon LBs. Talmadge Jackson III and Cliff Harris both get interceptions that set up Oregon scores off the short field. 

The Ducks look the part in all phases of the game and shows the country that they have the athletes, the scheme, and the moxie to stay in the national spotlight all season.

Big Orange Nation suffers another blow to their pride: 44-12 Ducks roll.

Portland State is a late replacement after Central Michigan backed out of a game, but that is neither here nor there when they arrive in Eugene. Chip Kelly plays his starters only into the second quarter and Nate Costa ends up taking 80% of the offensive snaps.

His numbers prove what most already knew: Costa can play in this system and produce. He throws for over 250 yards and rushes for 80 and accounts for 4 total TDs. He has played and played well in all three games, but Chip Kelly insists there is no controversy at the position "there is no controversy at the position".

The depth of the LBs and DBs really shines through in the second half of the game as the Ducks force five TOs and score two times on defense.

Vikings take it like champs: 52-3

The Ducks have played well in Tempe recently and the Sun Devils are reeling after a deflating loss at Camp Randall the week before. The Ducks look like they may have been checking their press clippings during the first half and fall behind 10-0 after the first quarter.

Steven Threet is impressive and the ASU line controls the game up front. Darron Thomas throws an early interception and the hand-wringing begins...until John Boyett comes on a safety blitz and separates Threet from the ball. Kenny Rowe recovers and again puts the team speed of the Ducks on display as he outruns the ASU running back to the endzone.

Thomas finds his rhythm in the run game and the Dennis Dixon comparisons ensue in earnest. ASU keeps it close until the fourth quarter, but just don't have enough to get over the hump. 

Oregon controls the last three quarters of the game and wins 39-17

Chip Kelly doesn't play up the revenge factor, but it's the only thing on the mind of Oregon fans. A louder-than-usual Autzen crowd has all day to get ready for the 8:15 kickoff and takes full advantage.

Without Toby Gerhart the Cardinal offense enters the game ranked 78th in the nation in rushing yards per game and the Oregon D holds them below their average. Still smarting from a loss to Notre Dame the week earlier, Stanford takes the Ducks best punch, but doesn't get back up.

After a three and out to start the game, Kenjon Barner drifts back to field the ensuing punt. He makes the first two guys miss and burns 67 yards for the TD. The defense doesn't let up, and despite allowing a few big plays to Luck in the passing game bows their backs and gets stops when they need them most. 

LaMichael James breaks out for 260 yards and 3 TDs and Oregon fans note he has more TDs on the season than Jake Locker, whose Heisman campaign is in full-swing. Thomas continues to steadily control the offense and make plays with his arm and then his feet. He saves two drives by scrambling when the play breaks down and rushes for two TDs.

Ducks pass their first real test: 45-24

Washington State is so improved at this point they don't even resemble the one-win team the Ducks massacred in Autzen last year. They played Oklahoma State closer than expected to open, and then handled Montana State.

The Cougs come into the game 3-2 after a win over UCLA and with as man victories as the past two seasons combined.

None of it matters one bit.

The Ducks remind the Cougars of how far they still need to go to again become a top-tier team in the conference. James Montgomery is bottled up and Jeff Tuel is again knocked around by the Oregon D. A shot by Casey Matthews in the third quarter shakes him up enough that Paul Wulff pulls him even though he says later he could have stayed in.

After an opening drive that results in a FG, WSU is blanked the rest of the way as Thomas and James are simply way too fast for the Cougar defense and both break off big runs throughout.

The WR corps seems to really come together as well and turns in their most complete performance, highlighted by the 165 yards and two scores by Lavasier Tuinei.

Ducks dominate Cougars again: 56-3

UCLA comes into the game struggling to move the ball and still unsettled at QB. Richard Brehaut opened the season after Kevin Prince suffered an oblique strain, but played poorly keeping the door open when Prince returned. Prince was good in a blowout loss to Texas and terrible in the upset loss to WSU. After a three pick game against Cal the week earlier, it's again Brehaut against the Ducks.

The problem for UCLA in this game is in the running game. The UCLA version of the Pistol is ineffective against the athletically superior Duck defense and again the LBs show how valuable they are. Spencer Paysinger has a monster game including two sacks and a forced fumble. Josh Kaddu blindsides Brehaut early in the third quarter and forces Prince into the game. On his first play, Kaddu intercepts the new QB and returns it 30 yards for a TD.

The depth of the two teams is not close and it becomes evident on special teams. Barner again takes a kick to the house, this time a kickoff and the Ducks also block a punt.

Again the Ducks resist a chance to overlook a team with a big game looming, they play focused for Coach Chip Kelly: 42-9

The Trojans are doing their best to ensure the rest of the country views them as the "true" Pac-10 champs. They enter The Coliseum undefeated and fresh off a pasting of a ranked Cal team and see this game as the key to proving they are the best team in the conference, regardless of bowl berths.

Darron Thomas struggles early and turns the ball over twice, but the Duck defense holds the Trojans to only 10 points. After a 35 yard run gets the Ducks going, Thomas leads the offense on three consecutive scoring drives to end the half, including a two-minute drill that results in a FG as the clock expires. 

In no doubt their toughest test of the season, the Ducks prove they are worthy of defending their title and play the Trojans to a 17-17 tie at the half.

Matt Barkley opens the second half by looking for Ronald Johnson over the middle, but finds Eddie Pleasant instead. Pleasant sets the offense up in good position and the Ducks never look back.

James again has his way with the Trojans defense and Barkley is intercepted twice more. The Ducks defense draws major kudos for shutting out the Trojans in the second half and James adds two more TDs to his resume.

Darron Thomas again gets better as the game goes on and seems much more comfortable in the second half. He does a great job keeping the tempo up and putting pressure on the USC defense. He also shows just how fast he is against the talent-laden Trojans by rushing for 150 yards and a score, constantly stretching the defense from sideline to sideline.

Oregon answers their critics and puts themselves in the driver's seat to the "true" Pac-10 Title: 27-17

When Jake Locker and the Huskies come calling, the most underrated rivalry in college football is officially renewed. ESPN College Gameday makes the (seemingly annual) trip to Eugene to catch a glimpse of the Pac-10 frontrunners and the conference's best player. 

The game signifies a new age in the rivalry.

Both programs look poised to be at the front of the conference for years to come and see this game as a real benchmark for control of the Pacific Northwest. Hatred is the word of the day and there is no shortage of it. 

Washington fans explode in the northwest corner of the endzone when Jake Locker busts a 45 yard run for a TD on the first drive. But Darron Thomas and the Ducks offense answers with an almost clinical drive of their own, exposing the slower Washington defense and scoring a TD themselves. 

The back and forth continues through the first half, with the big play being a Cliff Harris interception of Locker on an out route that ends Washington's hopes for points before the first half ends.

Thomas and the offense continue to operate efficiently during the second half and keep the pressure on Locker, who continues to answer. He makes the most of his WR corps, connecting with seven different guys on the game.

Tied 35-35 in the fourth quarter, the Ducks find themselves backed up and needing a stop with only 1:10 left in the game. Locker has already brought UW 60 yards and they are already in FG range for Nick Folk.

Then on second and 8, Locker takes a draw off the right side...and is blown-up by Josh Kaddu. The ball slips from Locker's arm and is fallen on by Brandon Bair.

Thomas and the offense take over with plenty of time to get into scoring range and the first play goes for big yardage. With 17 seconds left, Thomas runs the ball into the middle of the field and lets the clock run down to four seconds before calling a timeout.

Kicker Rob Beard trots on for a game winner.

Costa pulls down a high snap and Beard gets the kick off clean...but it drifts wide-right. 

Overtime.

The Ducks lose the toss and are forced to play offense first. A mishandled snap and short rush for James set up the Ducks with third and long on the UW 25. Thomas' pass to the endzone is nearly picked off and again Beard comes on.

This time he drills it and gives Oregon the lead.

But Jake Locker needs only to do what he does best to send the Huskies walking off with a win. First down is a rush to Chris Polk that goes for four. Locker then is forced out of the pocket and throws the ball away setting up third and six.

Again Locker faces pressure and is flushed out of the pocket, but this time, Kenny Rowe is waiting and catches Locker looking the other way. He separates him from the ball and the Ducks recover, taking the game: 38-35

People have been saying for three weeks that the backloaded schedule would catch up with the Ducks at some point.

Strawberry Canyon and the Cal Bears are the benefactors.

The opening kickoff is an ominous dose of deja-vu.

Kenjon Barner fumbles the opening kickoff in the endzone, but inexplicably decides to bring it out anyway and is stuffed on the three yard line. Chip Kelly goes aggressive and calls a play action pass on first down and after Thomas uses a nifty move to escape a safety, he fires the ball right into the arms of Mychal Kendricks, who goes in for six.

Kevin Riley, a Beaverton native, has a breakout game for the 23rd ranked Bears. He still looks silly for comparing himself to Matt Barkley, who has become a serious Heisman threat, but he shows he is a competent college starter by throwing four TDs and rushing for another against the Ducks.

Darron Thomas struggles throughout and it's Nate Costa to start the second half. Costa plays valiantly, but the comeback effort falls short as the Ducks find themselves unable to come up with enough stops of Shane Vareen, who goes over 150 yards rushing.

Ducks can't break the Berkeley Curse: 38-29

Many theorize that the downfall of Oregon football is upon us after the defeat in Berkeley. With any chances of a national title lost with five undefeated teams left in college football, the Ducks are again left to deal with Arizona and Oregon State to decide who will go to the Rose Bowl. 

Predictors everywhere say the offense was exposed and the defense is breaking down. The Ducks will be beaten inside Autzen stadium by Arizona for the second time in three trips and be playing for their Sun Bowl lives come Civil War time.

Incorrect on all counts. Thomas and the offense explode, showing that the Cal game was a fluke. A letdown, the type of thing that is bound to happen when breaking in a new QB, no matter how much talent is around him.

The Ducks open the game with a 85 yard scoring drive that features Thomas and James running the ball between every crack in the Arizona defense. The tight ends again have a big night against the Wildcat defense, this time it's Paulson, Malachi Lewis, and Brandon Williams all catching more than six passes and all getting into the endzone.

The defense seems to return to form as well, using the extra six days off to lick their wounds and get their legs back underneath them. Nick Foles has no answer for the Ducks intricate looks in the secondary and is intercepted three times.

John Boyett solidifies his role as the enforcer on the defense by forcing two fumbles and knocking Juron Criner out cold with a vicious but legal hit in the fourth quarter.

Criner is OK, but the Wildcats are not, they get steamrolled: 42-10

For the third season in a row, the Oregon State Beavers enter the Civil War with a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. James and Jacquizz Rodgers are both finalists for several national honors and Quizz is looking to wrap up an invite to NYC.

The Beavers surprised the nation by beating both TCU and Boise State on the road. They jumped ahead of the Ducks in the polls and come into the game a six-TD Jake Locker performance away from being in national title contention.

Mike Riley has done his best job yet and OSU is squarely focused on overcoming their Duck demons.

Chip Kelly is especially snarky during gameweek, using sarcasm so thick you could wear it as a sweater.

Oregon opens the game on defense and allows OSU to get a FG. The Ducks take over and march the field, scoring on a LaMichael James 24 yard run. Things stay even throughout the first half, with both Ryan Katz and Darron Thomas being intercepted. Thomas proves to be the more agile runner of the two, scoring on a scramble with three minutes left in the half.

Trailing by eight, James Rodgers takes a fly sweep near midfield and is stuck by Javes Lewis, he fumbles and Kenny Rowe scores for the second time this season. Oregon State keeps the game within two scores in the second half.

They trail by eleven when something finally breaks as a snap is fired over Darron Thomas' head and recovered by OSU. Rodgers takes another fly sweep but this time no one has the speed to catch him and he goes 20 yards for the score.

Oregon goes three and out on their next series and the door is open for Katz and the Beavers. They use both Rodgers brothers expertly and find themselves on the doorstep at the Oregon six yard line with just over two minutes remaining.

Mike Riley calls a timeout and the Beavers do what we all knew they would: hand the ball to Quizz. He makes easy work of the run and puts the Beavers up seven after a two point conversion to Brady Camp.

Thomas and the Ducks watch their lives flash before their collective eyes.

With the focus of the Pac-10 and the nation on them, Oregon takes over at their 32 yard line. Thomas gives to James on first down and sets up second and short. The Ducks use multiple sets and personnel looks to again confound Mark Banker's defense. They are able to create speed mismatches on the outside and use mostly the running game to break down the Beaver defense.

With a minute and a half left, Oregon is inside OSU territory. After a first down grab by DJ Davis on third and short, the Ducks are at the Beaver 18 with 56 seconds and counting on the clock. James takes a first down run outside for eight but can't get out of bounds. Thomas is able to get the Ducks situated and get a completed pass to David Paulson over the middle for the first down, but Oregon is out of timeouts.

A lost challenge and confusion on special teams have cost the Ducks their three for the half.

On the five yard line, Thomas spikes the ball on first down to stop the clock with 25 seconds left. More than enough time for three plays. James is again the man on first down but Stephen Paea pulls him down for no gain. The Ducks organize quickly and Thomas completes a short ball to Maehl who stretches the ball for the pylon.

But the side judge is right on top of it and says Maehl was out of bounds with the ball at the half yard line of Oregon State.

Thomas and the Ducks are in a tough spot.

Out of the shotgun, a QB sneak still has to get back to the line of scrimmage. With no timeout, Kelly calls the Ducks bread and butter: the zone read. 

The line gets an inspired push and Thomas reads the correct man correctly. He keeps the ball and breaks outside, but is met by Keith Panky.

Thomas is wrapped up inside the one yard line and his knee is barely hovering above the ground as he somehow spins out of Pankey's grasp and stretches the ball over the goal line.

Touchdown Ducks. Mania ensues. 

But there's just one problem: The Ducks still trail by one point.

Conventional wisdom says go to overtime on the road, but Chip Kelly is not conventional. He sends Nate Costa and the PAT team onto the field anyway.

The snap is perfect and Rob Beard pulls back his leg to fire it through, but Costa and the ball are gone.

On a naked bootleg, to the corner of the endzone near the stunned and elated sliver of green and yellow visiting fans.

Ducks win: 42-41

Oregon goes on to manhandle Boise State in the Rose Bowl, exercising their biggest demon of late on a huge stage. They also end the Rose Bowl drought and add a major piece to this history of Oregon football. The Beavs play uninspired football and are beaten soundly for the second bowl game in a row. After the season, Mark Banker is relieved of duties as defensive coordinator. Jacquizz Rodgers follows his brother into the NFL Draft, forgoing his senior season.

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