The Holiday Bowl, Living Up to Expectations

Cameron NicholsContributor IDecember 31, 2008

The 2008 college football season for the Oregon Ducks came to an end Tuesday night. Throughout the many ups and downs of the year, the Ducks ultimately finished tied for the second most wins in Ducks football history. The 10th and final win came at the hands of the 13th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.

On paper, this was a perfect matchup. It featured two great offenses and star-studded talent all across the field, there was no doubt that it was going to be a shootout.

The first half was far from a dream half for the Ducks. Dropped passes, the inability to convert on third downs and missed (blocked) kicks allowed the Ducks' offense to be on the field for less than 10 minutes.

The Cowboys capitalized by utilizing their All-American receiver Dez Bryant. In single coverage, he managed to get open nearly every time. And often get yards after the catch. In double coverage he would also make catches, or leave the field open for Pettigrew or other playmakers.

Unfortunately all that could slow Bryant down was an awkward plant and twisting of the knee, sidelining him for the rest of the half and limiting his ability in the second half.

The Ducks managed a few notable plays on both sides of the ball. A 76-yard touchdown run by Jeremiah Johnson excited fans. And the interception by Walter Thurmond near the end of the half showed some life for the Ducks.

It wasn’t that the Ducks were unable to do anything during the first half, they just didn't when it mattered the most. You knew the Ducks weren’t out of the game, but the hope was that they wouldn’t let the explosive OSU offense get ahead by too much more after the 17-7 halftime score.

Fortunately football is a game of two halves and it was a different Ducks team that took the field in the second. The opening kick in the second half kept Thurmond’s momentum from his first half interception, taking the ball 91 yards to the Oklahoma State five-yard line. Which was later punched in for a touchdown.

The big kick return seemed to swing the momentum to Oregon’s favor. All of a sudden the Ducks' defense brought an increased level of physicality to the game. It seemed that every player on D was playing with more urgency. A big hit from TJ Ward, got the defense pumped and left Zac Robinson rattled and perhaps slightly concussed.

The Ducks kept constant pressure on the Cowboys, eliminating the big play and forcing quick decisions from Robinson. There was even an uncharacteristic third down blitz call by Nick Allioti that was executed perfectly. The D was clicking against a great offensive team.

The offense and the defense seemed to play off each other, as the physical play transferred over to the other side of the ball. Masoli, recruited for his arm, made the biggest plays with his legs.

You won’t see Masoli slide, as many QBs do, but be careful, because he will run right over you to get to the end zone. This happened on several occasions. Just ask Quinton Moore. Masoli has learned how to use his legs to set up the throw and his arm to set up the run. He showed that he is a true gamer.

The game was back and forth, each team taking the lead, only to have it taken away throughout the majority of the second half. Late in the fourth quarter the Ducks finally were in position to make it a two-score game and perhaps seal the victory.

With only a few minutes left a first down was all that was needed to keep the clock running. The Ducks put the ball in LeGarrette Blount’s hands, hoping that he could move the chains.

Though Blount did one better, as he scampered to the end zone, while hurdling one defender and dragging another 10 yards on his way to doing so. This just about decided it. Get the Gatorade ready, the Ducks were on their way to winning the 2008 Holiday Bowl and their 10th win of the season.

The Ducks didn’t let a less than ideal first half get them down. They showed a level of toughness that makes a good college football team, a great team. Not having Dez Bryant helped limit some of the options for the Cowboys.

But the Oregon defense also limited the other play makers from taking over the game. It was a team effort and a great win to end a successful 2008 season. The Ducks physical play kept the Cowboys rattled. Who said that the Pac-10 couldn’t play physical football?

Game balls go to Jeremiah Masoli and Max Unger. Masoli did a great job managing the game and making huge plays with his feet and his arm. Max Unger played a great game.

There were several plays to the outside when you would see a 300 pounder dive into safety opening up a few more yards of space, and that was Max. He controlled the line, allowing the Ducks to run all over OSU. You also have to give the big man credit for coming back in after being injured.

Go Ducks. Thank you for another great season. I can't wait for next year.