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Ducks Surprisingly Shellac Sixth-Ranked Golden Bears

Nick PoustCorrespondent IISeptember 27, 2009

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 26: Ed Dickson #83 of the Oregon Ducks heads upfield with a catch in the third quarter of the game against the California Bears at Autzen Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Eugene, Oregon. Dickson scored three touchdowns as the Ducks upset the Bears 42-3.(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The Oregon Ducks entered their showdown against the California Golden Bears with a 2-1 record. In those three games, however, they struggled in the passing game, usually their area of expertise. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was behind their woes, throwing for just 379 yards, managing a measly 43 percent completion ratio, while failing to throw a touchdown pass.

Despite his ineffectiveness, the Ducks, thanks largely to their running attack, somehow scored 38 points in a shootout victory over Purdue and 31 in a win over Utah. They wouldn’t have to rely too heavily on their run game in their Pacific-Ten opener against the sixth-ranked Bears, though. Why? Because Masoli awoke from the dead.

He was under heavy scrutiny entering the contest. Fans, used to the excitement of past quarterbacks Joey Harrington, Kellen Clemens, and Dennis Dixon, had grown weary of his run-first, pass-second mindset. (Harrington was a pocket quarterback who ran only when necessary. So was Clemens. Dixon ran fast and often, but as his career progressed, he became a Heisman Trophy candidate in large part because of his arm.)

He was not only scrutinized by the fan base, but was in danger of losing his job if he didn’t succeed; Nate Costa, finally healthy, was waiting in the wings, ready to take over in a flash.

On cue, he answered his doubters and kept his job with one of the most efficient performances of his career.

The game didn’t start the way Oregon wanted though, as Walter Thurmond’s fumble on the opening kickoff was recovered by California at the 22 yard line.

But the Bears quarterback Kevin Riley switched places with Masoli. He entered the game with nearly opposite statistics—692 passing yards, 64 percent completion ratio, with five touchdowns and no interceptions—but, against a motivated defense, turned into Masoli’s Hyde.

On first down, he was sacked for a loss of eight yards and fumbled, only for it to be successfully recovered by his team-mates, then misfired on second and third down to force his Bears to settle for a field goal. Freshman kicker Vince D’Amato drilled the impending 47-yarder. California was disappointed, but points were points.

After all, considering they averaged 48 points per game over the first three games and possess a Heisman Trophy candidate, running back Jahvid Best, it appeared safe to believe they would score plenty more.

They didn’t. To my utter bewilderment, it would be the Ducks who would light up the scoreboard. Oregon began by tying the game with a field-goal of their own. They were just getting started.

The combination of Masoli and running back LaMichael James drove the Ducks deep into the Bears’ territory, gaining 54 yards on seven plays before Masoli found tight-end Ed Dickson for a 26-yard touchdown. Now they had the lead, and it would only grow.

To make the job even easier for their offense, their defense made California look like the Oregon that scored only eight points in a humiliating season-opening defeat against Boise State. They forced Best to fumble and D’Amato to shank a field goal on their next two possessions.

Best’s fumble came a play after Masoli fumbled, and given a second chance, Masoli redeemed himself. He found Dickson on the possession’s second play for 25 yards to move the ball deep into California’s territory, where they would spend much of the day.

Oregon complimented the pass with their tremendous LeGarrette Blount run game, as James’ backup Remene Alston scampered for 22 yards, putting his team only nine yards away from a fourteen-point lead. Masoli hooked up with Dickson again, setting up a one-yard touchdown run by Alston.

All was quiet until California’s drive late in this second quarter. The possession lasted only three plays and gained seven yards. Now, with under two minutes remaining in the first half, the job for punter Rob Beard was clear: nail a punt, pin the Ducks back deep into their own zone, and therefore force them to orchestrate a long drive.

He couldn’t do this, nor even boot a satisfactory punt. He received the snap then kicked it off the side of his foot and out-of-bounds.The distance of this punt? Five whole yards.

Given a great opportunity to increase the already large sixteen-point margin, Oregon took advantage. Forty-eight yards to tack on seven more points? Piece of cake for this offense. They went to their two-minute offense. It was almost too easy, too.

After an incomplete pass, Masoli ran for 16 yards, then James sprinted for 24 more. Two plays later–four-yard runs by both Masoli and James–the Ducks scored their third touchdown. They accomplished their feat in less than a minute.

The Bears gained 84 yards in the third quarter. Fifty came on the quarter’s first play, a pass from Riley to the immensely talented Verran Tucker. This was the biggest play of the game for Bears, and the only excitement they conjured up.

Meanwhile, the Ducks scored two touchdowns in the quarter on two passes from Masoli to Dickson. They used three running backs—Alston, James, and Kenjon Barner—to make the latter score possible, as the threesome accounted for 40 of the drive’s 96 yards.The score swelled to 39-3.

Oregon scored a field goal in the fourth for the final tally. Given Masoli’s mediocrity in the season’s first three games and the fact that California boasted perhaps the best running back in the nation, Best, and a high-octane offense, surely California would be the team victorious by 39 points. But, amazingly enough, no. It was the Ducks, wearing throwbacks and playing like the high-flying Ducks of old.

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