Oregon paints masterpiece vs. No. 6 Cal
September, 26, 2009
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon's throwback uniforms Saturday were a tribute to the 1994 team that earned a Rose Bowl berth. The performance against No. 6 California, however, was a tribute to the 2008 squad that rolled over its final three opponents like an alien invasion.
Oregon's shocking 42-3 romp over the listless Bears reintroduced college football to the flash-and-dash Ducks and, particularly, to quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
|AP Photo/Don Ryan|
|Jeremiah Masoli threw three touchdown passes in Oregon's win over California.|
That debacle at Boise State? It's hard to reconcile that team was the same one playing inside Autzen Stadium on Saturday, the one that gained 524 yards against what was widely considered an outstanding defense.
Masoli finished the 2008 season as arguably the nation's best pass-run quarterback. Yet just a week ago, there was chatter he should be benched. He completed just 4 of 16 passes in the Ducks' win over Utah and was the Pac-10's lowest-rated passer.
Against the Bears, he completed 21-of-25 for 253 yards and three touchdowns.
"That's the Jeremiah Masoli I know," coach Chip Kelly said. "That's why I didn't bench Jeremiah Masoli. He's 11-3 as a starter. Our confidence in Jeremiah is based on demonstrated ability."
Did Masoli feel like he answered his critics and prove he's the guy?
"You'd have to talk to the people who don't think I'm the guy," he said.
Meanwhile, the Ducks' maligned defense basically pitched a shutout. Cal's only points came after Oregon fumbled the opening kickoff. The three-play drive before a 47-yard field goal netted minus-8 yards.
Cal entered the game averaging 489 yards and 49 points per contest. It managed just 207 yards against the Ducks. A week after becoming a Heisman Trophy frontrunner with five touchdowns at Minnesota, Jahvid Best rushed for just 55 yards on 16 carries. He was mostly a spectator as the score got out of hand.
The Ducks' performance was a masterpiece. At least, that's how defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti described it.
"When you're painting, or you're artistic, and the picture in your mind that you put out there turns out the way it did today," he said, "it's like a Picasso."
The only thing that went wrong for Oregon was a knee injury to cornerback Walter Thurmond on the opening kickoff. But Kelly said "it doesn't sound like it's a season- [ending] deal."
While Kelley wouldn't disclose his game plan machinations, his players said the offense was simplified over the past week so Masoli and company would play looser.
"We weren't giving too many reads to myself or the receivers or even the linemen," Masoli said. "We just kind of lined up and played football today."
Another key part of the game plan was Ed Dickson, who's now the Pac-10's premier tight with Arizona's Rob Gronkowski done for the season with a back injury. Dickson entered the game with just four receptions for 58 yards and no touchdowns. He hauled in 11 passes for 148 yards and three scores against Cal.
The 19-8 loss at Boise State and all that went with it -- namely LeGarrette Blount's postgame meltdown -- is the Ducks' least favorite topic, but Dickson understood why it might be hard for some to wrap their minds around the vast distance between the team that looked so feckless on the blue turf and the one that just bludgeoned the nation's No. 6 team.
"Miles and miles," Dickson said. "The way we played the first game, we didn't look like a collegiate team. It didn't look like we knew what we were doing."
While Masoli's transformation merits the lead, the entire offense seemed to simultaneously find itself. Gone were the butterfingers receivers and the confused, overmatched offensive line. The play-calling was masterful on both sides of the ball, seeming to anticipate everything Cal wanted to do.
Said linebacker Spencer Paysinger of the Cal offense: "It was like we already knew what you're about to do and you're still doing it."
Oregon had touchdown drives of 80 and 96 yards. A quarter of Cal's offense came on one pass play.
Dickson, however, isn't sure if the wound sustained against Boise State is completely healed. And that's a good thing.
"This softened it up a little bit," he said. "But the only thing that is going to fix that is if we get into the Rose Bowl or a BCS bowl game."
A week ago, such an assertion would seem absurd. As of Saturday evening, it's not ridiculous to now call Oregon the Pac-10's new frontrunner.
USC visits on Oct. 31. Happy Halloween.