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Score one (zero) for the Oregon defense

by: GREG WAHL-STEPHENS - Oregon defensive backs Iko Ekpre-Olomu and Avery Patterson celebrate another big play by the defense in Saturday's 49-0 win over Arizona.EUGENE — Whoa. The face of the Oregon program has changed, if only for one monumental, memorable game.

Defense starred in every fathomable way on Saturday night, as the Ducks routed Arizona 49-0 at Autzen Stadium.

There were seven stops by the defense inside the Ducks' 30-yard line, including on the first five drives when the quarterback Matt Scott-led Arizona offense could have made the game interesting with some scores.

There was Oregon limiting the Wildcats to 332 yards, including only 89 rushing yards on 32 carries as the Ducks made the Rich Rodriguez-coached offense one- dimensional. The Ducks have been one of the best third-down defenses in the country, and Arizona converted only six of 17 attempts and none of four fourth-down plays.

There were five turnovers created, including four interceptions of Scott, two returned for touchdowns by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (54 yards) and Troy Hill (29 yards) as Oregon turned a close game in the third quarter into a whitewash.

There also was the zero, UO's first league shutout since 2003.

The Oregon offense, orchestrated by coach Chip Kelly, might have put the Ducks firmly on the national map and led the program to three consecutive BCS appearances. But the experienced, athletic and hard-hitting UO defense might just carry the 2012 Ducks in their quest for their fourth consecutive Pac-10/Pac-12 title.

"Everything we did worked well," safety Brian Jackson said. "Seemed like we were everywhere at all times.

"We made a great statement. We're here, we're ready to play."

Oregon moved to 4-0 overall with the win in its Pac-12 opener, and now will prepare to face Washington State (2-2, and one-point losers to Colorado in its league opener) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

The Cougars have a new pass-happy coach, Mike Leach, which could be another interesting challenge for Aliotti's crew. But, after Saturday, it appears the Ducks will be well-equipped defensively to meet challenges.

"We played really well, clicking on all cylinders," Aliotti said. "You watch the game, and everything was in front of us. We put on a modicum of pressure, there was confusion created. The kids played exactly the way they worked this week. They came out focused and ready. Hopefully there's a lesson learned in preparation and work ethic, how it can translate into how you play on Saturdays."

The Wildcats reached the UO 4, 18, 2, 14 and 30 on their first five drives before being rebuffed — including once on a mishandled field-goal snap and once on a blocked field-goal try. The Wildcats had the ball as deep as the UO 20 and 14 in the second half — and got no points then, either.

Ekpre-Olomu and Kiko Alonso had interceptions on UA possessions in UO territory, and Michael Clay jarred loose a fumble.

Scott finished 22 of 44 for 210 yards with three picks, and his backup threw another interception. Leading rusher Ka'Deem Carey managed 79 yards on 21 carries.

"The defense did an unbelievable job," QB Marcus Mariota says. "To hold them to zero points is enough to say what they did. The offense was struggling in the first half."

The defense, Mariota says, "motivated us to go out and score points."

The offense had its struggles, with five fumbles (two lost), a Mariota interception, penalties and lack of consistent and explosive running game (228 yards on 53 carries, but it was a grind-out run game, with a long rush of 23 yards).

The 23-yard run came, surprisingly, from tight end Colt Lyerla, who was introduced as a running back after coaches approached him about carrying the ball during Arizona practice week. The 6-5, 245-pound sophomore teamed with backup quarterback Bryan Bennett in a Wildcat-type run offense. Each had the ball in his hands as they crossed the goal line for a pivotal score in the third quarter; Lyerla was awarded the 1-yard TD run that made the score, after a two-point conversion, 21-0.

Lyerla played running back at Hillsboro High. He had seven carries for 63 yards to complement Kenjon Barner (20 for 86) and De'Anthony Thomas (12 for 48) in the run game. Lyerla also had two catches for 53 yards as Mariota spread the ball around. Bennett had three carries for 12 yards and a fourth-quarter score.

Lyerla as a running back? Adds a threat to the UO offense, for sure.

"It was successful tonight, hopefully we keep it going," said Lyerla, who hadn't spoken to media this season until after his impact game Saturday.

On the 1-yard TD run, Lyerla added: "Um, it was supposed to be a zone-read (play), and my inexperience at tailback ... we ended up falling into (the end zone). It was a two-man, one-ball into the end zone. Four legs running in there."

Said Kelly: "As Colt continues to get involved in the offense, there are certain things he can do. We're real conscious of what we put on his plate."

Mariota went 20 of 35 for 260 yards and two scores, a first-half 17-yard pass to Daryle Hawkins and a third-quarter, 55-yard hookup with true freshman Bralon Addison. Junior receiver Josh Huff sat out the game, injured.

But the night belonged to the defense, from the deep defensive line to the athletic linebackers to the secondary rounding into shape without injured four-year starting safety John Boyett.

The Wildcats entered the game with plenty of swagger, led by Rodriguez and Scott; Arizona had knocked off defending Big 12 champ Oklahoma State 59-32 in its second game.

But Aliotti and his players got the best of Rodriguez and his spread offense.

"We definitely want to go out and give our best effort, no matter who the opponent is," Clay said. "This is a big step up for our confidence, we know we can play some of the best defense out there."