PRE-GAME: Corso picks LSU; roof keeps Ducks, Tigers cool
ARLINGTON, Texas - It was scorching outside Cowboys Stadium on Saturday - then again, it's been scorching every day during the summer in the Dallas area, as Texas suffers through a horrendous drought.
But it was cool inside, with the stadium roof closed as the LSU Tigers and Oregon Ducks got settled in for their top-5 college football matchup in the Cowboys Classic (5 p.m. PT, ABC).
Cowboys Stadium is quite a spectacle, a Texas-sized glass and silver palace, clean and polished operationally, and located next to Ballpark in Arlington, where the Texas Rangers play baseball.To have two sports cathedrals such as these next to each other is something that Portlanders can only dream of.
The only thing is, the huge big screen hanging over the field ... for a traditionalist, does it take away from the sacred space of the football venue?
ESPN commentator Lee Corso picked the Tigers to win, which may or may not be significant. One tends to think that quarterbacks Jarrett Lee of LSU and Darron Thomas of Oregon will not be preoccupied with Corso's pick as they try to pick apart the opposing defense.
Anyway, the game approached and the Ducks looked to knock off the Tigers and prove themselves as another national championship contender.
Here are some pre-game notes:
• The Ducks didn't have a travel roster to distribute before the game. So, media and fans had to wait for the game to see who made the cut to travel and possibly play against LSU.
• LaMichael James needs 20 rushing yards to eclipse Derek Loville's career rushing record of 3,296.
• The Ducks had won 20 consecutive games on green artificial turf, and 16 overall on fake stuff dating to the Sept. 3, 2009 loss on the blue field of Boise State. The last loss on green artificial grass was on Nov. 1, 2008 at California, a day when the field was swamped in areas by rain water.
• Oregon is 26-4 in its past 30 non-conference, regular-season games, beating the likes of Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan twice. The Ducks were 3-0 against SEC teams, beating Mississippi State in 2002 and 2003 and Tennessee last season. The Ducks have lost only two non-conference games in the past 19 contests, both to Boise State.
• Conditioned well, and good at making adjustments at halftime, Oregon outscored opponents 285-83 in the second half of games last season.
• The UO coaches made much of their defensive line rotation last year, saying all nine players used were counted on to contribute. So, with three seniors departed (Brandon Bair, Zac Clark, Kenny Rowe), six remain.
A look at one stat shows how much left with those three graduating. The six returning players - Dion Jordan, Terrell Turner, Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart, Brandon Hanna and Ricky Heimuli - combined for 17 tackles for loss, or about what Rowe (16.5) and Bair (16) each accomplished himself. The six returnees combined for 8.5 sacks - 1.5 more than Rowe had by himself. Clark's 9.5 TFLs and four sacks were more than any of the six returning D-linemen.
• The UO defense lost its top five tacklers to graduation.
• Oregon averaged 7.3 scores per game during its record-setting 2010 season (school-record/Pac-10 record 611 points). Opponents averaged 3.4 scores per game. Interestingly, despite the huge disparity in scores, the Ducks only had 20 scoring drives of plus-three minutes, compared to 18 for opponents. So, that's a lot of quick scores by the Ducks.
• Against LSU, Oregon sported six full-time returning starters on offense and four on defense. But several other players had started games last season: offensive lineman Darrion Weems (seven), receiver Josh Huff (two), running back Kenjon Barner (two), defensive linemen Jordan (one) and Wade Keliikipi (one) and cornerback Anthony Gildon (six).
• Two top-five teams met in the season-opener on a neutral site for only the third time in history, and first time in 28 years. Oregon was No. 3 and LSU No. 4 entering the game.