Error-prone Ducks can't stick with Tigers
LSU's second-half burst wins Cowboys Classic 40-27
ARLINGTON, Texas - The Oregon Ducks can say goodbye to an unblemished record in 2011 and their No. 3 ranking.
Louisiana State's big and fast defense slowed down Oregon's offense, and the Tigers turned three turnovers into touchdowns and took advantage of plenty of other Oregon miscues Saturday night.
The Cowboys Classic got out of hand in the third quarter, and the Ducks fell 40-27 in their season-opening game.
The Ducks, including quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, couldn't strike for any big plays, which had been their staple during the glorious 2010 season - the Ducks' longest play from scrimmage was 18 yards.
Oregon managed only 95 yards rushing on 28 attempts, and 335 yards total offense; James had only 54 yards rushing on 18 carries, although he eclipsed Derek Loville as UO's all-time leading rusher. Thomas went 31 of 54 for 240 yards and threw an interception.
"They played with an intensity that started with the first play and ended with the last play," LSU coach Les Miles said, of his defense. "(Defensive coordinator) John Chavis did a great job. We asked them to be ready and ready was a big word," going against UO's vaunted fast-paced offense.
And, the UO defense, although game, had the misfortune of being put into some bad situations by a Kenjon Barner punt-return fumble and two De'Anthony Thomas fumbles.
The Tigers, missing QB Jordan Jefferson among its suspended players and playing backup Jarrett Lee, ran a conservative offense for the most part, but marched 75 yards for one score and converted the gifts given to them in UO fumbles. LSU put up 273 yards offense, 175 on the ground led by Spencer Ware's 99.
The Ducks also had several costly penalties: 12 for 95 yards in all.
"Those self-inflicted wounds ... you can't play like that against a good football team," coach Chip Kelly said. "The drops, turnovers and penalties really hurt us. (With those) you're not going to win the game."
The Ducks basically got outplayed in all three facets, added safety John Boyett: "Defense, offense and special teams didn't play good enough. We lost. ... You can't win every football game, as much as you want to. When you lose, you've got to learn from it."
The Ducks will return home to play Nevada, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10. Said Kelly: "Everyone, including myself, has to get better."
Any worries about the Ducks not being able to bounce back, given the Ducks' lofty goal of returning to the BCS title game, which would now seem out of reach? "Not worried at all," Kelly said.
"It's going to show the character of the team," Darron Thomas said, "how hard we're going to come back and play after this loss. ... I'm very confident. Still confident."
The lack of big plays and rushing game didn't surprise Kelly, given LSU's good defense.
"They played good, sound football," he said. "That's a good defensive front. They're sound in their schemes, gap controlled-oriented.
"You play a team that runs (on defense) so well, I don't think you're going to get a lot of big runs," he added. "It wasn't like we lined up against a team that we would run off the field. We knew their athleticism would be a key matchup for us."
Three-year starter Carson York, an offensive guard, said he hasn't played against a better defense. "It's what we imagined. All good players. No surprises," he said. "It's the first game I've been a part of ... we had a 19-play drive, had to go (long drives) three times to score. That's not what we do."
The QB Thomas said he didn't think LSU was faster than the Ducks; new center Hroniss Grasu said the UO defense was faster than LSU's.
"We have to go out and execute," Thomas said. "It's on everybody, everybody gotta clean it up. We can still do (mistakes) in the second game."
Tight end David Paulson acknowledged the lack of big UO plays, saying the Ducks could never get their offensive rhythm.
"We couldn't get drives going," he said. 'We get the tempo and rhythm going, and we pop off the big one. That didn't happen today."
James found little running room experienced frustration for the second game in a row against an SEC defense - remember, he managed only 49 yards against Auburn in the BCS title game.
"We beat ourselves," he said. "They're good up front, can't deny that, but it was (mistakes) that hurt us.
"I think we were prepared physically. I don't think we were ready mentally."
The Tigers' defensive linemen seemingly didn't succumb to tiredness from UO's faster pace. LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who forced Barner's punt fumble and scored on a 3-yard return, said: "It started up front. Those guys didn't even get tired. They were pushing us when we were winded, so I think it was a good team effort."
Oregon went 79 yards on 19 plays to score a first-half touchdown on James' 3-yard run. But LSU put together its 75-yard drive in the first half's closing minutes to score on Rueben Randle's 10-yard reception and go ahead 16-13 at halftime.
The second half got worse for the Ducks.
LSU punter Brad Wing pushed back Barner with a 58-yard boot, leaving Oregon at its own 6-yard-line on the punter's second significant punt of the day. De'Anthony Thomas, the ballyhooed recruit from Los Angeles, caught some passes and carried some balls in his debut, but he coughed up the ball on a rush, making a fumble that was forced by Sam Montgomery and recovered by LSU's Eric Reid at the UO 21.
The Tigers took advantage, as Michael Ford scored on a 5-yard TD run to make the score 23-13.
De'Anthony Thomas showed some nifty moves on the ensuing kickoff return, but LSU forced him to make another fumble and recovered at the UO 38. A second costly turnover by the talented true freshman.
"He didn't have proper technique on both of his fumbles," Kelly said. "The ball was away from his body, and that's not how we teach it. He knows that."
Said De'Anthony Thomas: "I just seen the hole (on the first fumble), I was trying to hit the hole and I fumbled. Second one, I saw an open lane and tried to hit it and the guy got me from behind."
Moments later, Lee hit Deangelo Peterson for 29 yards to the UO 8. Oregon forced third-and-5, but rookie corner Terrance Mitchell got called for pass interference on the 6-4 Randle, putting the ball at the UO 2.
Then Ware scored from a yard out, and LSU led 30-13.
The Oregon offense went nowhere on its next possession, and LSU worked itself into scoring position. The Tigers made it a 20-point lead with Drew Alleman's 30-yard field goal.
The Ducks didn't give up. Quarterback Thomas led them downfield and threw an 8-yard TD pass to Josh Huff with 9:14 left, cutting the lead to 33-20.
The Ducks went on fourth-and-6 from their 40, but couldn't connect on a pass to the sideline with 5:48 remaining, just about ending any hope of a miracle comeback by the consensus Pac-12 favorite.
Ford tacked on another TD for the Tigers, racing 16 yards to the outside on a run with 2:52 left. The PAT boosted LSU's edge to 40-20.
Oregon drove to the red zone with a minute to go, and then De'Anthony Thomas scored on a 4-yard run off tackle to make the final count 40-27.
The matchup was billed as an epic season-opening showdown between two top-five teams. But while LSU's defense shined, the Ducks didn't produce many highlights, starting in the first half.
Oregon first half was less than stellar, as Barner fumbled on special teams, Darron Thomas threw an interception, several penalties hurt the offense and LSU's big and fast defense generally wreaked havoc. The Ducks had 167 yards to LSU's 100 in the first half, but UO had only 46 yards rushing on 17 attempts (James managed 14 carries for 36 yards).
Three UO penalties came on the opening kickoff and first drive. A punt gave LSU the ball at the UO 39 and, although Oregon's defense held, Alleman opened the scoring with a 45-yard field goal.
Oregon got the ball at midfield after a defensive stop. Justin Hoffman caught a 14-yard pass on third down, but Will Murphy dropped a third-down pass later. Rob Beard's 29-yard field goal tied it.
Lee miscommunicated with his center on a play later - Lee walking to the line of scrimmage to yell instructions, and J.P. Lonergan snapping the ball. The Ducks recovered the fumble, but UO couldn't score a touchdown, settling for Beard's 30-yard field goal.
The second quarter started poorly. Barner, pushed back toward the UO goal line by Wing's 53-yard punt, fumbled on his way down. The turnover was forced and recovered by Mathieu, who waltzed untouched three yards into the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point was missed, leaving it 9-6 for LSU.
Tharold Simon then picked off Thomas, but the Ducks later forced a punt.
The Ducks' offense got going, although in a patient way and not a frenzied, big-play way of 2010 fashion. Oregon combined rushing and passing, and despite two penalties from senior O-linemen Ramsen Golpashin, knocked on the door to the end zone when Lavasier Tuinei caught a pass and drew a personal-foul penalty committed by the Tigers.
James scored on his 3-yard TD run, giving Oregon the brief 13-9 lead. The drive was 19 plays for 79 yards, and it used up 7:41 of clock time.
But LSU got some offense going, marching 75 yards on 12 plays to go ahead 16-13 by halftime. Peterson caught an 18-yard pass from Lee on third down. UO's Eddie Pleasant got whistled for pass interference on Randle.
Later, Lee hit Randle on a 10-yard, jump-ball touchdown play, while the 6-4 receiver was defended by 6-0 redshirt freshman Mitchell.
OREGON 6 7 0 14 -- 27
LSU 3 13 14 10 -- 40
LSU - 1st, 11:14: Drew Alleman 44 FG
UO - 1st, 3:55: Rob Beard 29 FG
UO - 1st, 0:42: Beard 30 FG
LSU - 2nd, 14:43: Tyrann Mathieu 3 fumble return (kick failed)
UO - 2nd, 5:16: LaMichael James 3 run (Beard kick)
LSU - 2nd, 0:44: Rueben Randle 10 pass from Jarrett Lee (Drew Alleman kick)
LSU - 3rd, 6:23: Michael Ford 5 run (Alleman kick)
LSU - 3rd, 3:03: Spencer Ware 1 run (Alleman kick)
LSU - 4th, 14:07: Alleman 32 FG
UO - 4th, 9:14: Josh Huff 8 pass from Darron Thomas (Beard kick)
LSU - 4th, Michael Ford 16 run (Alleman kick)
UO - 4th, De'Anthony Thomas 4 run (Beard kick)