Ducks regain magic touch
Kellen Clemens rescues UO against Cal to keep bowl hopes alive
Chalk up fourth-quarter comeback win No. 1 for Kellen Clemens, who resembled the incomparable Joey Harrington in leading Oregon to its most significant win of the season last weekend.
A la Joey, Clemens led the Ducks to a 21-17 victory over California, with two touchdowns in the final 4:19, as the underdog spirit returned to the team that was teetering on the brink of bowl extinction.
Oregon, 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the Pacific-10 Conference, can get its bowl-qualifying seventh win Saturday at UCLA.
The UO naysayers will have to recoil their index fingers, which had been pointed at the offense and coordinator Andy Ludwig.
The pattern had been established. Nine turnovers against Washington State. Impotency in the second half in a tight, winnable game against Utah. Two quick Clemens interceptions leading to two Arizona State scores. No points in the final 40 minutes, 46 seconds against Washington. And, worst of all, only 21 fourth-quarter points in nine previous games Ñ wins included.
The magic returned, for one game, anyway. After being benched, Clemens came back Saturday to complete 8 of 12 passes and got big plays from receivers Samie Parker, Kyle Weatherspoon, Tim Day and Demetrius Williams.
Most important, blockers blocked. It was Oregon's most gutsy comeback victory since Jason Fife rallied the team to beat Fresno State last year, 20 games ago. And as impressive as last year's win over UCLA, when the Ducks scored 14 seconds into the fourth quarter to go ahead.
Coach Mike Bellotti talked last week about how leadership was lacking in the huddles and in the locker room. 'Every single person in the program recognized that and was infused with enthusiasm,' he says.
Clemens may have finally emerged as the leader. He deflected the notion, saying the win did not constitute his hallmark game. 'It was just 11 guys saying we had to make some plays,' he says. 'We had the ability. We just had to execute.'
No question, though, that everybody on the team knew that the main reason for Oregon's woes was its offense. The problem hasn't been the defense, except against Arizona State (defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said the players 'weren't ready to play') and when the Ducks tackled recklessly and missed assignments against Washington.
The margin for error had been minimized, because Oregon could not move the ball consistently and lacked both big plays and a fourth-quarter punch. 'It was a fact,' says cornerback Justin Phinisee, cringing at the comment.
'With the focus on offense, we felt we needed to take care of business,' he adds. 'As a defense, you don't want to get down on the offense. It could have been a distraction, and we've done a good job of not letting it hinder us.'
After Clemens' 31-yard touchdown pass to Day brought the score to 17-14, the Ducks stopped Cal and forced a punt. Linebacker Kevin Mitchell went to the sideline and chatted with position coach Don Pellum.
'Sitting there with DP, he says, 'You know, Kev, it feels like a couple years ago,' ' Mitchell says. 'We knew if we got the offense back out there, they would put it in. We had the faith.'
Oregon marched and scored on Terrence Whitehead's 1-yard run to go ahead, and then Keith Lewis intercepted Cal's pass in Duck territory to seal the win.
Day, the tight end, had four catches for 69 yards and the big TD. Bellotti knew of Day's ability, but the big sophomore had been slowed by a shoulder injury. 'They were limiting my play, because they wanted me to last the rest of the season,' he says. É Dante Rosario lined up at fullback and tailback, and he had six carries for 29 yards. The Ducks have been working hard to get him more involved. Bellotti calls him a co-starter and says the athletic freshman also could play tight end, defensive end and linebacker during his UO career. É The Ducks rarely substituted on defense against Cal, with Marques Binns and Phinisee, second-stringers lately, starting at the corners and helping limit Cal to 188 passing yards, with a long of only 36. Binns tackled well and played receivers physically Ñ in contrast to the two raps on him. É Regular corners Rodney Woods and Steven Moore may be back for the UCLA game. But Phinisee might still return punts, instead of Moore. É Kicker Jared Siegel missed another field goal, a 53-yard attempt, making him 7 of 12 this season.
The Bruins (6-4, 4-2 under first-year coach Karl Dorrell), have dropped two in a row, 21-14 to Stanford and 31-13 to WSU. They are unbeaten at home. É The Bruins rank 10th in Pac-10 rushing (103.8 yards per game), ninth in total offense (304.9) and ninth in scoring (20.4 points). Take away their 46 points against UW, and UCLA -hasn't scored more than 24 in one game. É Quarterback Drew Olson has started six games and Matt Moore four, with Moore playing lately. They have combined for 12 interceptions and nine TDs. É Craig Bragg has 55 catches for 849 yards and four TDs; remember, he had nine catches for 230 yards and three long TDs in Oregon's 31-30 win last year. É Last year's game also included Siegel's UO-record 59-yard field goal. Fife was 14 of 18 for 202 yards and two TDs, including the game-winner to Keenan Howry. The Duck defense also had three picks. É UCLA end Dave Ball has 27.5 career sacks, including 13.5 this year. Linebacker Brandon Chillar leads the Pac-10 with 10.7 tackles per game. É The Bruins rank first in Pac-10 pass defense (197.2 yards), second in total defense (316.8) and third in scoring defense (21 points). É Tyler Ebell, who had 119 yards rushing last year against UO, had 105 on 12 carries last Saturday at WSU.