Over head: The Ducks eye the Sun Bowl, while the Beavers like their Las Vegas odds Deck: A boot camp-style practice helped Oregon turn the corner
EUGENE Ñ It was Nov. 3, and Sergeant, er, coach Mike Bellotti and his staff stormed out to the practice field.
Two days after getting ripped 42-10 at Washington, Oregon's fourth loss in five games, the coaches put their troops through an intense boot camp-style practice, the likes of which most players had never seen.
By the end of the session, the players had done 480 'up-downs' Ñ where they jog in place and splash to the ground and then get back up. Four-hundred eighty.
'We all learned something that day,' Bellotti told the throng gathered for Sunday's Duck awards banquet.
All that week, with the California game lurking, the coaches drilled the Ducks hard.
The attitude, Bellotti says, 'could have gone a lot of different directions. It was meant to prove a point, and the players got the point Ñ a tremendous wake-up call to the team.'
Now the Ducks get their reward Ñ a week off after finishing their regular season with three consecutive wins, including Saturday's 34-20 triumph over Oregon State. Everything clicked against the hated Beavers Ñ and for all four quarters.
Kellen Clemens threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score. The offensive line opened the way for a 218-yard running attack. The defensive line dominated, with Igor Olshansky notching 3.5 sacks and Devan Long 3. And the special teams outclassed their counterparts.
It won't be official until after USC hosts Oregon State on Dec. 6, but the Ducks probably are headed to the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas.
Oregon will take off this week, the finals week of Dec. 8-12 and some days before the Christmas break. If the Ducks go to the Sun Bowl, they would gather in El Paso on Dec. 26 to continue their inexplicable season.
'We've probably had some highs and lows that have never been seen in Oregon history,' Bellotti says. 'There was a huge run on ankle braces when (fans) fell off the bandwagon and a huge run on wrist braces when they jumped back on.'
The top 10
Three weeks ago, you read here of the Top 10 Things Gone Wrong. This week, it's the Top 10 Things Gone Right:
10. Execution Ñ Coaches preached about it, and they finally got through to the players.
9. Special teams Ñ The units rounded into shape after injuries had depleted their ranks. The highlights: Kenny Washington's TD return vs. UCLA, and Jerry Matson's jarring kickoff hit against OSU.
8. Playmakers Ñ Tight end Tim Day and fullback Dante Rosario gave the QBs options besides receivers Samie Parker and Demetrius Williams.
7. Coaching Ñ The tough love by Bellotti, the schemes developed by defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti and some creativity exhibited by offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
6. Blocking Ñ The offensive line sucked it up, and Mike De La Grange and Ian Reynoso, as well as Day, got healthy.
5. Injuries Ñ The situation stabilized in the last three games; 16 players are gone for the year, but some of the many others who are hobbled will be back for the bowl.
4. Secondary scheme Ñ Take away Reggie Williams' long TD for UW, and the Ducks did not allow any big passing plays in the last five games.
3. Clemens Ñ A comeback against Cal, a strong first half at UCLA, a four-TD game against OSU É he established himself as The Man.
2. Leadership Ñ The Ducks finally started to appreciate the lead-by-example attitudes of Kevin Mitchell and Dan Weaver. Clemens emerged, as did safety and special teams player Marley Tucker, a junior. And Keith Lewis led with his play, rather than his mouth.
1. Bunker mentality Ñ The coaches and players heard all the talk about UO's demise. They showed character and heart.
Fife: Most Inspirational
The Duck players voted Jason Fife most inspirational player. Bellotti cited Fife's supportive attitude throughout the QB situation. Fife played in all 12 games, but coaches relegated him to mop-up duty against UCLA and OSU.
'It was a tough situation for me. Many times I contemplated calling it quits,' Fife says. 'But the players reminded me how much fun football can be.'
After the UCLA game, Fife expressed disappointment about not being told he wouldn't be playing, calling the move disrespectful. Fife grew up in Southern California.
'Very tough,' he says, of the last two games. 'I've had to swallow a lot of my pride.'
Mitchell, the team's most outstanding player, also won an award for playing through adversity. He had surgeries in 2001 and 2002, and he has bursitis in both shoulders and a partially torn hamstring. Plus, he weighed in at 200 pounds after the Civil War, down 20 pounds from the start of the season. He got emotional on two different speeches Sunday and when his senior video was played. É Most inspirational player Fife, in his video: 'Rebekah,' he says of his wife, 'you're the second-best thing to happen to me at Oregon. Sorry, babe, but it's tough to beat the cover of Sports Illustrated.' É Weaver, the best offensive lineman for two years in a row, thanked his girlfriend of eight years, Sammie, for her support. 'Without you, I'd be a slob. Pathetic, basically,' he said. Then he added: 'I'd like to thank my dog, Delylah. She's an awesome dog. When I see her, she doesn't care how I play, she's just glad I'm home.'