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DUCKS GET ANOTHER RUN AT A BIG WIN

Players scoff at notion that pressure is on them to win a BCS bowl
by: JAIME VALDEZ In the 2010 Rose Bowl, Oregon’s LaMichael James could only sit on the bench and watch as Ohio State’s offense controlled the final minutes of a 26-17 victory over the Ducks.

The Oregon Ducks have won 33 of 39 games under coach Chip Kelly, made it to three Bowl Championship Series games and become entrenched in the national college football scene. Along the way, the Ducks have made plenty of statements — except an emphatic one at the end of the season. They are 0-2 in BCS games under Kelly. They are 2-6 in their past eight bowl games. And, remarkably, they have not won the Rose Bowl since World War I —nearly a century ago. When the Ducks take the field in Pasadena Jan. 2 against Wisconsin, it’ll mark only the sixth time the program has played in the “Granddaddy of Them All.” And the current Duck players wouldn’t know Hugo Bezdek from Shy Huntington, even though Coach Bezdek and quarterback Huntington will be forever etched in UO lore as the men who led the Ducks to a resounding 14-0 win over Pennsylvania in the 1917 Rose Bowl. Can Kelly and QB Darron Thomas duplicate the feat 95 years later? Or, will Oregon drop a third consecutive BCS game and condemn itself as the flashy program from the Northwest that can’t handle the big boys? A lot has been made about the Ducks under Kelly — with three league titles and all the regular-season wins. Sometimes forgotten is that the Ducks of 1999 to 2001, led by coach Mike Bellotti and QB Joey Harrington, went 30-6 and won all three of their bowl games, including the Fiesta Bowl. Back then, the Ducks went fast, hard and finished. Kelly has guided the Ducks to their share of big wins — two over both Stanford and USC, and three over Oregon State — for BCS berths. But the Ducks also have lost to Boise State, Stanford, Ohio State (26-17 in the 2010 Rose Bowl), Auburn (22-19 in the 2011 BCS title game), LSU and USC — all big games, as well. Does the coach feel pressure to win the Wisconsin game? “Yes, immense,” says Kelly, who can be a sarcastic fellow. “Just like I feel in every game. What would I say to that question? “I feel pressure in every game I coach to win. Every game is life and death. And, life and death is a lot of pressure. It’s a win on the line.” Thomas says having been on a big stage the past two years could help the Ducks. “We aren’t coming into this game nervous,” he says. “It should be an easy game for us. “For the program, it’s a (potential) signature win. But for us as a team, we just want to come out with the victory.” The Wisconsin match-up “is a chance to redeem ourselves,” linebacker Dewitt Stuckey says. Offensive lineman Carson York says he’s “ready to spend an offseason being able to celebrate a victory for six months.” What do the Ducks have to do to win this Rose Bowl? The vaunted UO offense has to perform better than it did in the past two bowl appearances. The Ducks started slowly in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State and weren’t clicking much better early in the BCS championship game with Auburn. “We played two really good teams,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says. “If somebody had said Auburn was going to score 22 points, I probably would’ve signed my name to that, gone home with that.” Ohio State’s third-down conversions (11 of 21) and a red-zone fumble by Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount proved costly for the Ducks two years ago. Auburn’s third downs (9 of 17) and 519 yards offense were huge last year. Also factors that hurt the Ducks: the play of Auburn QB Cam Newton, the Tigers holding UO to 75 rushing yards, and Michael Dyer’s late 37-yard run for the Southeastern Conference team. In Wisconsin, the Ducks will face a big offensive line that paves the way for QB Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball, and two good receivers in Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis. Like Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Newton, Wilson can pick up yards with his feet. But using them is not his first choice. The North Carolina transfer has thrown 31 TD passes with three interceptions and completed 72.5 percent of his passes this year. “He has great command of the offense, and he can zing it,” linebacker Michael Clay says. Wilson will run when things break down, and he has gained 320 yards (4.4 per carry) and scored five TDs. “He’s very efficient in their offense,” Aliotti says. “They do a great job of running the ball, which opens up the play-action pass. And, they do bootlegs and sprint-outs to get him on the edge. There’ll be times when he drops back, and if we don’t get guys in their lanes, he’ll scramble and hurt you with his feet.” The power-running Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist, needs one touchdown to tie Barry Sanders’ NCAA season TD record of 39. He has 32 rushing TDs and six receiving scores. He’s also thrown a TD pass. Ball has rushed for 1,759 yards (6.4 per carry) this season. Overall, containing the Badgers on first-down plays will be crucial. But, the real intrigue exists with Oregon’s offense against Wisconsin’s defense. The Badgers are, statistically, one of the country’s better defensive teams, giving up 293 yards and 17 points per game. “They’re so sound in what they do,” Kelly says. “They’re such good tacklers. It starts with their two inside linebackers (Chris Borland and Mike Taylor). They all know what they’re supposed to do. You don’t see a lot of big plays against them.” But Oregon has churned out 46.2 points and 515.2 yards per outing, behind the play of Thomas (30 TDs, six picks), running back LaMichael James (1,646 yards, 19 total TDs) and freshman phenom De’Anthony Thomas (1,921 all-purpose yards, 16 TDs). Can Wisconsin keep up with the Ducks? “I don’t think we’ll outscheme them, and they won’t outscheme us,” Kelly says. “It’s guys making plays, and who can execute. Can they get off their blocks and make tackles and can we sustain blocks? This isn’t a trick-’em operation.”