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For Ducks, the difference was defense

Aside from a few 'rookie mistakes,' line had a solid Sun Bowl
by: ©2008 Brian Kanof, The trophy was passed around and water buckets were emptied in the celebration after the University of Oregon’s Sun Bowl victory Monday over South Florida.

EL PASO, Texas -A defense long overshadowed by a fabulous offense had its day in the Sun Bowl.

The Ducks held South Florida to 324 total yards, including 24 rushes for 35 yards through three quarters, as Oregon won 56-21.

Ballyhooed quarterback Matt Grothe, the key to USF's attack, went 18 of 35 passing for 197 yards, with only 40 yards rushing, as the Ducks sacked him three times.

Oregon picked off four passes, recovered a fumble, limited the Bulls to 4 of 14 on third-down conversions and scored as many defensive touchdowns (two) as the USF offense.

'Actually, (The Bulls) looked very good on film,' UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says. 'The offensive line looked aggressive, and Grothe looked very mobile. He didn't look to be as mobile once we got in the game. I don't want to bash him, but when he was in the pocket, he didn't look comfortable at all. That helped us.'

On Grothe's only TD toss, he escaped the two-handed grasp of Oregon defensive tackle David Faaeteete.

'I had both hands on him, too, and I missed him,' end Nick Reed says. 'He was pretty slippery. But we did a good job of containing him.'

Aliotti lamented 'rookie mistakes' and defensive penalties - the Ducks had 12 total penalties for 138 yards - but says the Sun Bowl performance capped a solid year for the defense.

'I liked our attitude all year,' he says.

• Justin Roper went from third-string quarterback against UCLA to backup against Oregon State to starter against South Florida. Against OSU and USF, he was a combined 30 of 55 passing for 324 yards, with six touchdowns (one rushing) and only one interception.

It prompts the question: If Oregon and UCLA played again, would the outcome be different from the 16-0 loss the Ducks suffered with Brady Leaf joining Dixon on the sidelines?

Cody Kempt beat Roper out for service during the UCLA and Oregon State games, but Roper practiced better before the bowl. But, 'once I get into a game, I'm a much better player,' Roper says.

'He has a bright future,' offensive coordinator Chip Kelly says. 'His confidence grew, and his teammates fed off that.'

• Jonathan Stewart's 23-carry, 253-yard performance in the Sun Bowl gave him 1,722 yards rushing this season, by far the best in UO history, and he averaged 6.2 yards per carry. In three years, he rushed for 2,891 yards and 27 TDs, added four receiving TDs and two kickoff return TDs -for 33 total touchdowns.

• Bellotti says Stewart, a junior this season, should jump to the NFL only if he would be a top-10 pick. Anything lower would bring much less of a signing bonus, and 'that's the only free money you get,' says Bellotti, adding that other Ducks have admitted they made a 'tactical and financial mistake' by leaving school early.

• Bellotti says NFL teams also are looking at offensive tackle Geoff Schwartz and QB Dennis Dixon, although his stock has dropped because of knee surgery. Linebackers Kwame Agyeman and A.J. Tuitele also could get some NFL attention. Junior rover Patrick Chung has considered going pro.

• Coaches got doused with water buckets. Offensive tackle Fenuki Tupou joked that the dumping on O-line coach Steve Greatwood 'was payback for all the 6:30 (a.m.) workouts.'

• The Ducks scored more than 50 points five times this season, and had 48 against Houston.

• 'This was a great football team,' Bellotti says. 'If we had stayed healthy, there's no question in my mind we'd have played for a national championship.'

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Oregon's projected 2008 depth chart

Offense

WR: *Jaison Williams, senior; Drew Davis, sophomore

LT: *Fenuki Tupou, junior; C.E. Kaiser, sophomore

LG: Jordan Holmes, sophomore; Jon Teague, senior

C: *Max Unger, senior; Jeff Kendall, senior

RG: *Mark Lewis, senior; Jon Teague, senior

RT: Jacob Hucko, senior; Bo Thran, sophomore

TE: *Ed Dickson, junior; Malachi Lewis, sophomore

QB: Nate Costa, sophomore; Justin Roper, sophomore

RB: Jeremiah Johnson, senior; Andre Crenshaw, junior

WR: Jeffrey Maehl, sophomore; Aaron Pflugrad, sophomore

WR: Derrick Jones, junior; Terence Scott, senior

K: *Matt Evensen, senior; Daniel Padilla, sophomore

Defense

DE: *Nick Reed, senior; Kenny Rowe, sophomore

DT: Ra'Shon Harris, senior; Tonio Celotto, sophomore

DT: Cole Linehan, senior; Justin Thompson, junior

DE: *Will Tukuafu, junior; Brandon Bair, sophomore

WLB: Terrance Pritchett, freshman; Kevin Garrett, junior

MLB: Casey Matthews, sophomore; John Bacon, senior

SLB: *Jerome Boyd, junior; Spencer Paysinger, sophomore

ROV: *Patrick Chung, senior; Marvin Johnson, sophomore

FS: T.J. Ward, junior; Todd Doxey, freshman

LCB: *Walter Thurmond, junior; Talmadge Jackson, sophomore

RCB: *Jairus Byrd, junior; Willie Glasper, junior

P: *Josh Syria, senior; Tim Taylor, junior

* returning starter

Notes: RB Jonathan Stewart, as of Thursday, had not declared for the NFL draft. … Free safety remains the position most up in the air;

UO coaches might decide to move Maehl back to that spot. Maehl

suffered a concussion in the Sun Bowl. … DT Thompson has verbally committed to the Ducks. … Backup TE Malachi Lewis can play another position; redshirt TE David Paulson has been impressive in practice. … JC running back LaGarrette Blount also should be a factor. … C Unger could move anywhere on the offensive line. Barlow High product Thran sat out all but one game at OT with ankle/foot injuries but figures to be in the mix next season. … Riley Showalter, from Central Catholic, was impressive the last half of the season at linebacker and on special teams.

- Jason Vondersmith