Sweet 16: Special Ducks
By Terry Bowden, Yahoo Sports
November 5, 2007
There are a lot of great teams out there, but every championship team has something different, something special. There is always something that seems to stand out about a team that makes it all the way to the top. Something that nobody else has. Fourth-ranked Oregon has that something special in quarterback Dennis Dixon. And Oregon, with its 35-23 victory over Arizona State and its second consecutive win over a top-10 team, took a huge step Saturday in the direction of becoming that championship team.
No.1 Ohio State, with a 10-0 record, is clearly in the driver's seat for the national championship game after scoring four consecutive touchdowns in the final 21 minutes to put away stubborn Wisconsin. LSU coach Les Miles exorcised the demon known as Nick Satan in leading his No. 2 Tigers to another amazing fourth-quarter comeback with a 41-34 rally over Alabama. And third-ranked Kansas, put a whoopin' for the ages on Nebraska 76-39 to remain undefeated and stake its claim for a spot in the title game.
If two of these three teams win out, and that's a mighty big if, they will play for the national championship in New Orleans. The Buckeyes must still play Illinois and then Michigan in the Big House. Kansas and LSU must run the table in the regular season and also play in a conference championship game. But, if two of those teams blink, if they lose a game, Oregon is primed to take their place at college football's head table.
And the guy slicing up all the opposition for the Ducks is their "Heisman favorite," Dixon. If you look up "Shotgun Zone Read Offense" in the dictionary you will see a picture of him. He is exactly what they invented this thing for. With his 6-foot-4 frame and his 4.4 speed in the 40, he is Darren McFadden in the open field. With extraordinary arm strength, touch and accuracy, he has efficiency Matt Ryan would be proud of. He is everything everybody else is and more all rolled up into one. After throwing four touchdown passes and no picks against No. 6 Arizona State on national television Saturday (that's 20 TDs for the season and only three interceptions) and running for 57 more yards, you'd have to be daffy not to believe this Duck is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
As for Oregon's national championship aspirations, this team has a whole lot more than just the best all-around quarterback in the country. They have a tailback in Jonathan Stewart with the talent to burn you if you overplay Dixon. They have a thin but gifted group of wideouts who can take it over the top as well as make you miss a tackle on their patented screen series. And they have added an offensive coordinator in Chip Kelly from New Hampshire who, as coach Mike Bellotti will tell you, brings another level of "understanding" to the offense they are running in Eugene.
Finally and quite differently from last season, they have a defense that understands the importance of keeping the other team out of the end zone. Although they give up yardage between the 20s, they turn downright nasty when they get their tail feathers backed up against the goal line. They lead the Pac-10 with the stingiest red-zone defense. On Saturday, for the second week in a row, they made an early stand – this time holding ASU to a field goal after a first-and-goal from the 3 on its first possession. Plus, they confront every critical situation they face with the same response – relentless pressure. They had nine sacks on the day to totally disrupt the repeated efforts of quarterback Rudy Carpenter to get the Sun Devils back into the game.
In spite of everything you hear about rain and fog in Oregon this time of the year, it was a beautiful day to watch football at Autzen Stadium.
Dixon and the Oregon offense are beautiful things to watch too.
Terry Bowden is Yahoo! Sports' college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site.
Updated on Monday, Nov 5, 2007 10:04 am, EST