Losing to Oklahoma in last season’s Holiday Bowl left a sour taste in Oregon’s mouth. In the first month of the 2006 season, the Ducks get another crack at the Sooners, but this time on their home field.
No. 18 Oregon and No. 15 Oklahoma put their perfect records on the line in a rematch of last December’s bowl game on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
The Sooners (2-0) survived an Oregon (2-0) rally late in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 29, securing a 17-14 victory by intercepting Ducks quarterback Brady Leaf in the final minute.
“It’s tough losing such a heartbreaker like that,” Oregon receiver Jaison Williams said. “It wasn’t a heavy loss. It was very close. It hurt the heart a little bit. We’ll go in with a little chip on our shoulder and see what that does for us.”
The Ducks also lost their only other previous meeting to the Sooners, 31-7 on Sept. 18, 2004, at Norman, Okla.
This time, though, Oregon has the home-field advantage. The Ducks are 23-1 in non-conference games—4-0 against ranked non-conference opponents—at Autzen Stadium under coach Mike Bellotti.
Oregon also faces Oklahoma with a different starting quarterback than in the Holiday Bowl. Junior Dennis Dixon has had two impressive games to open the season, combining to complete 44 of 66 passes for 476 yards and a touchdown in victories over Stanford and Fresno State.
Dixon should get an important backfield mate back in sophomore running back Jonathan Stewart, who ran for 168 yards in the opener against Stanford before a right ankle injury limited him to one carry for three yards in last Saturday’s 31-24 victory over Fresno State. He expects to start this week.
Defending the run could be a bigger concern for Oregon, however. The Ducks were able to defeat Fresno State despite allowing 154 rushing yards to Bulldogs running back Dwayne Wright.
“We were a little tired in the second half and they ran the ball better,” Bellotti said. “We need to get better. That’s one of the things that needs to be an area of improvement, especially this week playing a guy like Adrian Peterson. We better shore it up in there.”
Peterson has given the Ducks plenty of problems in the past, running for a total of 267 yards and two touchdowns in the two meetings between the schools. The running back has gained 304 yards on the ground through the first two games this season, including 32 carries for 165 yards and two scores in last Saturday’s 37-20 victory over Washington.
The Sooners have needed Peterson’s running ability to win their first two games, as new starting quarterback Paul Thompson continues to learn. Thompson, who replaced the dismissed Rhett Bomar before the season, has thrown for 499 yards and four TDs this year but has also been intercepted three times.
He played well in the second half against Washington, completing 9 of 11 passes for 170 yards.
“He’s going to the right places, he’s not forcing throws,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “Every once in a while, like everyone, he’s a little bit off target but that’s most quarterbacks, most places, all levels of football.”
Thompson is developing a good rapport with sophomore wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, who caught six passes for a career-high 121 yards—including both of Thompson’s touchdown passes—last Saturday. Kelly also had one of the best games of his freshman season in the Holiday Bowl, gaining 79 yards on seven receptions.
“I don’t want to get him too confident right now, but he’s definitely got potential to be a big-time receiver not only here but at the next level,” Thompson said.
Oklahoma will likely need to get off to a faster start than in its first two games to defeat Oregon. The Sooners have outscored their opponents 41-17 after halftime, but have entered the locker room tied in each contest.
The Sooners are seeking their seventh 3-0 start in Bob Stoops’ eight seasons as coach. Oregon, meanwhile, is looking for its second consecutive 3-0 opening to the season and its sixth in seven years under Bellotti.