Saturday, November 27, 2010

No. 1 Ducks rally to beat Arizona, win Pac-10

Now the Ducks can have their turkey. Oregon coach Chip Kelly said earlier this week the didn’t want his top-ranked team to partake in the traditional Thanksgiving meal because it might make them lethargic against No. 20 Arizona.

The Ducks were anything but sedentary on Friday night with a 48-29 victory over the Wildcats. Oregon earned at least a share of its second-straight Pac-10 title and stayed on course for a trip to the BCS national championship game.

Darron Thomas passed for 148 yards and three scores and ran for another, while running back LaMichael James ran for 126 yards and two scores for the Ducks (11-0, 8-0), who trailed 19-14 at halftime.

The Ducks have only won 11 games in a season once before, when Joey Harrington led them to the Fiesta Bowl in 2001. The Ducks can lock up an outright conference title and a spot in the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz., next week with a victory at Oregon State.

It was the third straight loss for Arizona (7-4, 4-4), which ultimately couldn’t keep up with the Ducks’ speedy spread-option.

With temperatures in the mid-40s and periodic rain showers, there were concerns that the Wildcats would have trouble with their passing game, which had been averaging about 300 yards a game. But Nick Foles passed for a career-high 448 yards and three touchdowns, including an 85-yard score to Juron Criner. It just wasn’t enough.

Thomas completed 14 of 24 passes for 148 yards and an interception. Oregon finished with 537 yards total offense. Arizona put up 506.

Oregon was playing catch-up the entire first half and trailed for just the second time this season at the break. But the Ducks bounced back early in the second half with Josh Huff’s 85-yard scoring run, the longest play from scrimmage for the Ducks this season. While the conversion failed, Oregon had a 20-19 lead.

Arizona hurt itself on Oregon’s next series, when they were called offside on Rob Beard’s missed 42-yard field goal attempt. That gave the Ducks a first down and Thomas followed with a 20-yard touchdown run to make it 27-19.

The Wildcats cut the lead on Alex Zendejas’ 41-yard field goal, but James ran for a pair of scores, one for 13 yards and another for a yard, to make it 48-22. James has 19 rushing touchdowns this season, surpassing LeGarrette Blount’s score record 17 set in 2008.

James came into the game as the nation’s rushing leader at 158 yards per game, but there were concerns about his health. After Oregon’s last game, a 15-13 win over California, the Heisman Trophy hopeful was on crutches with a leg injury. He was able to rest the injury over a bye week and practiced on a limited basis.

He quickly showed he was fine by busting for a 38-yard run on Oregon’s first series. With the run, the sophomore became just the second Ducks player in history to run for 3,000 career yards. James went down late in the first half after he was hit by Arizona safety Adam Hall. While he was helped off the field, he stayed on the sidelines until the break, then earned rousing applause when he returned from halftime hopping across the field with his helmet on.

Last season Arizona fans readied to rush the field but Oregon scored with 6 seconds left, sending the game into overtime. The Ducks went on to win it 44-41 in double OT, spoiling Arizona’s chance for its first Rose Bowl bid. Oregon went to Pasadena, Calif., instead, but this season that would be a consolation prize for the Ducks.

They have already beaten second-place Stanford, so even if they lose the Civil War game to Oregon State, and fall into a tie for first in the Pac-10, they’ll go to the Rose Bowl. Beat the Beavers and the Ducks will play for their first national championship.

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