Commentary

Dixon, Oregon rolling through top competition

Originally Published: November 4, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

EUGENE, Ore. -- For a guy who is nonstop excitement with the football, Dennis Dixon sure can flip the dull switch when his Oregon Ducks reach the end zone.

Nobody goes from electric to stoic like Dixon. He threw four touchdown passes against oh-ver-ra-ted Arizona State on Saturday in the Ducks' 35-23 victory. After the first three, he reacted to the joyous occasions like a guy straggling into an 8 a.m. econ class.

No fist pumps or chest bumps. No race downfield to jump on the receiver. No pointing to the sky, the stands or the opposition. All Dixon did was unbutton his chin strap and walk -- not run -- off the field.

"That's just the focus he has, and that's just the person he is," said explosive Ducks running back Jonathan Stewart. "A lot of people like to celebrate like TO. He's been there before."

Yes, he has. Eight times on the ground this year, and now 20 times through the air. Dix knows six.

If you could flag Dixon for anything after a touchdown, it would be depressive celebration. If he gives up his fledgling pro baseball career and makes the NFL, he'd be voted least likely to hide a cell phone in the goalpost padding, propose to a cheerleader or pull a Sharpie out of his sock.

"I just had this motto before the season," Dixon said. "I talked to my high school coach, and he told me never get too up and never get too down. If you see me on the sidelines, I'm not really a joker, I'm not trying to make anybody laugh. I'm just focused."

[+] EnlargeDennis Dixon
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesDennis Dixon's speed, accuracy and maturation are the reasons Oregon is tough to beat.

On the fourth and final TD throw Saturday -- a gorgeous 19-yard toss to Drew Davis, who came into the game with one catch all season -- Dixon almost blew his cool. He backpedaled three or four steps before gearing down to his customary stroll.

"I was actually happy for [Davis], not for me," Spock -- I mean Dixon -- explained.

The Vulcan quarterback is leaving all the tumult and shouting to Duck Nation, which is giddily picking up the emotional slack. Fans are so excited about Oregon's 8-1 start and prominent position in the national title race that a sizable number of the record 59,379 people in Autzen Stadium rushed the field Saturday -- even though the Ducks were favored by a touchdown.

The fans are so dialed in that they reacted loudly to announced scores that affected Oregon's standing in the championship chase. They savvily cheered Michigan's comeback victory over Michigan State, knowing their win in Ann Arbor counts more with the computers if the Wolverines keep winning. They groaned when third-ranked LSU came back to beat Alabama.

"You can't help but watch [other scores]," offensive guard Josh Tschirgi said. "As long as you're not counting on other people to do your work for you, it's OK. If we don't win all three [remaining games], nothing else matters. We'll be going to the Holiday Bowl or something like that."

As of right now, the worst bowl Oregon will play in is the Rose Bowl -- which ain't bad. The best could be the big one: the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans.

And the biggest thing that could prevent the Ducks from getting there could be injuries.

The only time Dixon showed any emotion against the Sun Devils was as he rolled on the Autzen turf in pain. Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden ended a Dixon run with a crisp hit to his legs, and the quarterback grabbed his left knee and writhed on the fake grass. An audible spasm of panic shot through the crowd.

The sight of wounded Ducks has become depressingly commonplace this season. They've been besieged by major leg injuries, from receivers Cameron Colvin and Brian Paysinger to running back Jeremiah Johnson to the latest casualty, middle linebacker John Bacon (torn ACL Saturday).

"Our depth now has hit the bottom," coach Mike Bellotti said.

But when Dixon went down, he threatened to take the season with him.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Stewart
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesBruising back Jonathan Stewart provides a counterpunch to Dennis Dixon.

"I was like, 'Oh, no, how did this happen?'" Dixon said, but then he jumped up and jog-limped to the sideline to show the fans he was OK.

Just to be careful, Bellotti left Dixon out the rest of the game. With the Ducks up 35-16 at that point, there was no reason to risk anything -- and now Dixon will have 12 days to rest the strained knee before Oregon plays Arizona.

"Dennis is going to be fine," Bellotti said.

He has been better than fine all season. He has been Heisman-esque, thanks to an offseason upgrade in maturity.

"He's a totally different guy in the huddle," Tschirgi said. "Last year, he wasn't a leader in the huddle. This year, it's understood that Dennis Dixon is the leader.

"It's confidence, pure and simple. Dennis' confidence is so high right now. We all trust that he's going to do everything it takes to win."

The wins have piled up. The stats have piled up, too, comparable with the best quarterbacks out there. And if you're looking for the one quality that can separate him from the pack, it's this: No one in America performs more ball-on-a-string sleight of hand than Dixon.

"Almost a magician," is how Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly described Dixon and his ball fakes.

No wonder one of the quarterback's relatives was wearing a jersey that said Tricky Dixon on the back.

Dixon's huge hands -- I had him hold his right paw up to my left; mine was dwarfed -- allow him to pump fake extravagantly without losing his grip on the ball. Twice Saturday, he had the Sun Devils rushing in the direction of a faked pass, only to pull the ball back and fire it the other direction.

"Having that extension, showing that to the defense, creates a whole lot of havoc," Dixon said.

Oregon has created havoc all season in Kelly's go-go spread attack. Tempo, trickery and creative play calling make the Ducks dangerous, and they wasted no time bewildering Arizona State's top-20 defense.

It took Oregon four plays to get its first touchdown. Eleven more plays to score again. Then seven more to make it 21 points on the board. The game was less than 15½ minutes old before Dixon had thrown three TDs.

"They got tricked," Stewart said.

"Our offense is like a big ball," Dixon said. "Once we get rolling, it's hard to stop us."

The only thing harder is getting the Vulcan quarterback excited after a score.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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