Ducks take step toward title game
EUGENE, Ore. -- The Oregon Ducks need some new talking points.
They've lived in denial, tiptoeing around the truth for months now. They've averted their eyes from the big picture. They've rigorously recited the one-game-at-a-time mantra -- until now there is only one game left.
Which means it's time to lift their beaks from the grindstone long enough to acknowledge this intoxicating fact: The next game is the game that leads to the Promised Land. Beat rival Oregon State next week, and the Ducks are playing in the BCS Championship Game.
Just don't expect coach Chip Kelly to mention that reality to his players. He believes the shock would be too great.
"If I went into the team meeting Monday and started saying that, they'd be like, 'What are you talking about?'" Kelly said.
Despite the ban on big-picture thoughts, senior wide receiver D.J. Davis admitted peeking at Auburn-Alabama on television for a while Friday afternoon. You know, just in case one thing should lead to another
"It's there," Davis acknowledged, before darting back to script. "But we're not really focusing on that. There's this little rivalry game with the boys up the road."
The boys up the road had better build a Beaver dam of Hoover Dam strength to stop the flood that is the Oregon offense. Or find a way to score 50. Or, to be more specific, score 50 in the first half and then hang on for dear life when the trademark second-half surge hits.
Arizona was engulfed by it here Saturday in a 48-29 beating. The 7-4 Wildcats played about as well as they could have in taking a 19-14 halftime lead -- then they got to combat an avalanche with a flyswatter.
In the second half Oregon looked like Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime, firing off jabs so fast the Wildcats were still recoiling from the first one when the second, third and fourth were landing. The Ducks scored 34 points in a span of 15 minutes and 45 seconds, once again confounding and exhausting an opponent after intermission.
Oregon is outscoring opponents by 162 points in the first half. It is outscoring opponents by 192 in the second half -- and by 87 in the fourth quarter. That's not a coincidence.
You know how they say The Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday? Well, the challenge of playing the Ducks doesn't begin until the third quarter. That's when the wear and tear sets in. And the tempo quickens. And the fatigue and panic and frustration multiply.
"You saw us crank it up a couple times," Kelly said of his team's offensive pace. "It's tough for them to respond."
There was no adequate response once the avalanche started.
The first snowball was an 85-yard run with an option pitch by freshman receiver Josh Huff, Oregon's longest scoring play of the year. Huff, like Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James, is from Texas. Longhorns fans wondering where their playmakers went need only look to the Pacific Northwest to get their answer.
Huff came into this game leading Oregon in yards per carry at 12.9. And among receivers with more than 10 receptions, he led in yards per catch at 17.2. But he'd only gotten 23 touches from scrimmage.
So Kelly tinkered with his playbook and found some more ways to get the freshman the ball. The result: three carries for 103 yards, plus another 18 on two receptions. A guy who was producing 16 yards per play from scrimmage actually increased that gaudy average.
"We've got a lot of guys who can cause some problems," Kelly understated.
From there, James (126 rushing yards and two touchdowns), quarterback Darron Thomas (210 total yards and four touchdowns) and Kenjon Barner (71 rushing yards) all took turns causing problems. The afterthought defense stepped up. Special teams created a turnover.
And the high-volume Autzen Stadium crowd did its part to unnerve the visitors. The sound and speed and execution had a feeding-frenzy quality to it. The environment was so merciless that the Oregon fans loudly booed two injured Wildcats, suspecting them of feigning injuries like California did two weeks ago to slow down the Ducks' offense.
These injuries looked legit. And a memo to Oregon fans: You look a bit tacky booing an injured player while leading by three touchdowns.
The hard part now for the Ducks will be leaving their home echo chamber to take the last step to Glendale. Corvallis will be much less friendly.
But "hard part" is a relative term for this team. Oregon is on the brink of making history, playing for its first national title, and it's difficult to envision the Ducks failing to get there -- even if they don't want to admit it.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.