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ROSE BOWL: PENN STATE 38, OREGON 20 : This Duck Just Winged It : Oregon's Danny O'Neil Shatters Rose Bowl Passing Records in Loss to Penn State

January 03, 1995|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His elbow was bloody, his helmet had skid marks and his uniform looked as if it had been dry-cleaned in a lawn mower.

But no matter how Danny O'Neil appeared, when he left the Rose Bowl field early Monday evening, he should have been carrying a record book under his arm. That would have looked nice.

"He was awesome," Oregon tight end Josh Wilcox said of the Ducks' quarterback.

The 179-pound O'Neil doesn't look like a heavyweight. In fact, he seems almost as thin as an upright.

Nevertheless, O'Neil completed 41 passes in 61 attempts for 456 yards and broke Rose Bowl records that had stood since 1963.

O'Neil's Rose Bowl passing records for attempts, completions and yardage broke the marks set by Wisconsin's Ron VanderKelen.

VanderKelen completed 33 of 48 passes for 401 yards in a game that USC won, 42-37.

O'Neil also set Rose Bowl records for most plays (74) and total offense (456 yards), breaking two more of VanderKelen's 32-year-old records.

Like VanderKelen, O'Neil was quarterback of the losing team in a record-setting Rose Bowl performance.

Soon after Penn State's 38-20 victory and sharing the Rose Bowl most-valuable-player award with Ki-Jana Carter, O'Neil said he would rather have won the game.

"It feels good to play well, but it's tough to be happy when you lose," O'Neil said.

"I see my numbers and I'll probably enjoy it sometime. But I didn't come here just to give them a good fight and go home with a smile on my face."

But as Wilcox said, at least he gets to leave on good terms instead of being chased or something.

"He can go out on the level everybody said he was never at," Wilcox said.

Of course, Oregon didn't win, which is what most critics bring up when O'Neil is discussed. The Ducks were 11-12 in O'Neil's two previous years as starter until they rang up their 9-3 regular season mark this season to bring about their first Rose Bowl game since 1958.

Penn State played a soft zone that meant the Ducks had to stick mainly to short passes, and O'Neil tossed two touchdown passes.

He lofted a one-yarder to Wilcox that tied the score at 7-7 in the first quarter and hit Cristin McLemore with a 17-yarder in the corner of the end zone that tied the score again at 14-14 in the third quarter.

O'Neil also had two passes intercepted, both by free safety Chuck Penzenik. The first one didn't hurt, but the second was returned 44 yards and the Nittany Lions scored in three plays to lead, 28-14.

They weren't such great passes, O'Neil said.

"I wish I had them back," he said.

O'Neil felt the same way about his pass to McLemore that ended the first half with Penn State in the lead, 14-7.

With 11 seconds remaining, no timeouts left and third and eight at the Penn State nine, O'Neil passed over the middle instead of going for the end zone, and McLemore was tackled at the five as the half ended.

"I thought he was going to get out of bounds," O'Neil said. "I was wrong."

He wasn't wrong about much of anything else. Seven Ducks caught passes, Wilcox catching 11 for 135 yards.

"If he's not in the NFL next year, it's a joke," Wilcox said. "I'm in full support of that guy.

"For four years, he's gotten grief. He deserves only good things."

O'Neil also might have set another Rose Bowl record, at least unofficially, for the number of times being flung to the ground after being grabbed by the jersey.

It comes with the job, O'Neil said.

"What I'm really going to remember isn't anything like that," he said. "To play in the Rose Bowl, to play No. 2 in the nation, it's a privilege.

"I just wish we had won."

It's the only line in the record book O'Neil said he cared about.

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