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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 9

Oregon Defense Gives Arizona Cold Shoulder

October 22, 2000|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EUGENE, Ore. — The weather here Saturday was crisp and cloudy, the mercury slipping under 40 degrees after a couple of light, passing showers from earlier in the day.

And it seemed to have a chilling effect on Oregon and Arizona, at least in the second half of their critical Pacific-10 showdown at Autzen Stadium. Neither team was able to do much with cold feet and numb fingers against a pair of stingy defenses.

Fortunately for the Ducks--and their adoring, roaring crowd of 45,950--Oregon's two first-half touchdowns were enough to hold off the visiting Wildcats, 14-10.

The win gives seventh-ranked Oregon (6-1, 4-0) sole possession of first place in the Pacific 10 Conference and the clearest path to the Rose Bowl. The Ducks also extended their home winning streak to 19 games--second longest in the nation behind Florida State (32)--and their conference winning streak to nine games.

"I've been thinking about the Rose Bowl a lot, I'm not gonna lie," said Oregon defensive tackle Jason Nikolao. "Get your tickets, we'll meet you down there (in Pasadena)."

Arizona, which saw its four-game winning streak end, fell to 5-2, 3-1.

Duck quarterback Joey Harrington has had better games, completing only nine of 22 attempts (with one interception) for 123 yards. But 45 of those yards went for touchdowns to receiver Marshaun Tucker. Harrington was backed by the sturdy running of Maurice Morris, who rushed for 114 yards in 34 carries.

Wildcat quarterback Ortege Jenkins (15-31-1) passed for 200 yards and one touchdown. But he was frustrated by a Duck defense that sacked him eight times (two shy of the school record set against USC in 1994) for 42 yards.

Still, Jenkins took Arizona on a final drive from its own five to the Oregon 36 with under a minute to play. But could not connect on his last four pass attempts.

"It was a battle to the end," Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said. "At the end of the game we put it in the hands of the defense and they responded."

"Arizona is a very tricky team and they threw a lot of things at us," Nikolao said. "But defense has been our backbone here the whole season, and it was fitting we were the last ones on the field. We came out with a big 'W' tonight."

The game figured to be close since the Ducks and Wildcats, statistically at least, were the Pac-10's two best defensive teams. And it was. Oregon held Arizona to 217 total yards while gaining 260; most impressively, the Ducks held the Wildcats to a paltry 17 yards in 32 attempts.

Oregon got off to a quick start, scoring on its second possession.

Starting from their 44, the Ducks ran and passed through the Wildcat defense in seven plays, taking a 7-0 lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Harrington to Tucker.

The Ducks expanded that lead at the 7:08 mark in the second quarter after Oregon cornerback Rasuli Webster intercepted Jenkins at the Arizona 22. This time Harrington picked out Tucker breaking over the middle on a slant pattern for a 20-yard score and the Ducks led, 14-0.

Arizona desperately needed a big play, and Jenkins came up with one. From his own 42, he saw running back Larry Croom circle out of the backfield and slip behind the Duck defense. Jenkins lofted a gentle pass that Croom caught in stride, and the former Long Beach Poly star completed a 58-yard scoring play.

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