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Wolves Are Thrown to the Ducks, 31-27

No. 3 Michigan's chances for national title take hit, and so do Perry's Heisman hopes in No. 22 Oregon's victory.

September 21, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

EUGENE, Ore. — Michigan's Chris Perry walked onto the field Saturday as the early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.

By the time an electric afternoon in Autzen Stadium was over, he walked out with a mere 26 yards.

It took him more steps to get to the Wolverines' bus.

The national title talk that began with a shutout of Notre Dame last week was suddenly muted by No. 3 Michigan's 31-27 loss to No. 22 Oregon in a game punctuated by blocked kicks, bouncing balls and crazy twists.

Nothing was stranger than seeing a maligned Oregon defense hold the nation's best running game to minus three yards -- 310 below its average.

Perry was averaging 183 yards a game, but finished with precisely as many as Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens, in six more carries.

"They've got a great defense," said Perry, limited to 11 carries as Michigan (3-1) went to a passing attack with the Ducks dead set on thwarting the run. "It's a disappointing loss. They're a great team."

That was hardly the word on the Ducks (4-0) after last season's spectacular collapse.

After starting 6-0, they lost six of their final seven, largely because of a pass defense that ranked 115th out of 117 teams.

Against Michigan, their plan was clear.

"We just wanted to stop the run and make their quarterback beat us, and that's what we did," defensive line coach Steve Greatwood said.

Michigan quarterback John Navarre wasn't good enough to take advantage. His final numbers -- 28 for 55 for 360 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions -- didn't fully reflect his inability to capitalize.

Even so, Oregon needed a bundle of wild plays to win.

The Duck offense started with an imposing drive on the opening possession, only to see the game swerve Michigan's way after a false start on third down inside the Wolverine one-yard line forced Oregon to try a field goal.

Michigan's Marlin Jackson blocked the kick, and Jeremy LeSueur returned it 78 yards for a touchdown and what turned out to be a 6-0 lead after Michigan's extra-point attempt was blocked.

It could have been deflating for the Ducks, but it wasn't. Oregon continued to dominate, holding the ball for all but 56 seconds in the first quarter.

"I've never been in a football game where an offensive football team had the ball three plays in the first quarter," Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr said.

By halftime, Michigan had only two first downs, and Oregon led, 21-6, after scoring on a 19-yard run by Terrence Whitehead, a 15-yard run by Jason Fife -- the second of two quarterbacks Oregon routinely plays -- and a 61-yard punt return by Steven Moore.

There was far more to come.

Michigan pulled as close as 24-21 in the fourth quarter, but Oregon made it 31-21 after Keith Lewis blocked a Michigan punt deep in Oregon territory and J.D. Nelson fell on it, only to lose the ball just before scoring. The Ducks' Jordan Carey pounced on it in the end zone for the touchdown, and the crowd of 59,023 -- a record for a college football game in the state of Oregon -- went wild.

"It was so loud, it was silent," Carey said.

Oregon turned the ball over on downs with less than three minutes left, and Michigan drove 66 yards for a touchdown on Navarre's 36-yard pass to Steve Breaston, making the score 31-27.

Michigan lined up for the extra point, and Oregon's Igor Olshansky made a huge play by blocking the kick, leaving Michigan needing more than a field goal with 2:18 left.

The Wolverines were not yet done, as Braylon Edwards recovered the onside kick that followed, giving Michigan the ball at its own 44.

But four of Navarre's six pass attempts on the drive fell incomplete, and Michigan got no closer than the Oregon 41-yard line.

Navarre's final pass, for Edwards on fourth down, was high, and Oregon took over with 33 seconds left.

For the Oregon defense, it was sweet redemption.

"I think we made a huge step, improving our pass defense," said Moore, a cornerback from Dorsey High. "... Everyone came down on us [after last season], saying we couldn't play. We worked hard and said that's not ever going to happen again.

"There should be a law about talking about our defense now."

For now, talk is all Michigan has.

"Our goal is still the national championship," Edwards said. "I've seen teams go to the national championship with one loss. And we're going to get there."

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