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Oregon's Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso find common ground at Rose Bowl

The two linebackers have different resumes, but both make big plays to contribute to the Ducks' 45-38 victory over Wisconsin.

January 02, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • Oregon Coach Chip Kelly gives linebacker Kiko Alonso a hug after the Ducks defeated Wisconsin, 45-38, in the Rose Bowl on Monday.
Oregon Coach Chip Kelly gives linebacker Kiko Alonso a hug after the Ducks… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

These are two players with drastically different resumes.

Oregon linebacker Michael Clay is the Good Samaritan, who spent Thanksgiving weekend helping provide dinners for the needy. Kiko Alonso is the Ducks' troubled linebacker, suspended twice after scrapes with the law.

The common ground for the two was the Rose Bowl on Monday. Both came up with key defensive plays in a game where little defense was played.

Alonso intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson's pass at the Badgers' 39-yard line, near the end of the third quarter to set up a Ducks' touchdown for a 42-38 lead.

Clay saw opportunity and seized with six minutes left, pouncing on a fumble as the ball lay oh-so-close to the sideline.

The two teams combined for 1,129 total yards, but two plays by the defense helped the Ducks earn their first Rose Bowl win since 1917.

When it was over, Ducks Coach Chip Kelly handed the Rose Bowl trophy to Alonso and hugged him.

"He said he was proud of me," said Alonso, the game's defensive most valuable player.

"Proud" was probably not the feeling last spring.

Alonso was arrested for felony burglary, criminal trespassing and criminal mischief. The felony was dropped when he pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal mischief and second-degree criminal trespass.

Kelly reinstated Alonso six days after the Ducks lost to Louisiana State in the season opener.

"It was a dark moment, but we got by it," said Alonso, who was suspended for the 2010 season after being arrested for driving under the influence during the off-season. "I don't even think about it anymore."

Clay needed no rehabilitation. He not only worked Thanksgiving to help feed low-income families, he worked the phone. Clay, who speaks Spanish, set up deliveries to those who did not speak English.

So of course Clay wanted to talk more about Alonso on Monday than himself.

"I love Kiko," said Clay, a junior. "We go way back to high school. Kiko made a couple mistakes here and there, but he overcame them. And he made the big play in the 2012 Rose Bowl."

Actually, both made big plays.

"Their defense started making plays, so we had to match it," said Alonso, a junior. "They got a fumble and interception. We needed to get a fumble and interception."

Said Clay: "There was definitely more defense being played out there than it seemed."

There was just enough for the Ducks, anyway.

Wisconsin was leading, 38-35, when Wilson — with only three passes intercepted all season — zipped the ball toward tight end Jacob Pedersen. Alonso lurched to the left and snagged the ball. It set up Lavasier Tuinei's 11-yard touchdown catch.

"I saw the guy and jumped the route," Alonso said. "I think about making those plays all the time."

Clay was thinking moments later. With Oregon leading, 45-38, Wilson completed a 29-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis to the Ducks' 27-yard line. The ball came loose and lay inches from the sideline.

"We had everyone running to the ball and when I got there, I saw the ball," Clay said. "I was praying that it wouldn't roll out of bounds and I was careful not to knock it out of bounds."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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