A refusal to buckle.
STANFORD, Calif. - The stage is set, even if its construction was a little rickety.
No, not the stage for ESPN's College GameDay set, which is expected to be erected somewhere in the vicinity of Autzen Stadium this week. That hasn't gone up yet, but everything else is in place for a dramatic showdown between Oregon and California in Eugene in six days.
The No. 13 Ducks kept the scenario suspenseful for the first half of their game with the host Cardinal before an announced crowd of 35,019 in Stanford Stadium on Saturday. Three second-quarter fumbles led to three Cardinal touchdowns, and Oregon trailed by seven at halftime.
But under the leadership of quarterback Dennis Dixon, who wilted under similar conditions a year ago, the Ducks stormed back to win 55-31, and improve to 4-0. With losses by No. 10 Penn State and No. 12 South Carolina, and a near defeat for No. 9 Wisconsin, there's an outside chance the Ducks will meet the No. 6 Bears next week in the first matchup of top-10 teams in Autzen Stadium history.
A decisive third-quarter performance by Dixon made it possible. He completed all 12 of his passes in the period, for 156 yards and two TDs.
"He came through tremendously," UO receiver Cameron Colvin said. "He calmed himself, he calmed our offense down, and said, 'Let's go, we've got to do this.' '
The Ducks came out of halftime down 31-24 and entered the fourth quarter up 45-31. In the end, they scored the final 34 points of the game, after yielding 28 straight.
"We're still not a well-oiled machine in a lot of respects," UO coach Mike Bellotti said. "But we've got some character and we handled some adversity, and that's a positive sign."
Dixon, who seemed to have such a fragile psyche in throwing 14 interceptions last season, was completely in command for Saturday's second half. And that was despite the fact the first second-quarter fumble was his.
His season imploded last fall against this week's opponent, California. Dixon's first pass against the Bears was intercepted to set up a touchdown, sending that game, and the season, slipping away from the Ducks. Not so Saturday.
"I just looked back at last year and I tried to erase that," said Dixon, who finished 27-of-36 for 367 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions for a fourth straight game. "... It just shows the character of this team, as far as me, too. I mean, when somebody slouches, everybody slouches, so you've got to never let anybody see you sweat. And I think as a senior, it worked."
Eight of Dixon's completions for 136 yards and a touchdown went to Colvin, who filled in as a starter for the injured Brian Paysinger. Jonathan Stewart added 160 rushing yards and a touchdown, though Oregon failed to get 300 rushing yards as a team for the first time this year.
For a while, it had all appeared to slip away: footballs, Cardinal ballcarriers, and the Ducks' firecracker start to the season.
A second quarter of mistakes nearly did the Ducks in. There were three lost fumbles, and some multiple of that in missed tackles. When it was over, Stanford led by a touchdown at halftime, and Oregon's air of infallibility this fall was all but forgotten.
The killer was those turnovers, which so badly haunted the Ducks a year ago. There was an errant pitch by Dixon, a botched punt return by Andiel Brown, and a flub by receiver Jaison Williams. That was more turnovers than the Ducks had in the three previous games combined, and took the life from the defense as well.
"It's hard to recover from missed tackles, having turnovers, having your defense on the field the whole time," UO rover Patrick Chung said. "It's something we've got to overcome if we want to be a good defense. We've got to learn how to play tired, play hurt and overcome all that."
The entire team did that in the third quarter. While Dixon helped the offense to 21 points and 231 yards of offense on 21 plays, the defense held Stanford to no points and 66 yards on 20 plays.
Anthony Kimble ran for touchdowns of 60 and three yards following UO fumbles to start Stanford's 28-point rally in the second quarter. The Cardinal tailback had 115 yards at halftime, but just four more in the final two quarters.
"The second half was a big deal for us," Oregon's Nick Reed said. "We played terrible in the first half, and we had a lot to make up for."
The Ducks got a field goal early in the fourth, then missed a second attempt. The Cardinal trailed 48-31 before mounting another rally, T.C. Ostrander completing four-of-five passes for 43 yards down to the UO 28-yard line. But then, as it has time after time this season, Oregon's secondary came up with another defining play, Chung diving for an interception.
That set up Dixon's final touchdown pass, a 50-yarder to Williams, who had seven catches for 113 yards and two scores. Now comes California, 51 weeks after the Ducks saw last season's 4-0 start ended by the Bears.
"It's finally here now," Dixon said. "And I think everybody's intensity is going to pick up come Monday."
ON THE WEB
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; After a shaky first half, Dixon rallies Ducks with third quarter explosion|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Sep 23, 2007|
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