On September 4th, the Oregon Ducks were sitting with a 0-1 record after a decisive loss to the Boise State Broncos 19-8. LaGarrette Blount, a 1,000 yard rusher in 2008, was suspended for the season after his infamous punch to Boise State’s Byron Hout just after the game. New Head Coach Chip Kelly was facing adversity early in his head coaching career. On January 1st, the Oregon Ducks will be in Pasadena, California taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2010 Rose Bowl. What happened in the four months between September and January for the Oregon Ducks was nothing short of a story book season. The Ducks will be playing in just their fifth Rose Bowl and their first since the 1995 season.
After the season opening loss to Boise State, Oregon rattled off 10 wins in 11 games. Their only loss was to Stanford on November 7th 51-42. Four of their wins were against top 25 teams (Utah, Cal, USC, and Oregon State). Their win over Cal was when the Golden Bears were ranked number six in the nation at the time, and their victory over USC was when the Trojans were ranked number five. The Ducks won those two games by a combined score of 89-20.
Oregon enters the Rose Bowl with one of the highest powered offense in the country. They rank 25th in Total Offense with 424.7 yards per game, sixth in Rushing Offense with 236.1 yards per game, and seventh in scoring with 37.7 points per game. The offense starts with the exceptional play of Junior Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. He is the key to the Ducks spread offense. After a slow start, Masoli finished 2009 with 2066 yards passing, 15 touchdowns, and just five interceptions. He also added 659 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. LaGarrette Blount’s suspension gave way to Redshirt Freshman’s LaMichael James’ emergence in the Duck backfield. James developed into a star by running for 1476 yards and 14 touchdowns, while gaining 6.9 yards per carry. Masoli’s two favorite targets through the air are receiver Jeff Maehl (686 yards and six touchdowns) and athletic Tight End Ed Dickson (551 yards and six touchdowns).
Oregon’s defense has been strong for most of the season. Their statistics are middle of the pack for the NCAA, but they rank third in the Pac 10 in total defense and pass defense. And while they rank fifth in rush defense in the Pac 10, they rank first in average yards per carry (3.4 yards per carry). Their 32 sacks also rank third in the Pac 10 and tied for 22nd in the nation. The Ducks are second in the Pac 10 with 13 interceptions. Led by speedy linebackers Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger, and their versatile safety TJ Ward, the Oregon defense is an underrated unit that could surprise everyone with their play versus Ohio State.
Just like with Oregon’s offense and Jeremiah Masoli, Ohio State’s offense revolves around Quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Pryor has struggled throwing the ball, completing just 55.8% of his passes for 1828 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. But Pryor also is the Buckeyes’ leading rusher with 707 yards and seven touchdowns. Pryor’s favorite target is sophomore receiver DeVier Posey (52 receptions, 727 yards, and seven touchdowns). Posey has caught almost twice as many passes as the second leaving receiver, Dane Sanzenbacher (27 receptions).
But the big reason Ohio State finished the 2009 season 10-2 is their defense. The Buckeyes rank fifth in the country in points per game given up (12.2), fifth in total defense (262. 5 yards per game), fifth in rush defense (83.4 yards per game, and 17th in pass defense (179.1 yards per game). Ohio State also ranks second in the FBS in interceptions with 23.
The 2010 Rose Bowl is a matchup between teams with different football philosophies and will be a clash of differing styles. Will Oregon’s fast-paced, no huddle offense be able to break through the rock solid Ohio State defense? Who will win the matchup between Oregon’s fast, aggressive defense and Ohio State’s conservative offense? Can Ohio State rebound from their past BCS Bowl failures? The Ducks speed and offense appear to be too much for Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Look for Oregon to get several big plays against the Buckeye defense and the Ohio State offense struggle versus the Duck speed on defense as the Ducks win 31-17.