No. 3 Oregon recalls past to guard against WSU
The third-ranked Oregon Ducks have the ghosts of 2007 to remind them what can happen if they aren't vigilant about every opponent. This week that means lowly Washington State.
The 2007 season was one of the most topsy-turvy for ranked teams in recent memory. It kicked off with little Appalachian State upending No. 5 Michigan 34-32 in the Big House. The year included Stanford's stunning 24-23 victory over No. 2 USC as 41-point underdogs, and Oregon State's 31-28 victory over No. 2 California in Strawberry Canyon.
The reversal of fortune extended to Oregon, which had steadily climbed the rankings on the play of dual-threat quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jonathan Stewart.
The Ducks were 8-1 and ranked No. 2 when disaster struck at Arizona. Dixon crumbled to the ground with a knee injury and Oregon's national title hopes also crumbled in a 34-24 loss.
''What was it, eight No. 2s lost that year? And we were one of those,'' offensive lineman Mark Asper said. ''So it doesn't matter where you're at halfway through, it only matters at the end. It's exciting, it's fun to have all the attention and the energy around here, but it's still just business as usual.''
This season, Oregon is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-10 heading into Saturday's game against the Cougars (1-4). After this weekend's 52-31 victory over then-No. 9 Stanford, the Ducks leapfrogged Boise State in the AP Poll. Alabama and Ohio State are Nos. 1 and 2.
Washington State is coming off a 42-28 loss at UCLA on Saturday, the Cougars' 13th-straight defeat to an FBS opponent.
While the game - which isn't even on live television - should not pose any problems for the Ducks, no one on the team was saying it.
''I've already watched their UCLA game over and over again and they came out and played hard. They had one heck of a game,'' defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. ''This is a team that we can't blink on. These are the teams that will catch you off guard.''
Oregon, the defending Pac-10 champion, is riding its speedy spread-option offense right into the national championship conversation. There are even some who claim Oregon should have supplanted the Buckeyes at No. 2.
Running back LaMichael James had 31 carries for a career-high 257 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford. He was named both the Pac-10 and the Walter Camp Football Foundation offensive player of the week.
James is getting Heisman Trophy consideration this season, with 712 yards and seven touchdowns in four games. He was suspended for Oregon's opener after pleading guilty to misdemeanor harassment in the offseason.
Quarterback Darron Thomas completed 20 of 29 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford. He also ran for 117 yards and another score for his most well-rounded game since taking over as starter this season.
The Ducks don't just have 2007 as a cautionary tale and the victory over the Cardinal should serve as a reminder. Last season Oregon beat then-No. 4 USC on Halloween night at Autzen Stadium before losing 51-42 at Stanford.
Keeping in character with his in-the-now ''Win The Day'' mentality, Oregon coach Chip Kelly said Tuesday that he has never once mentioned the ranking to his team. Not the past either, for that matter.
''2007 is too far back for me to remember,'' he quipped.
Linebacker Casey Matthews, however, said Kelly is quick to use a variation of the famous George Santayana quote: ''Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.''
''We only got one of these things a week so you can't mess it up,'' Matthews said. ''Last year after GameDay came we had a letdown the week after against Stanford so we're looking not to do that again.''
On Monday, Kelly was formally reprimanded by the Pac-10 for comments he made at halftime of the game against Stanford on national television. Kelly suggested the officials appeared to be communicating more with Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh than with him.
''No comment,'' Kelly said Tuesday. ''I'm not going there. I'm not getting in trouble again.''