7th Game Blues

Way too much Walter for Ducks (AP/John Gress)

A funny thing happened to the No. 6 ranked University of Oregon Ducks as the made their way to winning their seventh straight game in the 2002 season, someone forgot to tell the Arizona State Sun Devils to rollover and play dead. Not only did the Sun Devils refuse to fold their tents, but someone must have installed laser guided controls into ASU quarterback Andrew Walter's helmet as he threw pinpoint bombs all afternoon and gave ASU a 45-42 upset win over the Ducks.

The game had an eerie feel of last year's seventh game that saw Stanford coming into Autzen and snapping Oregon's 23 game home win streak as the Ducks fell 49-42. The Ducks were ranked No. 5 going into last year's seventh game.

Walter was simply sensational, as he was 31 for 53 for 536 yards and four touchdowns. Walter found nine different receivers, but his favorite target was Shaun McDonald who had 12 catches for 204 yards and one touchdown. The amazing thing about Walter's performance was that he struggled in the first half by giving up two interceptions and was sacked three times. In the second half however, Walter probably could not have played better even in practice substituting tackling dummies for Oregon lettermen. In the first half Walter was 14 of 26 for 186 yards, yet in the third quarter he lit up the Ducks on six of 10 for 197 yards and three touchdowns finishing the second half with 350 yards passing. The other interesting fact was the Ducks stopped ASU's rushing game allowing only 31 net yards of rushing all day.

"Their quarterback got hot," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti.

A stunned crowd of 56,432 sat in disbelief as they watched what had looked like a runaway win for the Ducks, at least in the first half. Oregon started off well enough by running up a 21-0 lead including a 57-yard run for a touchdown by Oregon junior tailback Onterrio Smith. Smith reset one of his own school records by running for a seventh straight 100-yard rushing day. Smth finished the afternoon with 27 carries for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Oregon junior quarterback Jason Fife also turned in another consistent performance with a 21 of 32 effort for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Fife gave up only his second interception of the year and that came on Oregon's last possession of the ball game when he was blind-sided and the wobbly pass was picked off by ASU's Brett Hudson. Junior wide receiver Samie Parker led the Ducks in receptions with six for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Junior tight end George Wrighster had four catches for 104 yards and one touchdown. Senior wide receiver Keenan Howry tied a Pac-10 record of 42 straight games with at least one reception. Howry had two catches for 29 yards. Oregon's offense lived up to their expectations and only had two mistakes - Fife's interception and a fumble by Smith in the third quarter.

The problem for the Ducks however was on defense. The dominance in the first half by the Duck defenders was gone in the second half and Walter shook off his woes from the early part of the game and smoked the Ducks at will. The Ducks could not stop the ASU passing attack by rushing the passer, taking pressure off the passer and helping the cornerbacks with extra defensive backs - in short the Ducks had no answers. The ASU offensive line must have found solidarity at halftime because they gave Walter unbearable time to pick out his receivers and pick apart the Oregon secondary. In the first half the Oregon defensive backs had two interceptions, one by junior cornerback Steven Moore and the other by junior safety Keith Lewis. After scoring a touchdown late in the second quarter, ASU seemed to sense they had found a solution to the problems they faced earlier in the game and when they had their chance in the third quarter, the Sun Devils seemed unstoppable. No matter what scheme the Ducks offered, Walter was able to pick out his receivers and deliver the ball on the money.

"You give a quarterback four or five seconds to throw the ball when you're blitzing - that's impossible," said Oregon junior linebacker David Moretti. "We can't ask them (defensive backs) to do that, we backed off our pressure with our safeties and tried to give our corners a little more help. It just didn't seem to work for us - we just didn't seem to get it done."

Bellotti who looked worn from the unusually warm October afternoon felt the best thing to do with this game is to "let it go." For two games in a row strong-armed quarterbacks have burned Oregon defensive backs on post patterns and big plays. Walter threw scoring bombs of 22 yards and 59 yards and had another pass completion of 51 yards.

"We have to shore up our pass defense," Bellotti remarked.

Bellotti did not single out any one particular aspect of the defense that was responsible for the breakdown in the second half. There were too many things that went wrong.

"When we lose, it's a team loss," said Bellotti.

The Ducks will doubtlessly take a big tumble in the national rankings and have the toughest part of their schedule ahead of them. Next week during practice, the Ducks and the coaching staff will work at getting things back in order on defense. One of Bellotti's sons reminded the coach of the similarities to last year's Stanford game and how Oregon came back and won five-straight. Bellotti passed along to his team in the locker the recollection.

"I have a feeling based on the faces in the locker room that we're going to be OK," said Bellotti of the team attitude. "We're going to battle back."

The loss dropped Oregon's season record to 6-1 and 2-1 in the Pac-10 race. ASU improved to 6-2, 3-0 in the Pac-10. The Ducks will have their first opportunity to start a new win streak and keep their Pac-10 championship hopes alive at 12:30 p.m. next Saturday when they face the Trojans of USC at Autzen Stadium

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