I've now had a day to think about the Sun Bowl and I still lie in shock. Not that Oregon won the game--as I said, win the turnover battle, and we have a great chance of winning. But I was surprised at how thoroughly the Ducks dominated South Florida in every facet of the game. Statistically, USF had one of the better defenses in the country. The Ducks made them look woefully sub par. Offensively, USF was a mess. But, in reality, it all comes down to one thing: Oregon was by far the tougher team. And, quite frankly, that was a breath of fresh air after the last few years.
The domination of the game physically was clear on both lines. Rarely was Roper under any sort of pressure. He was free to pretty much pick and choose where he wanted to pass the ball. George Selvie? Didn't even hear his name mentioned. Those 43 USF takeaways on the year? Sure didn't see it in this game. It also helped that Jonathan Stewart had holes big enough you could drive a school bus through. And not only that, but JStew took very few hits to boot. His 253 yards almost guarantees that he's not back next year, but it was one of the more dominating performances by a running back that I've seen in a long time. He averaged 11 yards a carry for crying out loud. But what Roper and Stewart were able to do started with our line physically dominating the Bulls. They came nowhere near those two.
Our defensive line was equally as impressive. Even in the first half, Grothe was on the run more often than not. And, while he made some great plays in that half, he was flirting with disaster all half long. When the Ducks O opened it up, and USF was forced to completely abandon a running game that wasn't really working anyway, the turnovers came in bunches and Grothe was forced to the bench with a concussion. Despite all the talk, it was Oregon that wanted this game more. They felt like they had more to prove. They wanted to go out winners. And they went out and pushed the Bulls around from the get go. There's really not a whole lot more to recap. Everything that happened on both sides of the football: the rushing dominance, the Roper touchdowns, the interceptions--they all happened because our offensive and defensive lines put on the best display of line dominance that I have ever seen by an Oregon team. And don't be fooled--they did it against a team that proved over the course of the season to be pretty damn good.
And don't let anyone tell you the game was meaningless. It meant a lot. It got the bowl monkey off our backs. It gives the Bellotti haters some crow to eat. It shows that when given a reasonable amount of time to work with a quarterback, instead of being asked to patch something together in a week, that Chip Kelly really does have a lot of magic in his hat.
And for the first time in years, we have something positive to end the season on. Even when times were tough, these guys never gave up. They kept fighting. And it all culminated in an unbelievable Sun Bowl performance that was an absolute joy to watch. It was all the frustration and emotion of the last three games all channeled into a purpose. This team wasn't going to let their season end on a negative note. And for that, they end the season as champions.