In an attempt to get through the football withdrawls that we all must be suffering by now, we'll relive last season, one game at a time. -Dave
Ore: | Hou:
Dixon 134 | Kennum 179
Dixon 141 | Alridge 205
Paysinger 63 | Alridge 88
There is always an anticipation for the first game of the season. After a long layoff, our beloved games return to fill our Saturdays. Sometimes, the season opener is met with high expectations that this may finally be the year. Others, it's a pessimism that you are likely to be in the doldrums. Last year, it was something else entirely.
We didn't really know what the hell to expect. We knew that we had the talent, as we had started on fire the year before. But we also saw an implosion that had us questioning the heart of the team. In case you can't remember, some people were clamoring for Brady Leaf to be the starting quarterback--and it was completely justifiable at the time. So we were left wondering what version of the team we were going to see. And it wasn't a particularly pleasant feeling--this was a team that we knew we probably should beat, but were also good enough to pull one out if we saw the kind of boneheaded mistakes we'd seen from the year before. And, no disrespect to Houston, but if you lose that game, your season is pretty much over before it even started (see Indiana '04).
I don't know what it is, but being an Oregon fan, and a Pac-10 fan in general, is a lot different from being a college football fan elsewhere in the country. If you're Michigan or Ohio State, you feel pretty good with a seven point lead, as all the rushing in that league slows the game down a bunch. In the SEC, where defense rules, a three point lead is at least lets you breath somewhat easy for a few minutes. But, in the Pac-10, where quarterbacks and passing and big plays rule the day, it takes a 21 point lead before I am really feeling easy about things. Some of that is because I have been burned by Oregon's defense in the past, but some of that is due to how fast Oregon or SC or Cal can put up 21 points. 28 point quarters are not uncommon out here. And while that makes the game exciting, it also makes games incredibly stressful. I'm sure that being an Oregon fan is taking a good five years off my lifespan.
With that in mind, this game did nothing to settle my nerves early. We got out to a quick lead on the first possession of the game. Dixon would show us what his future held with a 50 yard scramble, and Paysinger capped that off with a TD on the pitch. JJ would add another TD in the quarter with a turnover deep in Cougar territory. However, in spite of the fact that Houston coughed up the ball on their first three possessions, they had some long drives that really had us on edge. Anthony Alridge was rushing for eleventy jillion yards, and you just knew that if Houston would stop committing stupid turnovers, this would really be a game. And, sure enough, they finally put one in the end zone at the end of the quarter. And while our offense would continue to sputter in the second quarter, Houston continued rolling to tie it up at 17. We got a field goal to give us a narrow with seven seconds left in the half, but the damage to our confidence was done.
We had a narrow lead on Houston. But our defense was sucking, our offense was stalling, and we had clearly been outplayed for 1 ½ quarters of this game. We were eventually going to be national championship contenders this season, but you wouldn't be able to tell at this point.
What a difference a half could make.
Houston came out strong, for sure, and tied the game up with a quick FG. Oregon went three and out, and Houston again mounted a long drive, only to turn the ball over again with a Patrick Chung interception.
Then the transformation happened, all in the last 3:30 of the quarter. Dixon to Paysinger for the touchdown. Dixon to Williams for the touchdown. While Alridge would get a quick TD with an 86 yard TD run, Dixon would come right back with this 80 yard gem:
That happened in about three and a half minutes. It was a flurry of offense that, even with the hindsight of what we know about the rest of the season, still ranks as one of the most impressive sequences in Oregon history. We would make it a 21 point lead with a quick 4th quarter TD, and the game wall all but over.
We were all impressed with the way the offense was clicking. While we had no reason at that point to believe that it would be as dominant as it was, it still looked really good especially in the second half. But not everyone was convinced. From BLAZERPROPHET in the comments secition:
He proved he is no field general. He doesn't seem to have any command of the game. Granted, he can scramble and run, but if he can't pass a ton better next week, we're going to see "containment" and get our fannies kicked all over the place.
If it were me, I'd start Leaf. Dixon just doesn't have "it".
And, again, as foolish as this seems in hindsight, it still wasn't an outlandish thought at the time. After all, in spite of the flurry, there was a whole lot of sputtering in this game.
But the consensus concern was the defense. While Aliotti did a good job with the defense last year, I was fed up after watching Anthony Alridge get almost 300 yards against us. I was about ready to get out the keys and drive the "Fire Aliotti" bandwagon.
This game was an interesting beginning. It showed glimpses, but it didn't really answer a whole lot of questions. Would the defense continue to be terrible? Which was the true Oregon offense? The one that sputtered through most of the game, or the one that put together a ton of points in a hurry? And we all had this deep fear that we would be walking into a hornet's nest in the Big House the next weekend.
Of course, that Michigan game would leave no doubts about any of this. But, don't forget, this season started with a game that didn't answer any questions. In fact, much of what happened on the field was forgotten, and the lingering memory of the game was this:
But every journey starts somewhere. Next season's opener, a rivalry game with the Huskies, might have more excitement. The UW opener has many of the same questions last season's opener did, especially at the QB decision. 137 days. I can't wait.