UO ready to write new script in desert

Oregon linebacker Grant Thompson is greeted by young fans as he deplanes upon arrival at Sky Harbor International Airport to play in the Fiesta Bowl, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, in Phoenix. Oregon is to play Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)AP

Kenjon Barner brushed it off as "a distant memory," while Josh Huff recalled the "crushing" final-play field goal that Auburn kicked to beat Oregon, 22-19, for the national title two season ago.

Brian Jackson remembers moist turf on which "everybody was slipping," and Michael Clay said the controversial play to set up the winning kick "stuck the knife in us a little bit deeper."

Wednesday, the Oregon football team arrived in the Phoenix area, to begin on-site preparations for the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State.

For more than 50 of the Ducks, they'll be staying in the same hotel, practicing at the same facility and playing in the same University of Phoenix Stadium where they met Auburn for the BCS Championship at the end of the 2010 season.

The national championship game capped a 12-0 regular season, the best in school history. In the title game, Oregon was overwhelmed by an Auburn defensive line that featured tackle Nick Fairley, losing despite an outstanding defensive effort that mostly contained Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton.

The Ducks were undone by a couple of missed opportunities on offense, failing to score on four straight plays near the goal line in the third quarter, and allowing a safety in the first half.

And there were some controversial moments on defense, including a possible interception by Cliff Harris that was ruled incomplete, and a run by Auburn's Michael Dyer to set up the winning field goal on which Dyer might have been down but the play was allowed to continue.

"That stuck the knife in us a little bit deeper, and twisted it," Clay said. "We played our hearts out."

Huff, the junior receiver who was a freshman kick returner for the 2010 season, intends to set things right in Glendale, the Phoenix suburb where the stadium is located.

"It gives us a chance to finally put that behind us and go on to the next step," Huff said.

Oregon got to the BCS Championship thanks to a Heisman Trophy candidate of its own, sophomore running back LaMichael James, and breakout star quarterback Darron Thomas, who recovered from a slow start against the Tigers to throw for 363 yards, with a game-tying TD pass and two-point conversion with 2:33 left.

But Newton drove the Tigers to the winning field goal, thanks in no small part to the Dyer run on which he may or may not have touched his wrist to the turf.

Oregon defenders stopped pursuing the play, Dyer got up and finished off a 37-yard gain, and the Ducks' fate was sealed, despite a game in which they pulled out all the stops with several daring special teams decisions, including a fake PAT for two points, and a converted fake punt.

"There's always a little bit of sting, to come so close, and think about the way that game went," UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.

But primarily, "I remember walking out on the field, with the noise, the pageantry, the scenery, and saying to myself, 'This is really cool. This is what it's all about. You're in the big one.'

"The same thing will happen for this one, because it's a big game."

The Ducks experienced several moments of familiarity Wednesday, beginning when they check into their Scottsdale hotel, the same one that hosted them two years ago. Asked about his BCS Championship memories, Barner immediately mentioned good times with teammates at the hotel; he had to be prompted for comment on the game itself.

"That was two years ago; if you're still holding on to that, something's wrong with you," said Barner, who has flourished as Oregon's starter this season but ran for just 32 yards in the title game and was stopped at the goal line on fourth down in the third quarter.

"I don't think about it too much," concurred junior defensive lineman Taylor Hart, a freshman reserve that season. "Obviously it was a great experience to go there, and now we just want to get this done."

Like Aliotti, Clay recalled the electric atmosphere in the stadium, and predicted another this time, even if Oregon fans figure to be outnumbered again by the opposition.

"Our fans will travel," said Clay, a sophomore in the BCS title game who helped the Ducks rebound with a Rose Bowl win last season.

"They're going to make some noise, too, so hopefully we bring another 'W' back to Eugene."

Clay also remembered the way the Oregon defense, led by linebacker Casey Matthews and safety John Boyett, limited Newton to 64 rushing yards, well under his season average.

Defensive end Kenny Rowe also had a big game, getting victimized on two passing touchdowns when help from a defensive back didn't materialize, but also making four tackles for loss.

"I had never seen Cam Newton get up so slow, from the way we were hitting him," Clay said. "It was a great experience, being a sophomore, playing in a national championship. But now we're ready."

Clay said the Ducks, creatures of repetition, could benefit from a similar routine from two years ago. If there's one thing they hope is not the same, it's the field conditions; Huff had issues with footing on kickoff returns, for one.

"One thing that I do hope is different is that there's not as much paint on the field," safety Brian Jackson said. "Everybody was slipping."

Overall, if there was any sense two years ago that Oregon was just happy to be at the University of Phoenix Stadium, the Ducks say they're not content with simply making another return trip this week.

"We're ready," Clay said. "We're down there for business, and to win a game."



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