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Maas ought to be the QB Ducks call on

Column by RANDY HAMMERICKSEN

The quarterback controversy that continues to distract Oregon's footballteam should be squelched by coach Mike Bellotti.

Junior Jason Maas, who has saved the Ducks' last two games by engineeringclutch, game-winning touchdown drives, deserves to be No. 1.

Now.

HE'S EARNED THE JOB. And the Ducks have proven they respond better tohim with games on the line than they do when junior Akili Smith is at thecontrols.

Smith may have compounded his own problems in the fourth quarter of Saturday'sgame when he left the Oregon sideline to sit on a bench behind the playersafter being removed from the game. He sat, with his head down, apparentlypouting. That's not what a quarterback -- and team leader -- should be doing.

Everybody saw it. It wasn't a scene that instills harmony within theDucks. It was a distraction.

MAAS WAS EFFICIENT in driving Oregon 25 yards to the winning touchdownin overtime Saturday as Oregon ran its record to 3-0 with a 43-40 win overFresno State at Autzen Stadium.

Maas leaned into the end zone from a yard out to finish off the seriesand the game. En route, he completed a 7-yard pass to fullback A.J. Jelksand a 13-yarder to tight end Blake Spence.

I felt real confident in the second half, said Maas, whohad a rocky start by throwing two interceptions that led to first-half FresnoState touchdowns.

After the first half I had, I was surprised I even started in thesecond half, he said. But I got more and more comfortable asthe game went along. I was confident we would score the touchdown in overtimewhen that would win the game for us.

Fresno State got a 28-yard field goal by Jeff Hanna on its opening possessionof the overtime.

MAAS, A JUNIOR from Yuma, Ariz., who has been waiting three years tostart, shook off the interceptions and finished with another set of impressivepassing credentials. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 189 yards and twotouchdowns.

Maas drove Oregon to three consecutive touchdowns in the second halfas Oregon built a 37-20 lead with 14:09 left.

After Fresno State cut it to 37-27, Bellotti put Smith back in the game.It was a big mistake. The Ducks gained — yard in three plays and had topunt.

They gave Fresno State more than just the football. They gave away themomentum. The Bulldogs responded with the game-tying field goal that forcedovertime.

Bellotti should have stayed with Maas at least until the outcome wassettled.

He readily admitted the Ducks relaxed after taking a 37-20 lead.

I don't know why we relaxed, but we can't afford to do that inthe future, he said. I'm proud of the kids for finding a wayto win, but good teams don't have letdowns like that.

Oregon probably would not have relaxed if Maas had stayed in the game.He had the hot hand as a passer and you could sense the confidence of theoffense under him.

Smith, who gives the Ducks a completely different look, has scary athleticability: He's 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, with a strong arm and the abilityto make tackle-breaking runs.

But he has not shown the consistency at quarterback that Maas displayed,particularly at the end of wins over Nevada (24-20) and Fresno State. Itwas Maas who engineered an 80-yard drive to victory at Nevada. That earnedhim the start against Fresno State.

I could understand why Bellotti rotated quarterbacks in the first half,when Maas turned the ball over. But when he got his chance to start thesecond half, Maas was a quarterback on fire.

I felt hot, said Maas. I was throwing the ball prettywell and I had a good feel for things.

Bottom line: as long as Maas has the feel and he's driving the Ducksto touchdowns, leave him in there until the game is decided.

The longer it (rotating quarterbacks) goes, the more I like it,Bellotti said after the game. They both bring different things tothe offense.

But it was Maas who brought the victories.

Oregon's coaches wanted to give Smith and No. — quarterback A.J. Feeleyas much playing time as possible in a game they thought they would win handily.But uninspired play and too many mistakes prevented the blowout from occurring.

The Ducks were lucky to get away with a win. But one factor continuesto ring true for Oregon: These guys have developed a flair for winning whena game is on the line. That's the best thing it has going as the teeth ofthe schedule approaches.

Four of the Ducks' next five games are against Pac-10 teams. It startsSaturday at Stanford.

They need a No. — quarterback to lead them, and Maas is that man.

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