Without Dixon, Ducks fizzle
TUCSON, Ariz. — Oregon's dream season went the way of star quarterback Dennis Dixon's left knee.
It was the "Air Zona" offense, led by 167 passing yards and two long touchdowns in the first half from Willie Tuitama — both to Mike Thomas — that immediately stunned the Ducks defense and overshadowed the much-hyped Oregon attack on their way to a 34-24 upset of the nation's No. 2 squad.
"Sometimes games, and plays, change seasons," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops. "And sometimes they change programs."
Arizona's Antoine Cason, a Jim Thorpe nominee, stole his share of the spotlight with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown, and a 56-yard punt return for a score, as the Wildcats' standouts took advantage of the rare ESPN national air time.
Dixon was forced out of the game with just over six minutes left in the first quarter, his knee buckling while trying to make a cut. He gingerly made his way off the field and never returned, changing into street clothes before the start of the third quarter.
"I think he aggravated the sprained knee even more," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "He could be out for the season, that's my guess
Oregon started off fast, winning the coin toss, electing to receive and to allow its high-powered offense to take control of the game.
On fourth-and-three on Arizona's 39, early in the first quarter, the Ducks didn't hesitate .
After faking a draw to Stewart, Dixon blazed around-and-through the Arizona defensive front, making his way 39 yards untouched to the end zone.
Rather than settle for seven, Oregon sent a message by forcing in a two-point conversion.
The Wildcats went three-and-out on their opening possession, setting up the Ducks with golden field position. Oregon quickly moved deep into Arizona territory as a 25-yard end-around to Derrick Jones gave the Ducks first-and-goal from the five.
Things changed quickly.
Dixon unloaded a pass to Jones but the ball was bobbled and tipped into the hands of Arizona safety Nate Ness, who made a juggling interception before taking the ball 45 yards the other direction.
Arizona then proceeded to cruise 55 yards on four plays, capped by a 34-yard touchdown pass from Tuitama to Thomas, making it 8-7 Oregon.
Interceptions soon became the least of Dixon's problems.
Just under two weeks removed from spraining his left knee versus Arizona State, Dixon went down with another apparent knee injury at the 6:01 mark of the first quarter, planting awkwardly on his leg during a run play, before falling to the grass.
Brady Leaf entered and was ineffective..
The two sides traded field goals before Cason sent a serious wave of panic through the Ducks, snaring Arizona's second interception on the first play of the second quarter, returning it 42 yards for a 17-11 lead.
Arizona forced Oregon to punt on the ensuing possession.
That set-up another Tuitama-to-Thomas connection, this time from 46-yards out.
"We made enough plays in the first half to win this one," said Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.
Cason then sent the game into the ugly zone with a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown with 5:30 to play in the second quarter.
Of the six first-half drives Leaf led, three went for three-and-outs, one for an interception, one for a punt, and the last for a field goal.
Both offenses went silent for the majority of the second half. Oregon scored the only points of the third quarter on a 34-yard field goal.
Despite their lack of production, the Ducks trailed by just two touchdowns, 31-17 heading into the fourth quarter. Looking for a spark, Oregon attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-long in its own territory.
Linebacker Kwame Agyeman took the direct snap and rumbled 43 yards, a potentially momentum shifting run, only to fumble the ball back to Arizona on the Wildcats' 30.
Oregon regrouped to chop the lead to a touchdown when Andre Crenshaw plunged in from two-yards out, capping a 17 play, 71-yard drive for the Ducks.
That was as close as it would get.
"Right now, I am really disappointed because we won't be playing in the National Championship game," said Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart. "We are still in contention for a Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl."
ARIZONA BLASTED THE DUCKS 37-10 in Autzen Stadium last season, their only loss out of the last eight meetings between the schools before Thursday night. It was the first loss in six trips to Tucson for
IN SPITE OF THE 31-14 halftime deficit, Oregon owned the time of possession in the first two quarters. The Ducks had the ball for 19 minutes and 8 seconds versus just 10:52 for Arizona. The Wildcats also trailed in total offense, 294 yards to 194 in the opening 30 minutes.
THOMAS TIED Arizona's single season touchdown receptions record with his second trip to the end zone, giving him 11 on the year, tying Theopolis "T" Bell's 1974 mark.
ARIZONA OWNED the Pac-10's top-ranked passing offense coming into the night, while the Ducks owned the worst passing defense in the conference.