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Bellotti defends decision to let Dixon play hurt

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti was questioned this week about his decision to play Dennis Dixon even after an ACL injury to the quarterback's left knee.

Bellotti knew Dixon was injured, yet the senior started against Arizona last Thursday. The knee buckled beneath him, and the next day it was announced that he was out for the season and would require surgery.

The injury in all likelihood took Dixon out of the running for the Heisman Trophy. It also dropped Oregon, then ranked No. 2, out of the national championship picture.

Dixon first injured his ACL back on Nov. 3 during Oregon's 35-23 victory over Arizona State. He asked that Bellotti keep it quiet, to the point that even Dixon's teammates didn't know.

Bellotti said that Dixon consulted with the team's doctors and his father, then decided himself to play.

"I took myself out of the decision-making process, not the education process," Bellotti said. "I would do it again. I would allow him to do what he wanted to do."

At the time Dixon was one of the leading Heisman candidates.

Drawing comparisons to Vince Young, Dixon completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,136 yards, 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The senior from San Leandro, Calif., also ran for 583 yards and nine scores.

Bellotti's choice to let Dixon decide himself whether he could play with a serious injury was questioned, considering Dixon could be an NFL draft pick. Dixon also was drafted to play baseball last year by the Atlanta Braves, and spent time in the organization over the summer.

The fact that the rest of the Ducks were left out of the loop was criticized. And Bellotti fended off talk that the team did not prepare enough with backup Brady Leaf, knowing that Dixon was injured.

One local columnist contrasted Bellotti's decision to Washington coach Tyrone Willingham's choice not to play Jake Locker in last week's 37-23 victory over California, even though the quarterback reportedly was cleared by doctors to play.

Locker sustained a scary neck injury the week before at Oregon State and was taken from the field by ambulance. He sat out the Cal game in favor of backup Carl Bonnell because, Willingham said, "it was the wise thing to do."


CAL'S SLIDE: The frustration could be heard outside California's locker room after the Golden Bears' 37-23 loss at Washington last Saturday.

Coach Jeff Tedford was angry — and loud — in his post-game address to his team.

But when he emerged, the usually calm Tedford personally took the blame for California's spectacular collapse this season.

"The responsibility has to fall somewhere and I'm not going to point the finger at the kids. I'll take the responsibility on my shoulders," he said. "Turnovers and mistakes are killing us, so we've got to find a way to stop that. And the only way I know how to stop that is to try and coach it better."

Cal was ranked No. 12 to start the season and picked to finish second to Southern California in the Pac-10. Loaded with offensive talent, including quarterback Nate Longshore, tailback Justin Forsett and receivers Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson, the Bears moved to 5-0 with a gritty win over Oregon.

But the Golden Bears lost at home to Oregon State and the unraveling was under way. With the latest loss to the Huskies, Cal dropped to 6-5 and 3-5 in the Pac-10.


HONORS: Washington tailback Louis Rankin joined Arizona linebacker Spencer Larsen and cornerback/punt returner Antoine Cason as the league's players of the week.

Rankin rushed for 224 yards and a touchdown in Washington's 37-23 victory over California. He also was named player of the week after rushing for 255 against Stanford on Nov. 3.

Larsen had a game-high 16 tackles, 12 solo, in Arizona's 34-24 upset of then-No. 2 Oregon.

Cason scored on a 56-yard punt return and on a 42-yard interception return against the Ducks. He averaged 22.7 yards on three punt returns and his return for a touchdown was his second of the year.