Thurmond was a charm for Ducks
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Walter Thurmond III knew he had a tough task at hand entering the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl Tuesday.
You didn't have to remind the Oregon junior cornerback he was facing one of college football's more versatile wide receivers.
But if trying to shut down Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant wasn't enough responsibility, Thurmond put it on himself to make plays whenever he touched the ball as well. And he came through.
Thurmond's 91-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter proved to be a momentum changer in No. 15 Oregon's 42-31 come-from-behind win against No. 13 Oklahoma State in front of 59,106 noisy fans at Qualcomm Stadium.
It was the first meeting ever between the two teams.
"I was trying to make a big play happen," said Thurmond. "We were always one block away. I got all those blocks, man. They sprung me free. I saw green grass and I tried to get a touchdown."
He felt short. He was tackled at the Cowboys' 3-yard line.
Thurmond took the kickoff at his own 6, put a move on a would-be tackler before bursting through and sprinting down the left sideline.
The play couldn't have come at a better time. It set up quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's 1-yard touchdown run two plays later, the first of three rushing touchdowns that earned him the game's Offensive Most Valuable Player Award. Masoli also scored on runs of 41 and 17 yards.
Thurmond's return not only injected some life in the Ducks but in the game itself.
Both teams' offenses erupted for a combined 49 second-half points. That gave the game more of a Holiday Bowl feel after a lack of points in the first half.
Oklahoma State (9-4) led 17-7 at the half. Oregon (10-3) trailed 10-0 late in the first quarter.
Much like in the first half, Oklahoma State relied on the arm and legs of quarterback Zac Robinson in the final two quarters. And Robinson, who played through a shoulder injury in the second half, relied on his favorite target, Bryant — the receiver Thurmond looked forward to facing.
Bryant, a junior, gave Thurmond and the rest of the Ducks' secondary more than they bargained for. The Cowboys' junior set Holiday Bowl records for most catches and receiving yards with a 13-reception, 167-yard outing.
Brigham Young's David Mills (1984) and Texas' Roy Williams (2001) held the previous receptions record with 11. Oklahoma State's Hart Lee Dykes had 163 receiving yards in 1988.
"I'd rather have a 'W' than all that," Bryant said.
Bryant left the game twice favoring his left knee. He exited the game in the second quarter, returned in the third and sat again early in the fourth. He returned late in the game.
"He's a great receiver," said Thurmond, who finished with five solo tackles. "He's going to have a great career in college and in the pros. It was unfortunate that he got hurt. I wanted him to be 100 percent the whole time. He's a great competitor. He showed a lot of heart coming back out there with his (injured) knee."
DYNAMIC DUO: For the second time in team history, Oregon finished with two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. Junior LeGarrette Blount (1,002) joined senior Jeremiah Johnson (1,201) with his 74-yard effort. A good chunk came on Blount's 29-yard touchdown with 3:01 left to seal the win.
"LeGarrette and I, I think, we're one of the best tandems in the nation," said Johnson, who rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. "I'm really happy about that. I could cry right now. We deserved it. We worked hard for this."
Johnson's score came on a 76-yard run in the first quarter. It's the Holiday Bowl's longest run from scrimmage. Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders held the previous record (67 yards), set in 1988.
Cowboys' coach Mike Gundy said the Ducks' rushing attack was a major factor.
"Their backs were physical and their quarterback made some great runs," he said. "They were more physical than us in the second half."
HONORING DOXEY: Ducks cornerback Talmadge Jackson III wore No. 29 instead of his usual No. 37 black jersey in honor of defensive back Todd Doxey, who drowned July 13 in a swimming accident on the McKenzie River near the Oregon campus. Doxey, a football and basketball standout at Hoover High in San Diego, would have been a sophomore this season.
"We had the spirit of Todd Doxey motivating us," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. "Knowing we were going to play in San Diego was a real special moment for all of our players."