Thurmond III's TD springs Ducks
EUGENE — When the ball is in Walter Thurmond III's hands, good things usually happen for Oregon.
It was no different on Saturday in the Ducks' 31-24 win against No. 18 Utah in Autzen Stadium.
Before the Oregon offense even had a chance to take the field, the senior cornerback gave his team a 7-0 advantage, scoring on a 78-yard punt return 2:14 into the game.
"Last week we were so close to breaking one," Thurmond said. "We had some great blocks and I scored."
It was the first punt return for a touchdown of Thurmond's career, though it was his fifth touchdown overall and second of the season. Last week against Purdue, Thurmond put the Ducks up 17-14 with an interception return in the second quarter.
Oregon is now 5-0 when Thurmond scores.
"(Walter) is a big-time player," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's the leader of this team for a reason."
Thurmond also had three tackles and a pair of pass breakups in the game, including on a toss up to receiver David Reed in a back corner of the end zone on the final play of the first half. He finished with 158 yards on six returns — four punts and two kickoffs.
"I am happy with what I did on the field today," Thurmond said. "It's always good to score and get the whole team going ... I think the team is starting to click better and better with each game."
THURMOND WASN'T the only player to standout on defense.
Defensive tackle Brandon Bair had one of the best games of his career on Saturday.
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior had two tackles for a loss, batted down a pass and deflected a punt.
"I couldn't be happier," Bair said. "We played an awesome game."
Saturday was also the one-month anniversary of the birth of his daughter, Brooklyn.
"I wanted to come out and play hard for the little girl," Bair said. "Can't think of anything better."
Bair came into the season as one of three new starters on the Ducks rebuilt defensive line. Against the Utes, the unit did a good job of applying pressure on quarterback Terrance Cain, though linebacker Casey Matthews recorded the Ducks' only sack.
"As a defensive line, we got a lot of pressure on him, but we just need to get more sound when he scrambles out," Bair said. "He found some holes. But that's what happens when you put pressure on the quarterback."
Bair batted down a third-down pass attempt by Cain in the first half, forcing the Utes to punt. Later in the half, he tipped a punt by Sean Sellwood and the kick travelled just 28 yards.
Oregon safety John Boyett, playing for the injured T.J. Ward, and linebacker Eddie Pleasant each recorded their first career interceptions with a pair of fourth-quarter picks.
"The defense played unbelievably," Kelly said. "They gave their maximum effort and gave everything they got. Our secondary kept the ball in front of them, our linebackers are all on the same page, and our competitive depth allowed us to play a couple more people."
JEREMIAH MASOLI would have had a day to forget if it wasn't for the fact that Oregon won the game.
The junior quarterback was only 4-for-16 passing for 95 yards and an interception. And though Masoli also rushed for 47 yards and two touchdowns, he fumbled twice in the third quarter, which led to 10 points for Utah.
"It's unacceptable," Masoli said of the turnovers. "Giving turnovers to a good team is bad, and they almost came back and got us. But the defense stepped up."
Masoli's first fumble, off a mishandled snap on the first play of the second half, led to a 22-yard field goal by Utah's Joe Phillips to make it 21-10.
His second fumble came on a run when Masoli was stripped of the ball by linebacker Mike Wright. Safety Robert Johnson scooped up the fumble and returned it 28 yards for the score to cut the Ducks lead to 28-24.
"Guys just got on me," Masoli said. "I was holding the ball in one hand and they got to it."
Maybe more disconcerting for Oregon, however, was the ineffective passing game.
Of his four completions, one was for 58 yards to Jeff Maehl that set up a first-quarter touchdown. The other three completions were for a combined 37 yards. In the second half, Masoli attempted just three passes. All were incomplete.
"It's a combo of things," Masoli said. "The timing is off and we need to work on our reads. The receivers and myself need more work together."