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War for the Rose
AUSTIN MURPHY
December 08, 2008
The 112th meeting between Oregon State and Oregon was one of a handful of showdowns last week in which heated rivals squared off with much more than bragging rights at stake
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December 08, 2008

War For The Rose

The 112th meeting between Oregon State and Oregon was one of a handful of showdowns last week in which heated rivals squared off with much more than bragging rights at stake

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THE ROSES? Some of them just disappeared, the way odd socks do. Others lay crushed beneath the seats and in the concrete aisles of Oregon State's Reser Stadium. Outside, a middle-aged woman peddled cut-rate bouquets. Sales were not brisk. One red rose ended up in the hand of James Bishop, a thirtysomething Oregon fan who danced with it on the field after the Ducks' 65--38 clubbing of the Beavers last Saturday in Corvallis. ¶ "We've been to the Holiday Bowl," shouted Bishop, "and we're probably going back. What we haven't done is see them with the Rose Bowl in their grasp and just rip it from them. And it feels great."

Such naked schadenfreude is a symptom of Rivalry Week—the eight-day period spanning the last two Saturdays of November and featuring most of college football's spiciest feuds. The Civil War, as the Ducks and the Beavers refer to their annual encounter, dates to 1894—less than three decades after the conclusion of the real Civil War. Always intense, this rivalry has gained significance over the last 15 years, as both programs have come up in the world. This season, after an 0--2 start, Oregon State rattled off eight wins in its next nine games. The second of those victories remains one of the least comprehensible upsets of 2008, a 27--21 win over then No. 1 USC. Now, with a victory over Oregon, the Beavers would book a trip to their first Rose Bowl in 44 years.

The defense got things off to a swell start, sacking Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli on the game's first play. So deafening was the home crowd of 46,319 during the ensuing three-and-out that Ducks running back Jeremiah Johnson later paid it tribute. "I've gotta give it to 'em," he said. "It ain't Autzen"—Oregon's notoriously boisterous home venue—"but it got loud to the point where we were like, Damn!"

The fans had piped down considerably by the end of the quarter, at which time Johnson had rushed for 95 yards on four touches—he would finish with 219 and a touchdown on 17 carries—and the Ducks led 17--7. With the run game firing, "that set up our play action," said Masoli, who described the Beavers' defensive backs as "really aggressive. When those safeties came down, we just threw right over 'em."

The Ducks led at halftime 37--17 and had piled up a jaw-dropping 442 yards. (They would finish with 694.) Masoli mulched the Beavers' defense much the same way he'd made short work of Foothill College, Santa Rosa J.C. and the College of San Mateo while leading City College of San Francisco to last year's junior college national title. Fifth on the depth chart after transferring to Eugene, Masoli was starting by Game 4, the result of injuries to those above him and his ShamWow-like ability to absorb the elaborate schemes of offensive coordinator Chip Kelly.

While Johnson, fellow running back LaGarrette Blount (112 yards on 17 carries) and Masoli were having huge games, no one was having more fun than Kelly, who demonstrated again why his name appears on so many short lists for head-coaching vacancies. Endlessly creative—he has used 6'5", 243-pound tight end Ed Dickson as the pitch back on option plays ("Why not? He can really run")—he kept Oregon State off balance all night. Three times in the second half the plucky Beavers pulled to within 13 points. Three times the Ducks answered with a touchdown.

"I've hung out with some of those Oregon State guys, and they're good guys," said Ducks center Max Unger. "Our motivation was not to take the Rose Bowl away from them." And yet, having done so, he admitted with a guilty smile, "makes this win 10 times sweeter."

NOT EVERY five-star rivalry can wait until late November. While Texas and Oklahoma traditionally square off on the second Saturday of October, the result of this year's Red River Rivalry—a 45--35 Texas win—was very much in the news last Saturday. As expected, the Longhorns, Sooners and Texas Tech won last week: Texas over Texas A&M 49--9 on Thanksgiving night; Tech at home against Baylor 35--28; Oklahoma 61--41 in Stillwater over No. 12 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series. Thus did they finish the regular season in a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South.

While the Longhorns trailed slightly in the human polls going into the last week of the regular season, they proved to be light years ahead in the area of politicking for their team's cause. On Nov. 23 a Texas sophomore named Austin Talbert fired up a Facebook page advocating that the Longhorns maintain their place ahead of the Sooners in the BCS rankings. Later that morning he noticed the site had 300 "friends." At week's end it had almost 50,000. Talbert's page and a website started by Texas senior Matt Parks (www.45-35.com) helped raise $7,000 for a unique lobbying opportunity. High above Boone Pickens Stadium before the Bedlam kickoff, a small plane pulled a banner that hectored: TEXAS 45, ou 35—SETTLED ON A NEUTRAL FIELD.

The Longhorns' problem: The BCS computers don't have a Facebook account, and they couldn't see the flyover. While Texas overtook the Sooners in the Harris poll (a 27-point swing) and closed to within a single point in the coaches' poll (making up 41 points), Oklahoma vaulted from third to first in the computer rankings, leapfrogging the Longhorns in the process. That was enough to move the Sooners to No. 2 in the BCS and into the Big 12 title game against Missouri this Saturday night in Kansas City, Mo.

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