Out of the Woods
Oregon's teams moved atop the Pac-10 with victories over Washington and USC
Saul Patu heard it through the grapevine. The word around Seattle 4� years ago was that Washington hadn't recruited Patu out of Rainier Beach High because the Huskies thought he lacked discipline. (That rep may have stemmed from the fact that, during the summer before his sophomore year, Patu bailed out of a weeklong football camp on the Washington campus after three days.) Patu, now a 265-pound senior defensive end at Oregon, smiles as he passes on this hearsay, and not just because he watches as much tape and pumps as much iron as any of his teammates. He spoke after the Ducks' 23-16 win over the Huskies last Saturday in Eugene, a victory in which he spearheaded a defense that relied on strict execution of its assignments to shut down Washington's option attack. Half of Patu's six tackles were for losses as 20th-ranked Oregon improved to 4-1 (2-0 in the Pac-10) by knocking off its second No. 6-ranked opponent in two weeks. ( UCLA was the other victim.)
But that was only half the reason that Sept. 30 was one of the best college football afternoons ever in the Beaver State. Thirty-seven miles north in Corvallis, unranked Oregon State upended No. 8 Southern Cal 31-21. The Beavers, now 4-0, beat USC for the first time since 1967 on the strength of 234 rushing yards and three touchdowns by junior running back Ken Simonton and a stout defense, which held the Trojans to 63 yards on the ground. Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson was beside himself with joy, declaring the victory "right up there" with any of his other career wins, including two national championships at Miami.
Oregon was more subdued in victory. "Give us a B, I guess," said quarterback Joey Harrington, after the Ducks won their 18th straight at home. "We've got a lot of things to work on." To wit: Oregon kicker Josh Frankel showed up on Saturday with a severe Duck hook, blowing three makable field goals and an extra point. Poor Keenan Howry had three punt returns totaling 128 yards called back on penalties. As it was, the Ducks led 23-3 in the fourth quarter before Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo put together two scoring drives to make things interesting.
"What does this win mean?" said Harrington, parroting a reporter's question. "It means we have a game against USC in two weeks. [ Oregon is idle this Saturday.]" Forgive the Ducks if the novelty of beating the Huskies has worn off: Oregon has won five of the last seven meetings.
The glorified divot with bleachers that is Autzen Stadium more than lived up to its reputation as a hellish place to visit. Before the game one parking lot attendant was overheard instructing another, "If they have Washington plates, park 'em in the mud." The Huskies suffered from extremely poor field position inside the stadium as well. Their average starting point was their own 16-yard line.
The game goes in the book as an upset, but even Washington coach Rick Neuheisel said that "the better team won." Making the Ducks' start so remarkable is the fact that they had fewer starters returning this season (nine) than any other team in the conference. The closest Oregon comes to having a star is running back Maurice Morris, a junior college transfer from Fresno City College who pounded out 167 yards on 31 carries against Washington, a week after having gashed UCLA for 139 on 37 attempts. Morris is from Chester, S.C., but has been spared the pangs of missing his family in Eugene, where he has been joined by eight of his 14 siblings, plus his parents and grandmother.
While Morris sat on the floor of the interview room after the defeat of Washington, counting off his kin on the fingers of both hands, Patu stood in the center of the room, natty in a leather jacket and bowler. Up close he looked like Oddjob. From a distance, he called to mind one of the many derby-wearing characters that populate the paintings of Ren� Magritte, the Belgian master of the surreal.
What's surreal? Here's one definition: Oregon at Oregon State on Nov. 18, with the Pac-10 tide on the line.
Youth a Reason For Parity