It stood to reason Utah State didn't have much of a chance against an Oregon team that had just knocked off BYU and gotten into the national rankings, a team they're starting to say might be the best in school history. The Aggies themselves admitted they needed some things to go right for them and wrong for the Ducks for this to be a contest.
Things, however, went right for the Ducks from the opening play and wrong for Utah State through the first quarter, and the Ducks flapped off with a 52-7 victory at Autzen Stadium Saturday afternoon.If not for the horrors of the first quarter, the Aggies might have stayed in it a little longer. Despite setback after setback, they kept coming.
"I never saw the kids ever stop, never saw them give in," said Utah State Coach Chuck Shelton, who alternated finding fault and forgiveness. "A closer score is better," he said.
"I would have thought we'd have been more effective," he said, taking into account the Aggies' persistence. "To play with the physical commitment we had and still get beat that bad gives me some concern," he added. "The kids flew around the football field, played hard and tackled hard."
The Aggies overcame Disaster No. 1, when Dexter Pointer, among the nation's leaders in returns, fumbled away the opening kickoff at the Aggie 27-yard line.
Linebacker Kevin Bouwman intercepted Oregon's Bill Musgrave on the Ducks' first drive, one-handing the steal at the USU 1 and running to the 25.
From there, though, the first period was a nightmare for the Aggies, who'd hoped to catch Oregon looking to next week's meeting with Washington but instead presented the Ducks with more opportunities than they could overlook.
"Against a team like Oregon, you have to not shoot yourself in the foot," said Shelton. "Maybe we preached it too much because we made as many mistakes today as (we have) in a number of football games." That would include two lost fumbles, 12 penalties for 103 yards and two interceptions.
Three critical penalties against the Aggies, two of them on third-and-long situations for Oregon, turned into three of the first four Duck touchdowns, and one uncalled possible penalty against Oregon wound up as a Duck interception of Aggie QB Ron Lopez in the end zone. That was the difference between looking respectable and ridiculous.
On an Oregon third-and-six, a Musgrave pass fell incomplete, but Aggie Toby Tyler was called for roughing the passer. The Ducks quickly claimed their first touchdown. Shelton had no quarrel with the call, a judgement thing, but he was upset that Lopez was hit in the same manner as he threw an interception in the end zone a little later and nothing was called. He wanted equality.
On Oregon's next drive, with third-and-eight, Musgrave was sacked by Joe Jacobs, who burst quickly through the line. Far upfield, the Aggies drew a penalty for holding a receiver.
"We did hold, no question," said Shelton. "I do not want to leave the implication we didn't deserve the penalties. We just tried to be physical on a good team and were half a step late on the things we needed to do."
The Aggies added an offside penalty on the drive, and Musgrave soon handed to Ngalu Kelemeni for the second touchdown. Kelemeni, a backup tailback, started at fullback and scored two touchdowns, as did Thomason. Thomason and Aggie tight end Ryan Duve engaged in a battle for the day's top receiver, Duve catching seven passes for 55 yards and Thomason six for 72 before leaving just before halftime with a hip pointer. Aggie Tracey Jenkins totaled 90 yards on three catches with a long of 71.
Lopez and Jenkins hooked up for the 71-yarder into triple coverage on a third-and-27, but Lopez then was intercepted in the end zone, and Musgrave used the Aggies' third indiscretion to get the drive going toward a 28-0 score.
Shelton denied this penalty, faceguarding on Scott Munson on an incomplete pass. Shelton says faceguarding isn't even in the NCAA rulebook. "Not only do I question it, I know better," he said.
Munson led all tacklers with 11, and teammate Del Lyles had 10.
Musgrave used a 25-yard pass to Thomason with a 15-yard Aggie facemask penalty tacked on near the end zone again 30 seconds into the second quarter.
Early in the second period, Utah State kept the ball for nine plays, then forced Oregon to punt in four downs, but Lopez's second interception seemed to take the sails down. Oregon's Muhammad Oliver and Jenkins simultaneously caught the ball; Oliver held on better. Same luck Jenkins had in the first quarter; he caught a long one from Lopez at midfield but was ruled out of bounds.
Jenkins did, however, make the catch that ruined the shutout, an 11-yarder from Lopez at 4:33 of the third period. It had gotten as bad as 49-0. It was Lopez's first Division I TD pass. In his second start (the first was cut short by a knee injury), he was 13-for-32 passing for 222 yards.
The running game, minus Roger Grant (shoulder injury) for the second half, totaled 21 yards against one of the nation's top rush-defense teams.
Musgrave, who needed 152 yards of total offense to gain the school career record, threw for 187 yards and a touchdown and ran for 1 yard. He was sacked twice officially, but he completed several passes while falling to just miss being sacked. "Maybe Musgrave, in terms of effectiveness, is the best quarterback we've coached against since I've been at Utah State," said Shelton. "Even situations where it looked like we had him, he turned it into something pretty good."