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Lack of distraction keeps Oregon's focus, expectations high

by | Special to

EUGENE, Ore. -- By their actions on the field, you sense that the top-ranked Oregon Ducks can almost taste a berth in the BCS championship game.

By their words after Friday night's 48-29 victory over No. 21 Arizona at raucous Autzen Stadium, you wouldn't think the Ducks were doing anything out of the ordinary.

National championship?

Speaking those two words is practically off limits.

Back-to-back Pac-10 Conference championships for the first time in school history?

Ducks LB Casey Matthews goes after Wildcats QB Nick Foles. (AP)  
Ducks LB Casey Matthews goes after Wildcats QB Nick Foles. (AP)  
"We have goals set above the Rose Bowl," Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews said. Goaded to elaborate, Matthews chooses his answer thoughtfully.

"We're shooting for Glendale," Matthews said, and then almost winced, like maybe he said too much.

The Dec. 4 Civil War game in Corvallis, Ore. will have higher stakes attached to it than any time in history.

The Ducks (11-0) are calling it "just another game," and saying it with straight faces.

The tone is set at the top. Head coach Chip Kelly has side-stepped BCS-and No. 1 ranking-related questions for two months now.

"We have a vision for this program and how it should look, how we should practice," Kelly said. "This team is winning because we are eliminating distractions."

Uttering those two words which shall remain unspoken: Distraction. Speculating on what it would all mean for a school that has never been in the title game: Wasted energy.

Against Arizona (7-4), the first half was a little ragged.

Coming off a bye week -- and turkey dinners allegedly shunned on Thursday -- the Ducks committed two costly turnovers. On the first possession of the game, quarterback Darron Thomas drove the offense 55 yards in eight plays but threw an interception on third-and-nine from the Arizona 26.

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Arizona promptly drove for the first touchdown of the game.

Later, a wild snap flew over back-up punter Alejandro Maldonado's head and out of the end zone for an Arizona safety.

And after that, another Oregon drive died at the Arizona 8 when Kenjon Barner fumbled and the Wildcats recovered.

On that same drive, star running back LaMichael James was injured by a helmet-to-helmet hit by free safety Adam Hall. James left the game for awhile, complaining of blurry vision in his right eye.

Arizona took a 19-14 lead into halftime.

Trailing at halftime does not apparently qualify as a distraction for the Ducks.

The third quarter went the way a lot of third quarters have gone for Oregon this season.

True freshman Josh Huff took a pitch from Thomas 85 yards for a touchdown.

On the next possession, Oregon patched together its longest drive of the season -- 99 yards on 19 plays. Thomas scored on a 20-yard keeper.

James came back, his vision back to 20-20, and kept the Ducks' momentum rolling. The team's Heisman Trophy candidate finished with 126 yards and two touchdowns. Oregon went on a 34-3 run -- fueled at certain times by the fast-paced no-huddle offense that has become the team's trademark.

"We get a feel from being on the field," Kelly said. "You saw us crank [the tempo] up there a couple times. It's tough for [an opposing defense] to respond. You get a big gain and jump on the ball again."

Oregon has a knack for burying its early mistakes in an avalanche of second-half points.

The Ducks have now outscored the opposition 256-64 in the second half.

Huff, away from his family on Thanksgiving for the first time, became the fifth player on Oregon's roster to post a 100-yard rushing game.

"It feels pretty good playing for the No. 1 team and helping as a freshman to make it even better," Huff said.

He practically whispered those words. He certainly doesn't want to cause a distraction.

As for Kelly, nothing will change leading into the Oregon State game.

"We'll never talk about the national championship," he said. "We don't have to. Oregon State is all we'll talk about this week."

Kelly said a sign in the locker room lists the team's priorities.

"Number one, have fun," he said. "Number two, stick together. Number three, eliminate distractions, and [title talk] is a distraction. Number four, flip the switch."

The press covering this team, of course, wants more as it documents history being made in the Willamette Valley -- and a team that may be headed toward the biggest sporting moment in the state of Oregon since the 1977 Blazers won the NBA championship.

So coach, give us something. How does it feel? Kelly looked straight ahead, emotions still buried behind well-worn talking points.

"I'm giddy right now," he said dryly.

The room burst into laughter as he delivered that line.

Kelly has played it cool all of this time. He's not about to change now.

"We'd be crazy to go away from it now," he said. "If I went in on Monday morning to the team meeting and talked about [the national title game], I think they'd be like 'What are you talking about?'"


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