TEMPE, Ariz. -- The time for bitterness and angry words had passed. The Oregon players did their loudest talking in another way.
They did it with an explosive offense. They did it with unexpected tenacity on defense.
The second-ranked Ducks staked their claim to a share of the national championship with a 38-16 victory over No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day. So convincing was the performance that quarterback Joey Harrington declined to make a closing statement.
"I don't want to do it with words," he said. "I think we did it with our play on the field."
Now Harrington and his teammates await the Rose Bowl, the title game that -- through the quirks of the bowl championship series -- snubbed them.
If top-ranked Miami wins, finishing undefeated, consider the matter settled. But if No. 4 Nebraska scores an upset, thereby taking the controversial BCS championship, it is quite possible The Associated Press poll will go the other way and crown Oregon.
And it seems the Ducks will wait calmly, their victory before a crowd of 74,118 cooling tempers that overflowed in recent weeks. After the game, instead of cursing the BCS or comparing it to a dreaded disease, players and coaches quietly argued for their share of the title.
Colorado Coach Gary Barnett sounded convinced.
"If I could vote," he said, "I would vote for them."
Just about everyone in this game seemed startled by the way Oregon (11-1) prevailed. The way Harrington seemed effortless in ripping the secondary for 350 yards and four touchdowns. The way Colorado's usually fearsome ground game was held to 49 yards, almost 180 yards below the season average.
"They just stopped the run," receiver Roman Hollowell said. "Stopped our offense entirely."
Colorado (10-3) had imitated its mascot, Ralphie the Buffalo, while stampeding over Nebraska and Texas late in the season, but Oregon crowded the line of scrimmage with extra tacklers. Initially, this in-your-face strategy hardly fazed the Buffaloes, who marched down the field with a trio of fast, strong tailbacks.
Bobby Purify gained seven yards up the middle and Cortlen Johnson took a screen pass 33 yards. Chris Brown took over from there, running for 18 yards on the next four plays. Finally, fullback Brandon Drumm bulled over from the one-yard line to give his team a 7-0 lead.
It was a style of play that Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti had fretted about all week. Still, his defense continued to pack the box, no player more than six or seven yards deep, the cornerbacks in man coverage.
"Stop the run and they have to pass," said linebacker Wesly Mallard, who led his team with 13 tackles. "That plays right into our hands."
The game might have turned on two plays in the second quarter. Both times, Oregon's defense stuffed Colorado on third and one. "It probably took a little wind out of our sails and was pretty much indicative of the night," Barnett said.
And while the Buffaloes struggled, Oregon was just heating up.
The Ducks, who won the Pacific 10 Conference title with a balanced and inventive offense, particularly liked the matchup between their receivers and the Colorado secondary. They announced as much on their first snap when Harrington threw deep to receiver Samie Parker down the sideline. The ball sailed long, but it was a rare miss.
Harrington tied the score late in the first quarter by completing a 28-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Howry, who had sneaked past free safety Robbie Robinson. A few minutes later, Parker outran the secondary and caught a 79-yard bomb for a 14-7 lead that Oregon would never relinquish.
With the run taken away, Colorado had no choice but to rely on quarterback Bobby Pesavento. The senior completed 61% of his passes this season but would finish only 11 for 27. When one of his passes floated into the hands of Oregon cornerback Steve Smith, the Ducks took advantage with another Smith-tailback Onterrio-who carried a shovel pass six yards for a 21-7 halftime lead.
All season long, Oregon had been criticized for appearing to cruise, letting opponents stay close. The Ducks needed comebacks in several games against weaker teams and, against Stanford at midseason, squandered a fourth-quarter lead in a loss that ultimately cost them a trip to Pasadena.
This time, they seemed intent on making a statement.
Taking the second-half kickoff, they drove 88 yards for a 28-7 lead. Tailback Maurice Morris darted down the sideline, broke one tackle, sat down on a fallen defender, then sprang up without touching the ground and finished a 49-yard touchdown run.
The closest Colorado came to making a game of it was a few minutes later when an apparent score was nullified, an official ruling that Pesavento had stepped over the line of scrimmage. The Buffaloes then missed a field-goal attempt, Steve Smith collected two more interceptions for a total of three and Harrington threw another pass into the end zone. The best Colorado could manage was a last-minute touchdown to make the score a little more respectable.
Oregon fans had already risen to their feet by that point, chanting "We're No. 1." Their cry will echo through college football over the next two days as everyone plays a game of wait-and-see.
"I'll be sitting in front of the television set," tailback Morris said, looking forward to the Rose Bowl. "Hopefully Nebraska will do us a favor."
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