Oregon's chances at a National Title ended with 6:01 left in the 1st quarter, when QB and Heisman hopeful, Dennis Dixon planted his left foot that caused his left knee to twist inward and Dixon collapsed to the ground. Dixon had made the game look easy to that point. He ran for a 39-yard touchdown on 4th and 3, and led a 53-yard drive that resulted in an interception in the endzone on a pass that should have been caught. The interception was just his fourth of the season, and he was looking like a player deserving of the Heisman. But, the injury cost the Ducks the game and their chance at a National Championship.
Oregon's offense revolved around Dixon. With Dixon in the game, Arizona had to fear the run and the pass and have multiple people always keeping their eyes on Dixon. With Dixon in the game, the Ducks were averaging 9.8 yards per play, without Dixon they averaged 3.6 yards per play. With the injury, Brady Leaf came in at quarterback. Yes, that's right, brother of this guy...
Prior to this game, Leaf had just 14 pass attempts the entire season. Leaf was forced to put the ball up 46 times against Arizona and it was not pretty. Leaf completed 22 of 46 passes for 163 yards and 2 interceptions.
The person that was hurt the most by Dixon's absence was running back Jonathan Stewart. Dixon would hand the ball off to Stewart and fake the run himself and he would take the safeties and linebackers with him. Dixon probably accounts for an extra 25-50 rushing yards per game because defenses have to respect his ability to run. Stewart was averaging over 7 yards per carry before Dixon's injury, and afterwards averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
But, despite all of Oregon's problems, they still had their chances in the 2nd half. Early in the 4th quarter, trailing by 14, on 4th and 8, Oregon lined up in punt formation, but directly snapped it to Kwame Agyeman who picked up 40 yards all the way down to the Arizona 22, but Safety Cory Hall knocked the ball loose and the Wildcats recovered the fumble.
After giving up 31 points in the first half, Oregon's defense held Arizona to just a field goal in the second half. Arizona hadn't been able to run the ball all year and Oregon finally dropped defenders back into the secondary to limit Arizona's big pass plays. They limited Arizona to just 56 yards rushing, but with about 5 minutes left in the game they gave up one huge yard. On 4th and 1, running back Nicholas Grigsby was hit behind the line of scrimmage, but with a second effort picked up the one yard they needed to keep the drive alive. The drive ended in a field goal that put the Wildcats up 10 and put the game away.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, thinks Dennis Dixon is probably done for the year. Oregon has games left against UCLA and Oregon State and they still have a shot at the Rose Bowl. But, they need USC to defeat Arizona State next Thursday and to win out. Neither of those things are a sure thing, especially with Dixon most likely done for the season.