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November 24, 2007
Oregon at UCLA Preview
Even with Dennis Dixon out for the season and a national championship dream dashed, Oregon still has plenty at stake in its final two regular season games.
The ninth-ranked Ducks look to bounce back from for a devastating loss and remain in the Pac-10 title chase when they visit battered UCLA on Saturday.
Dixon re-injured his knee early in the Ducks' 34-24 road loss to unranked Arizona on Nov. 15, crushing his hopes of winning the Heisman Trophy.
The defeat ruined Oregon's hopes of winning a national title as it committed four turnovers and allowed Arizona to score on an interception and a punt return.
The Ducks (8-2, 5-2) had been No. 2 in the AP poll and the BCS standings, but have slipped to No. 9 in both.
Oregon also fell into a tie with Southern California for second place in the Pac-10, one game behind Arizona State. If the seventh-ranked Sun Devils lose to the No. 11 Trojans on Thursday, the Ducks can create a three-way tie for the Pac-10 lead with a win Saturday and they would own the tiebreaker for the conference's BCS bowl bid because they beat ASU and USC.
Oregon finishes the regular season at home against Oregon State on Dec. 1.
"The national championship thing was fine while it lasted," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "The reality is we're still always trying to get the conference championship and the very best bowl game (the Rose Bowl)."
The Ducks will have to do it without Dixon, who will have surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament he tore in the Nov. 3 win over Arizona State. Dixon, who has thrown for 2,136 yards with 20 touchdowns and rushed for 583 yards and nine scores, knew the extent of the injury, but still felt he could play.
"He asked us on behalf of himself and his family to keep that quiet," Bellotti said. "While he certainly had some personal goals at stake, anyone who is familiar with Dennis knows that any decisions he made were purely in the interest of his teammates and not motivated by any personal gains."
Senior Brady Leaf, who was 22-for-46 for 163 yards with two interceptions against Arizona, is expected to start Saturday against UCLA (5-5, 4-3), which is looking to avoid a fourth straight loss and become bowl eligible.
Leaf, the brother of former Washington State star and NFL bust Ryan Leaf, is 30-for-61 for 231 yards with no touchdowns in six games this season and doesn't have near the mobility Dixon possesses.
With Dixon out, the Ducks could rely on running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart rushed for 131 yards on 28 carries against Arizona, and has 1,273 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He ran for 121 yards on 20 carries in Oregon's 30-20 win over UCLA last year.
The Bruins were idle last week and most recently lost 24-20 at home to then-No. 9 Arizona State on Nov. 10.
UCLA, which beat then-No. 10 California 30-21 on Oct. 20 for its only win in its last five contests, used its fourth quarterback of the season against the Sun Devils.
Sophomore Osaar Rasshan, converted to receiver and then back to quarterback after the Bruins lost their first two quarterbacks to injuries, was 14-for-27 for 181 yards with an interception. He also ran for 41 yards on 13 carries.
"He did really nice stuff and he is growing with the offense," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "He brings a different dimension with his mobility and we are encouraged with what he was able to do."
UCLA averaged 32.4 points in starting 4-1, but since the injuries began to accumulate, the Bruins have averaged 18.0 points in their last five games.
"We have two games left in the season and we are determined to keep playing hard," Dorrell said.
UCLA will try to avoid a fourth straight home loss to the Ducks, dating to a 34-29 win on Oct. 9, 1999.