Micah Rice: Grit and Glitz is name of the game

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

EUGENE, Ore. — The brightest spotlight in college football Saturday shone on Autzen Stadium. It was fitting that Oregon shared the stage with a team from west Los Angeles.

The Ducks had to show grit to survive a tough challenge from UCLA. But to be a BCS darling, Oregon will need some glitz too.

There was plenty of substance in beating No. 12 UCLA on a national prime-time telecast. But the style Oregon showed wasn't as glamorous as we're used to seeing.

If there's a walk of fame around Autzen, Oregon's defense deserves a star for what it did Saturday. But for three quarters, the Ducks offense flubbed its casting call for the role people have come to expect.

It says something that Oregon can amass 555 yards, score 42 points and have it be considered an off night. Still, the stats don't wash away a fumble inside the 10, and an offense that was bogged down for three quarters by a physical defensive front.

Instead of Superman, the Oregon offense Saturday looked more like an antihero, succeeding in spite of flaws.

"Our offense has bailed us out a number of times," said defensive back Avery Patterson. "For us to bail them out is something we loved to do. We have each other's backs."

"Just win ugly" might work in the NFL, but doesn't fly in the hunt for a college football championship. The BCS era has turned that into a beauty contest.

Florida State has Oregon fans worried after appearing above Oregon in the initial BCS standings. The Seminoles were the flavor of the past week after crushing Clemson behind freshman phenom Jameis Winston, the next hot young thing in college football.

Win out and Oregon should be OK. The computers love Florida State, but the humans who vote in the USA Today and Harris polls have the Ducks ahead of the Seminoles.

Oregon's emergence as a familiar national brand helps it here. The Ducks are flashy, but not a flash in the pan. Four-straight BCS berths will do that.

Also helping the Ducks is that the Pac-12 will offer tougher competition than any conference this side of the SEC. That will woo those computers.

Maybe what we saw Saturday is a recasting of the Oregon identity we've become used to seeing. In averaging 57.6 points per game, the offense has garnered much of the attention. Meanwhile, the defense has quietly become one of the nation's best, allowing the 12th-fewest points in the country at 17.3 per game.

"You usually don't get to enjoy that sort of stuff until the season ends," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. "But as coaches, we're just really pleased with how these eight games have gone."

Defense does win championships. Saturday, it offered Oregon the substance when the style was lacking. It may not be as glamorous of a role, but it's one Oregon is willing to play if it leads the Ducks to Pasadena and the grandest stage of all — Jan. 6 in the BCS title game.

A little glitz, however, will make the road to Southern California that much easier.