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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Arizona 37, Oregon 10: Analysis”

    EUGENE, Ore. – When Michael Klyce found out he’d be starting at strong safety Friday night, one thing ran through his mind.

    “”Make plays,”” he thought. “”Make plays.””

    Less than 24 hours later, in his first career start in place of the injured Michael Johnson Saturday afternoon, the sophomore did just that, picking off Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon twice and making a career-high six tackles.

    “”I couldn’t be more happy,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”We’ve got guys nicked up, guys playing out of position and guys just stepping up and playing.

    “”That’s the way it should be. When you’re a good team, that’s what happens.””

    After Johnson went down late in the second quarter of Arizona’s win over then-No. 8 California last week, Klyce saw his first-career extended action and finished with five tackles and also broke up a pass.

    Then, against Oregon on Saturday with the Ducks shying away from cornerback Antoine Cason, Klyce proved to be the reason why UA head coach Mike Stoops said his team is “”starting to see some of the depth through our recruiting the last two years.””

    “”He hasn’t had many opportunities, and it’s great to see him watch the ball and break and make some great plays,”” Stoops added of Klyce. “”He’s really come on and been a pleasant surprise.””

    After an Arizona punt in the second quarter on Saturday – and with Oregon looking to get back in the game, trailing 14-10 – Klyce slammed the door shut on the Ducks, leaping to pick Dixon’s pass intended for receiver Jordan Kent just past midfield.

    Two quarters later, he pounded some nails in that door, making another acrobatic interception of a Dixon pass on the first play of the fourth quarter.

    “”He floats the ball up, and he doesn’t read the coverage, so we knew he was going to throw us the ball,”” Klyce said. “”We just disguised our coverage, and he threw it up to us.””

    But Saturday’s defensive shellacking of the Ducks wasn’t orchestrated by the unlikely hero Klyce alone. There were the familiar ones like linebacker Ronnie Palmer (second interception in two games, eight tackles) and Dominic Patrick (fumble recovery, seven tackles). And then there was Spencer Larsen.

    The junior finished with his first-career interception, a fumble recovery, and a team-high 10 tackles. But it was his lone tackle for a loss that came six minutes into the third quarter – perhaps the most important stop of the game – that stood out the most.

    With Oregon trailing 24-10 and facing fourth-and-two from the Arizona 27-yard line, UO head coach Mike Bellotti decided to roll the dice to try and spark his offense. So Dixon and the rest of that offense, including running back Jeremiah Johnson and a package of three tight ends, remained on the field.

    A quarter earlier, using the same personnel package, Johnson had split the Arizona defense up the middle on first-and-goal for an easy 8-yard score.

    So Bellotti called the same play, and Larsen knew it, meeting Johnson two yards behind the line of scrimmage.

    “”It was the same garbage they ran for a touchdown,”” Larsen said. “”The first time, they ran it for a touchdown, and so I just knew exactly what play they were running.

    “”I saw the guard pull, and …if the guard pulls, I just shoot through there. No one blocked me, and I made the play.””

    The Ducks wouldn’t threaten again until Arizona’s second-team defense was on the field – and even then, inside the 10-yard line, Oregon couldn’t punch it in.

    “”There’s nothing gimmicky about it,”” Mark Stoops said of how his defense held the high-powered Oregon offense, which had been averaging over 450 total yards per game, to just 163 yards on the ground and 183 through the air.

    “”Defense is about hitting, being physical, playing tough, playing with your mind and playing with you heart. That’s what we do,”” Stoops added. “”There’s nothing magical about it.””

    Even Dixon, the elusive passer who entered the contest with 357 rushing yards on the year, was limited to just 34 yards on the ground in Oregon’s spread offense.

    “”With how versatile they are, they do a lot of different things, you have to play assignment-sound football. Everyone has to do their job,”” Larsen said. “”I think that’s what our defense has realized, is when you do your job, good things happen.””

    And though Oregon showed signs of having the ability to move the ball – Johnson had runs of 33 and 44 yards – the Wildcats made the plays when they needed to, picking off Oregon quarterbacks a total of four times.

    Coupled with two fumble recoveries on botched punt returns, the six turnovers were the most Arizona forced since forcing seven Oregon State turnovers last season. And on Saturday, three of them came in Arizona territory.

    “”Those were obviously big turnovers,”” Mike Stoops said. “”It gave us momentum and confidence in a tough environment to keep the crowd out of the game as well.””

    With three straight wins coming over the Nos. 1, 2, and 4 total offenses in the Pacific 10 Conference, it’s an understatement to say the defense has had a hand in Arizona’s new-found bowl eligibility.

    “”We have so much confidence now that we’ll give up a big play – like (against Oregon), we gave up a big play and they’ll get down to the 35-(yard line) – and we’ll come up real big and keep our ground,”” Larsen said.

    “”I think that’s where you see confidence. We’ll get on the goal line, and we’ll just be tough. And that’s just how we are.””

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