Revisiting the Wisconsin series: 2000-2001
The upcoming Rose Bowl pitting Big-10 champion Wisconsin vs. Pac-12 champion Oregon is not the first time the two teams have met. A decade ago the Badgers and Ducks played in a home-and-home grudge match that was as bitterly fought of a series as had occurred in recent memory. With the Rose Bowl looming and the recent series tied 1-1, let’s take a look back at the two games when the Badgers and Ducks left it all on the field, the 2000 and 2001 Wisconsin-Oregon series.
The Wisconsin Badgers were the cream of the crop in the Big-10, one of the most storied and elite conferences steeped in tradition and stuck in the mindset of 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football. In 1999 they had finished 4th in the country at 10-2, defeating Stanford in the Rose Bowl led by Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ron Dayne, their 2nd Rose Bowl victory in a row after defeating UCLA the year prior. Dayne had broken the NCAA rushing record that year, edging out Ricky Williams of Texas for the title with his 1,834 yard senior campaign netting him 6,397 yards total over a four-year span. He was a big back, running behind a big offensive line, in the Big-10, it all seemed so kismet.
The 2000 version of Wisconsin had lost Dayne to the NFL, but were still stacked and prepped for a repeat trip to the Rose Bowl. The team featured cornerback Jamar Fletcher, who would win the Jim Thorpe Award that year, as well as punter Kevin Stemke, who would win the Ray Guy Award, All Big-10 1st team defensive tackle Wendell Bryant, and quarterback Brooks Bollinger had been named the Big-10 freshman of the year in 1999. They had a pair of future NFL superstar wide receivers in Lee Evans and Chris Chambers, and the Big-10 sprint champion Michael Bennett was their new running back set to replace Dayne…in other words, the Badgers were stacked with talent.
Wisconsin was ranked #4 going into the 2000 campaign with big aspirations, but before the season started there was a setback. An NCAA rules violation was revealed where 26 Wisconsin players had received unadvertised discounts on shoes, an illegal benefit by NCAA standards, the scandal being coined SHOEGATE. Eventually the scandal would result in the football and basketball programs being placed on five-year probation periods and a loss of scholarships.
Among those facing suspension were Wisconsin’s big stars; Chris Chambers, Michael Bennett, Jamar Fletcher, Mike Echols, and Nick Davis among others. The suspensions ranged from one to three games, but the NCAA permitted their suspensions to be staggered over the first four games of the season. This meant head coach Barry Alvarez could pick and choose who was to be suspended during their first few games. Facing a schedule of Western Michigan, Oregon, Cincinnati, and Northwestern in their first four games, it is little surprise that when it came time to play Oregon barely anybody was left off the roster.
Oregon meanwhile was a program on the rise. The Ducks didn’t have Wisconsin’s tradition, didn’t possess a freshly polished Heisman Trophy in the athletic center, didn’t pack a stadium with nearly 80,000 a game all clad in red going crazy when House of Pain’s “Jump Around” is played between the 3rd and 4th quarter…still, the Ducks were now a force to be reckoned with on the national level, even if the old guard weren’t ready yet to accept their brand of west coast football quite yet.
What the Ducks did have was a talented young team coming off a last-minute Sun Bowl victory over Wisconsin’s arch-rival Minnesota, led by quarterback Joey Harrington, a small but fanatical fan base that made for one of the rowdiest settings in the country, a home winning streak that was among the longest in the nation, and a panache for finding a way to somehow always come up with a win down the stretch.
The Ducks had played at Michigan State the year before and nearly pulled off the upset, so a Midwest trip to the hallowed grounds of Big-10 country wasn’t completely unfamiliar, still this was a matchup of the big boys vs. the upstart new kids on the block. Also the Michigan State trip was a night game, this would be during the day in the humid hot setting of a Midwest summer.
Both teams handled their opening game with relative ease, Wisconsin beating Western Michigan 19-7 in a lethargic victory where they were content to simply grind it out on the ground with Michael Bennett running for 128 yards behind Wisconsin’s massive offensive line. Oregon meanwhile had beaten up Nevada 36-7 in a tune-up game at Autzen Stadium. Wisconsin sat 11 of their players facing suspension against Western Michigan, but for Oregon they would not provide the same shortened roster.
September 9th, 2000 – Oregon visits Camp Randall
Only three Wisconsin players would be on suspension in the Oregon matchup, of those Chris Chambers was injured anyway and wouldn’t have played, and the only starter missing would be cornerback Mike Echols. Wisconsin would be at essentially full strength, assuming they could survive with a drastically reduced roster for their following week’s matchup against Cincinnati. For many of Wisconsin’s starters, the Oregon game would be the only time they would play in the first month of the season before serving out their suspensions.
“Wisconsin had just come off back-to-back Rose Bowl wins and still had a lot of those guys on that team,” remembers Chris Tetterton, a local Eugene product from Sheldon High School who had walked on at Oregon as a defensive tackle in 1997 and slowly worked his way into the rotation. “We were going on the road to Wisconsin. Going to places like MSU, Michigan, the intensity is unbelievable. Autzen Stadium is loud and big, but we weren’t used to a place that big. Only UCLA and Washington had the capacity where we saw crowds like that, and Wisconsin lives & breathes football. It’s Packer country, and Wisconsin is the only college team they’ve got, so they really support their team all out.”
“Wisconsin was one of the toughest settings I can recall ever facing,” said Jason Willis, a walk-on wide receiver who had earned a scholarship before the start of the 2000 season and had become a steady piece of the rotation thanks to his devastating blocking abilities. “It was like we were playing against one of our rivals, there were constant boos from the second we came out on the field for warm-ups, it was a hostile crowd. They had to have a net over the tunnel, because fans were throwing bottles and garbage at us. I remember too there was a beehive underneath one of our benches, we had to clear the benches during warm-ups because there were bees everywhere. They got rid of the nest but by the 2nd quarter the bees all came back again. That day also it was really hot and humid, in Oregon we’re used to hot but not humid. Camp Randall had that turf that gave out heat, so on the field it was horrible, we had to drink pickle juice before the game to prevent cramping but still guys were having problems.”
“I remember all the talk in the locker room before the game was about their running back Michael Bennett,” said Tetterton. “The big saying was that you had to wrap up, you couldn’t let him run to the corner, linebackers had to finish him because if he got three steps he was gone.”
The game began and both teams tried to establish the line of scrimmage with the run game. Wisconsin easily won this matchup, led by defensive tackle Wendell Bryant in the middle plugging run gaps, and Wisconsin’ massive offensive line simply overpowering the undersized but agile Oregon defenders. While no scoring took place in the first quarter, the tone of the game was clearly established: Wisconsin was going to run and run and run some more daring Oregon to stop it, while the Ducks would implement screens and quick passes to torch Wisconsin through the air. Occasionally Oregon found some yards on the ground on the feet of junior college transfer Maurice Morris, but outside of a couple gashing runs the yards between the tackles were few and far between.
Both teams moved the ball effectively up and down the field, but when nearing scoring range the defenses tightened.
“They were definitely dominating us up front, so we had to do a lot of screens and short passes to move the ball, we couldn’t go head-to-head with that defensive line,” Willis remembers.
“It was so nerve-racking on the sidelines because both teams could move the ball but can’t score, so it’s a matter of who makes a mistake first,” Tetterton recalls. “Being a backup on the sidelines I got to be the best spectator, ease-dropping on what’s going on with the offense and defense, I remember that game was really hard-fought.”
In the 2nd quarter the Ducks got the first break, when backup running back Allan Amundson caught a short screen pass and found a crease sprinting down the field for a 27 yard gain putting Oregon near field goal range.
Shortly thereafter Harrington threw a dart downfield to Jason Willis, who had found an open hole in the secondary and reeled it in for a 20 yard gain. Oregon was now set up well within striking distance.
But the drive would sputter out from there, and Oregon would be forced to kick a field goal, Josh Frankel knocking through a chip shot to give the Ducks the early 3-0 lead. Wisconsin took the ball back and continued feeding Michael Bennett, gouging away 3-4 yards at a time simply leaning on Oregon’s undersized line pushing them backwards nearly every play. However the defense was able to hold, forcing Wisconsin to once again punt, however with eventual Ray Guy Award winner Kevin Stemke blasting the punts, Oregon was getting pinned deep with each possession.
“Our defense was giving up big drives, but in the redzone our linebackers filled the holes really well,” said Willis. “(Garrett) Sabol was hitting hard, Matt Smith had an unbelievable game, he was everywhere that day. I guess they needed that wake-up call that it was within scoring range now and it’s time to make sure we don’t give up anymore because they can’t get in.”
With time ticking down before halftime Oregon got the ball back, still clinging to their 3-0 lead. It was then that they found an advantage that was exploited for the rest of the game.
“We knew (Jamar) Fletcher was really good, he was touted as one of the best corners in the country and he definitely lived up to the hype,” Willis remembers. “But with the other corner (Mike Echols) suspended Wisconsin was playing a freshman out there. So we started throwing to Marshaun (Tucker) knowing that he could burn the freshman. Also their safeties weren’t built for our speed, they were Big-10 safeties, they were used to playing up at the line in run support not chasing us fast guys around, so we did a lot of crossing routes and went deep.”
Joey Harrington connected with Marshaun Tucker downfield, who juked the freshman corner and sprinted for a 60-yard gain.
It would not be the last time that Tucker would exploit the young corner B.J. Tucker for a huge gain. The Ducks were again in striking range pushing it all the way to the goal line, but for the second time they could not finish the deal due in part to an unfortunate dropped pass by Tucker, and were forced to kick another field goal, 6-0 Ducks. The game would go to halftime with Oregon leading, but an unease existed knowing they had not capitalized on scoring chances, and Wisconsin’s run game was too good to keep bottled up forever. Oregon had its chances, but dropped passes were killing the Ducks. Fullback Josh Line had been open for a big gain but let it go off his fingertips, and Marshaun Tucker had dropped an easy touchdown catch where he had once again badly burned the young cornerback Tucker.
Early in the third quarter, Michael Bennett finally broke loose. A quick step at the line of scrimmage, one missed tackle, and Bennett was off to the races for a 59 yard touchdown. In an instant, Wisconsin was on top 7-6.
Oregon tried to strike back, Maurice Morris broke free for a 23-yard run, but the Ducks were stopped when Joey Harrington threw in the vicinity of Wisconsin’s All-American corner Jamar Fletcher, whose interception set up Wisconsin for another possible score.
However following the turnover Oregon’s defense held firm, and Wisconsin was forced to punt. The All-American punter Kevin Stemke pinned the Ducks back by the goal line, and the Wisconsin defensive line held forcing Oregon to punt out of their own endzone. At the snap Wisconsin’s Ryan Marks got a great jump and took the ball right off of the punter’s foot, recovering it in the endzone for a touchdown, giving Wisconsin a 14-6 lead.
Oregon couldn’t mount a response, and Wisconsin immediately responded, as Michael Bennett flashed his world-class speed sprinting past Oregon’s linebackers for a 75-yard touchdown. Wisconsin had barely even attempted to throw all game, Bollinger would only complete 5 of 13 pass attempts for 65 yards on the day, but with Wisconsin’s bruising offensive line and Bennett’s quicks it didn’t matter much. Nearing the end of the third quarter again it was Harrington throwing deep to Tucker picking on the young corner B.J. Tucker that paid dividends for Oregon.
“Marshaun had dropped a couple passes in the first half, so we kept feeding him the ball to keep his confidence up,” said Willis. “We knew that the freshman corner couldn’t cover him, so if Marshaun hung onto it he could make some big plays.”
Tucker’s 72-yard reception had Oregon threatening once more, and finally the Ducks were able to finish off a drive, when Harrington found tight end LaCorey Collins for a 17-yard touchdown. Bellotti was thinking of going for two to try to cut the lead to 3, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Collins celebrating a bit too excessively forced the long extra point kick instead.
As the 3rd quarter ended, the floodgates had opened, Wisconsin scoring 20 points in the quarter to take a 20-16 lead. The stadium shook as fans bounced to “Jump Around,” a Camp Randall Stadium tradition.
“That was the first time I ever heard songs played over the P.A. system,” Tetterton recalls. “Nobody in the Pac-10 does that, everyone just has the bands playing ‘Louie, Louie’ or whatever. To see the student section screaming to the songs, the stadium shaking as everyone jumped, even the Duck fans were getting into it, and some of the guys on the field were getting pumped up by it jumping around. Saul Patu, if he had hair on his head he would’ve been trying to yank it out he was so jacked up.”
Coming down from the energy boost of ‘Jump Around’, the 4th quarter played out much like the first half. Both teams settled in, Oregon had yet another unfortunate dropped pass that would have moved the chains and were forced to punt while Wisconsin continued to grind out the yards on the ground.
With time ticking down to only six minutes remaining though, the game took a dramatic turn. On a 3rd & 3, Wisconsin surprisingly chose to throw, one of their few pass attempts all game. As Bollinger dropped back, he threw into double coverage right at linebacker Matt Smith, who picked it off and immediately sprinted in the other direction, picking up blockers and returning it for a 49-yard touchdown.
The Duck defense had been pushed around all day, but when Wisconsin went away from their gameplan, Oregon made them pay. The 3rd quarter had been a disaster for Oregon with Bennett repeatedly scorching them, but in a moment of redemption it was the defense that put the Ducks back on top. Oregon led 23-20 with six minutes left to go, and Wisconsin had no luck in throwing the ball all game, but with Michael Bennett would they need to?
It didn’t take very long to find out. On the very first play from scrimmage by Wisconsin following the kickoff, Michael Bennett juked Oregon’s Gary Barker at the line of scrimmage and in an instant was gone, sprinting 83 yards until cornerback Rashad Bauman caught him at the 1-yard line. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger would dive in for a short touchdown, and just like that Wisconsin had regained the lead 27-23.
Oregon’s response drive failed abruptly with Harrington’s second interception of the game, again Jamar Fletcher picking it off, but the defense held and Stemke’s punt went into the endzone for a touchback, Oregon was once again in business for one of their now-trademark 4th quarter comebacks. Two minutes were left on the clock needing to go the length of the field for a touchdown, a field goal would do no good thanks to Collins’ unsportsmanlike conduct penalty eliminating the chance of going for two following the third quarter touchdown, so it was endzone or bust for the Ducks.
The Joey Harrington era was defined by last-minute heroics. It started with his first extensive action in 1999 against Arizona State leading a last-second comeback at Autzen Stadium, and of course the triple overtime victory over USC the previous year as well. By the time the 2001 season ended, finishing Harrington’s career, he had earned the nickname “Captain Comeback” for leading so many 4th quarter comebacks. While this legacy still somewhat had yet to be written, the track record was already there for an expectation that with two minutes left Oregon could drive the field 80 yards and score to win this game.
The Ducks almost got it on the very first play…Harrington threw deep to Marshaun Tucker, who had yet again beaten the corner into open territory, but Tucker once more dropped the pass. Tucker had 196 receiving yards on the day, but unfortunately it was the passes he didn’t catch that defined this otherwise career day for Tucker.
A sack and incompletion set up a 4th & 13 play from the 17, all or nothing. Harrington again flashed his 4th quarter brilliance, connecting with Keenan Howry for a 30-yard gain keeping Oregon’s hopes alive.
“We had that mentality like we knew we were going to drive and score, but we weren’t totally confident in ourselves just yet,” Jason Willis recalls. “We’d had a couple wins at the end of games but didn’t quite have that swagger yet, the full confidence. We were fatigued running receivers in and out in those humid conditions, but we knew we could win but lacked that total confidence that we always would win like we had in 2001.”
Reaching midfield, it looked like Oregon was going to find a way to once again pull off the upset with a little Harrington last-minute magic, but just when it seemed like Oregon had the momentum things went haywire.
Harrington’s first down pass attempt was incomplete. 2nd down defensive tackle Wendell Bryant collapsed the pocket and an onslaught of Wisconsin Badgers brought down Harrington for a sack, loss of 7 yards. This set up a 3rd & 17 from midfield, where Harrington found an open Jason Willis near the first down marker, but Willis dropped the ball.
“I was still a young guy at the time, and I was thinking more about the hit that was coming than the actual ball. I was coming across the middle, knew their guy was close, and didn’t snag it,” Willis lamented.
4th & 17, and again Oregon was backed into a corner. Harrington again looked for Willis, but overthrew him right into the waiting arms of Jamar Fletcher for his third interception of the game. Harrington had thrown for 362 yards, but it could have been well over 400 if not for all the dropped passes, and in the end Fletcher appeared to be Harrington’s favorite target.
As Wisconsin knelt on the ball to seal the 27-23 victory with Harrington visibly crying on the bee-infested bench, the Ducks were left to ponder the self-inflicted mistakes that led to the loss.
“It hurts more losing a game that you know you could have won as opposed to being blown out,” said Willis. “Coach (Mike) Bellotti said after the game we couldn’t blame anybody but ourselves for this loss. All that week in practice Coach Peterson (wide receivers coach Chris Peterson, now the head coach at Boise State) had us doing extra catching drills to make sure that we never had a day like that again dropping all those passes.”
“After Marshaun dropped that pass and then the pick and we realized we can’t win, we just had to sit there and take it,” Chris Tetterton recalls. “I remember guys back in the locker room crying because we were so close to getting Oregon to that next step, that was always our goal, to be Pac-10 champs and Rose Bowl champions and we had just gone toe-to-toe with the two-time Rose Bowl champs and should have won. That’s all Joey ever talked about was being Rose Bowl champs.”
Wisconsin had barely escaped with a win needing every player facing suspension to edge the Oregon Ducks, but the victory would prove costly for the Badgers as they were forced to sit much of their starting roster going forward due to Shoegate. Michael Bennett had rushed for 290 yards against the Ducks, while Bollinger only completed five passes. Harrington had thrown for 362 yards on 44 pass attempts, but the three interceptions by Jamar Fletcher proved too costly.
With many of their starters suspended for the next two games against Cincinnati and Northwestern, Wisconsin barely beat Cincinnati in overtime 28-25 then were shocked by a resilient Northwestern team, losing in double overtime 44-41. The Badgers went on a 3-game losing streak, albeit somewhat understandable facing #9 Michigan and #8 Ohio State in back-to-back weeks then losing again in OT two weeks later to #17 Purdue, finishing the year 9-4 with a victory in the Sun Bowl over UCLA. Jamar Fletcher would be a 1st round draft choice, taken 26th overall by the Miami Dolphins.
Oregon meanwhile would rally from the heartbreaking loss in Madison, WI, winning eight games in a row setting up the Civil War game with a chance for the Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately Oregon lost to Oregon State thanks to five interceptions thrown by Harrington, and a 3-way tie resulted at the top of the Pac-10 with Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State. Washington held the tie-breakers and got to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, while OSU received an at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl where they destroyed Notre Dame, and Oregon received an invite to the Holiday Bowl, defeating the Texas Longhorns in an unbelievable game 35-30. The year was filled with great finishes and last-minute heroics that made the nation pay attention to Oregon and turned Harrington into a star, but it was the Wisconsin loss that lingered in the offseason. What if Oregon had finished the deal on that last drive? As things played out, the Ducks would have achieved their dream of the Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth rather than settling for the Holiday Bowl while bitter rivals Washington and OSU played in the BCS.
A Chance For Redemption – Wisconsin at Oregon
September 1st, 2001
The Ducks were out for revenge for the previous year’s game when Wisconsin came to Eugene in 2001. The Badgers had graduated many of their top players from 2000, and Wisconsin Head Coach Barry Alvarez was quoted as saying he was “bringing a bunch of babies with him to Eugene.” Kevin Stemke had been awarded the Ray Guy Award, Fletcher the Jim Thorpe Award, and Michael Bennett was now carrying the ball for the Minnesota Vikings. But the cupboards were not bare for Wisconsin, they still had a massive offensive line, Brooks Bollinger returned for his junior year at quarterback, All-Big-10 defensive tackle Wendell Bryant was back, and the Badgers still had wide receiver Lee Evans. There was one other major advantage Wisconsin had, they participated in the kickoff classic, the opening game of the year defeating Virginia in the last week of August giving them a warm-up game before arriving in Eugene to face the Ducks for Oregon’s first game of the season.
“It was a huge advantage for Wisconsin getting to play a game before us,” Willis emphatically stated. “No matter what you do in practice, you can’t simulate game speed. In games the hits are harder, the speed is faster, and then there’s the fitness factor. It takes a couple games to get into game shape, those first few it’s easy to get winded, having a game under your belt is a huge advantage. But even though they played a game before us, we had just come off the Holiday Bowl win, so our confidence was good going in to the rematch. We had that home winning streak (2nd longest in the nation behind only Florida State) and so much was on the table, it was a get-back game. Stanford ended up being the spoiler for us in 2001, but Wisconsin was the spoiler in 2000, we had revenge on our minds.”
There was no Shoegate in 2001 to limit Wisconsin’s potential, but leading into the season there was a setback of other sorts, as quarterback Brooks Bollinger suffered a bruised liver and was forced to sit out a few games, leaving the quarterback duties to backup Jim Sorgi. Sorgi was a tall quarterback with a big arm and quick feet, capable of getting outside the pocket and running if need be.
The Ducks meanwhile had the nation’s eyes squarely upon it. Following their victory over Texas in the 2000 Holiday Bowl, Oregon was no longer the up-and-comers, they had arrived on the national scene. Oregon had taken unprecedented steps to hype the program and the team leader, now senior quarterback Joey Harrington. A massive billboard was placed near Times Square with the text “Joey
Harrington Heisman,” no program had ever gone to such great lengths to promote a player in the preseason for the prestigious award. While there was much backlash against the program for the expenditures of billboards in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles as well as for the outlandish uniforms, the nation was abuzz to see what all the hype was about with the Oregon Ducks.
“The main consensus was that we got so close in their house, we wanted to make sure it wasn’t close in Autzen,” said Tetterton. “Let’s show them what real Oregon football is like, we worked so hard, we’d bust our asses preparing for Wisconsin because we knew it was going to be such a physical game. They were huge, especially up front all corn-fed midwest big boys.”
For Tetterton the preparation for the 2001 rematch was particularly poignant. On the travel squad but not participating as a third-string backup in 2000, he had been forced to watch the game from the sidelines. Now a senior in 2001, his hard work had finally paid off, earning a starting position at defensive tackle. Tetterton had grown up in Eugene, attended Sheldon High School, fought through the scout team paying his way through school working multiple jobs at a local furniture store and as a bartender at Taylor’s while earning the respect of teammates and coaches for his work ethic. Now he would be getting his first career start on opening day against the team that had prevented Oregon from reaching their dream of a Rose Bowl the previous season, playing in front of family and friends and a national television audience.
“It was my first start, I was still green, still a walk-on,” Tetterton remembers. “Coaches said Igor (Olshanksy) was going to rotate in, so I didn’t know how much I was going to play, I was a ball of nerves. I had worked five years for this, all I wanted to do was go out and play the game, I was trying to hide my nerves by amping myself up but I’m sure it was obvious. When I did get to play Coach (Steve) Greatwood used to get so mad at me because I never wanted to come off the field, I’d worked so hard to get to that point I didn’t want to give it up, our defense wasn’t designed for the defensive line to make many plays as it was a gap-control scheme, so with every snap and every play I made it felt like I had just won the lottery.”
When the defense took the field for the first series, Tetterton had another issue to deal with beyond just nervousness.
“I had a couple concussions over the years, and in camp I had my bell rung a bit, so the day before the game they gave me a new mouthpiece. It didn’t fit right, and actually caused a gag reflex when I put it in. So I ran out onto the field and suddenly started gagging. I can’t hear anything (Tetterton is deaf in one ear) because of the crowd noise but I see these massive guys that Wisconsin has and they’re all staring and laughing at me. These guys where huge, all like 6’5″ 330, and me I’m barely six feet and around 300. I got into a ball of rage while I was dry heaving from the mouthpiece crouched down because I knew they were staring at me, they probably thought I was so green and dry-heaving like I was going to puke on the field before the first play. On the first snap as soon as the ball was hiked I immediately punched the guard right in the throat. From then on I was ok, and he sure wasn’t laughing at me anymore, because that guy was so pissed off.”
Wisconsin took the ball first and tried the exact same gameplan that had worked the previous year, pounding away at Oregon’s defense between the tackles, this time with yet another Big-10 sprint champion in running back Anthony Davis, the replacement for the graduated Michael Bennett. However, this time Oregon’s defense was up to the task, filling the gaps giving zero lanes to run.
The Autzen crowd noise was also greatly affecting the Badgers. In the first half alone Wisconsin would have to use all three timeouts in the first quarter and suffer multiple false starts and broken plays due to miscommunication, resembling the keystone cops more than a football team as they stumbled over themselves.
“A big portion of that game plan was going all out to stop the run,” Tetterton remembers. “We had to stop the run, we knew that (cornerbacks) Steve (Smith) and Rashad (Bauman) were totally confident in what they could do, so we had to put 7-8 guys in the box and stop them from running on us all day. It was a real physical game, they were such big guys. In the Big-10 they play big-on-big and try to push around their weight, while we were more quick. The athleticism was night and day. We had bigger linebackers who were fast, (Dave) Moretti and (Wesly) Mallard, they weren’t expecting it because it’s not their style, so our athleticism really bothered them. I was like a little bowling ball consuming two guys, I was about six inches shorter than all of their lineman, and in football low man wins.”
Tetterton continued, “People don’t realize the crowd plays a huge role in the tempo. In the first quarter the crowd noise was amazing. I’m deaf in one ear and couldn’t hear anything, so they sure as hell couldn’t communicate. Everything we did on defense was hand-signals. Sorgi was trying to make their checks at the line and they couldn’t hear each other, it caused them a lot of confusion.”
While Wisconsin struggled to find any rhythm, Oregon had no problem moving the ball in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium. The Ducks first drive was all Keenan Howry, Joey Harrington zoning in on the talented wide receiver on play after play both catching the ball and even running a reverse, moving the ball down the field in big chunks.
However just like in the 2000 matchup, Oregon couldn’t finish in the redzone and had to settle for a field goal. But if the start had the makings of a repeat of the previous year’s game, things would sharply veer from the storyline.
On Wisconsin’s next possession, the Badgers came out throwing, recognizing that the Ducks’ front seven were stout against the run not permitting Anthony Davis any room to run. Sorgi had a great downfield threat in Lee Evans to throw to, but the Badgers couldn’t find a rhythm and had to punt. Gone was Ray Guy Award winner Kevin Stemke, and the replacement punter had nowhere near the talent of Stemke, shanking the kick setting up Oregon in good field position. But the opportunity would be squandered, as Mike Echols (the cornerback who had been suspended for the 2000 game) intercepted a Harrington pass.
The crowd was at full-throat as Wisconsin picked up nine yards on the first two plays setting up a 3rd & 1. Sorgi play-actioned and looked deep to throw, but Oregon defensive end Quinn Dorsey blasted Sorgi, dislodging the ball. The other defensive end Darrell Wright plucked it from the sky and sprinted down the field moving it near field goal range before eventually being brought down. It would not be the only time in the game that Sorgi and Dorsey met.
“Quinn was so talented,” said Tetterton, “he was so fast getting off the ball. We’d always run a stunt when he was in to try to free him up because he could get into the backfield so quickly.”
On the Ducks first play from scrimmage following the turnover they tried a trick play that had worked to perfection in the Holiday Bowl nine months earlier, but Wisconsin recognized it and covered Harrington running out of the backfield and Keenan Howry rather than throwing back to the QB had to run to pick up whatever yards he could.
It worked in the Holiday Bowl…
Not so much against Wisconsin…
The trick play may have gone awry, but it did not matter as on the next play Harrington threw a pass to tight end Justin Peelle for a 22 yard touchdown, as the Ducks jumped out quickly to a 10-0 lead.
Wisconsin continued to be completely inept on offense, and another quick 3-and-out set up Oregon to extend the lead further. Wide receiver Jason Willis got things rolling with a big gain on a fly sweep run.
The Ducks couldn’t move into scoring range however and gave the ball back to Wisconsin, but a Wesly Mallard sack on third down appeared to end Wisconsin’ drive. Backed up deep into their own territory, Wisconsin would have to punt out of their own endzone.
But a dumb error would occur on the punt, breathing life into a Wisconsin team that throughout the first quarter had looked completely lost. As Wisconsin’s punter stood at the goal line, Oregon freshman wide receiver Keith Allen rushed to block the kick. Allen got great penetration with a chance to get his hands up, but misjudged the contact point and fell directly into the punter garnering a 15-yard personal foul roughing the kicker penalty.
“Keith felt so bad about that,” said Jason Willis. “His hands were the wrong way, he could have easily blocked it but just didn’t judge it right. That for them was their 2nd chance, and they took advantage. Wisconsin really woke up after that penalty.”
Wisconsin, feeling energized by the roughing the kicker penalty, drove the length of the field, doing so through the air with multiple long passes to receivers Lee Evans and Nick Davis. The line was still holding strong against the run, but for the first time Sorgi was connecting with his receivers, the Badgers choosing to abandon their traditional Big-10 attack and go airborne to gash the Oregon secondary.
The drive was capped with a touchdown pass to Nick Davis, and just like that with one penalty it had gone from a 10-0 lead and getting the ball at midfield to now a 3-point game with momentum squarely on Wisconsin’s side. Oregon suddenly looked skittish on offense, as the Wisconsin defense took control of the line of scrimmage led by big man Wendell Bryant collapsing the pocket. Surprisingly Oregon had only given the ball to running back Maurice Morris two times in the first half, choosing instead to attack with a heavy dose of receiver Keenan Howry as the primary battery, but waiting in the wings was a new weapon for the Ducks. Running back Onterrio Smith had transferred to Oregon in 2000 after a season at Tennessee, one of the most talented but troubled backs in the country, there was great anticipation when Smith might finally take the field allowing the ineffective Morris to rest. Smith’s carries late in the 2nd quarter were as inept as Morris’ as neither back could get past the line of scrimmage, and the ball was punted back to Wisconsin.
As time ticked down on the half, Wisconsin tried a page out of the Oregon playbook from the 2000 game, sending Lee Evans deep, beating cornerback Steve Smith for what would have been a long touchdown if Evans didn’t let the ball slip past his fingers.
It was eery how similar the game was progressing in the context of the previous matchup, the roles had been reversed. Wisconsin was now the team incapable of running and forced to attack through deep passes but suffering heartbreaking drops, while Oregon dictating the pace of the game controlling the line of scrimmage on defense.
Right before the half, fans got their first glimpse of the talent Onterrio Smith had when he broke free for an 11 yard run, but time expired before the Ducks could put some points on the board.
Smith’s introduction to fans was just the start of things to come. At halftime, Oregon led Wisconsin 10-7.
Just as had occurred in the 2000 game, it was the third quarter when Wisconsin finally flexed their muscles in the run game. It started with a 30 yard scamper by Anthony Davis early in the 3rd, setting up Wisconsin in field goal range.
The drive would be finished off with a 13-yard touchdown pass, giving Wisconsin their first lead of the game 14-10, as everyone was experiencing flashbacks to the previous year with this de ja vu storyline playing out in Oregon’s house.
As former Oregon quarterback turned broadcaster Dan Fouts joined Keith Jackson in the booth, the Ducks put together a lengthy drive, their best of the day, as Fouts unabashedly cheered them on. Fouts was a part of the ABC Monday Night Football team, but the sequence became an interesting preview as starting in 2002 Fouts would join Jackson as his broadcasting partner for the remainder of Jackson’s career until his retirement.
The Ducks marched down the field with strong throws by Harrington dispersing the ball to his talented wide receiver group. As Jackson and Fouts exchanged banter while promoting the upcoming Monday Night Football game to the national television audience, Harrington capped the long drive with a beautiful throwback pass to tight end Justin Peelle for a touchdown, giving the Ducks the lead 17-14.
Again the game would evolve eerily similar to the previous affair. In 2000 just when the Ducks had struck back to take the lead, Wisconsin’s run game came back with a back-breaking long touchdown run. This time it was Anthony Davis, who on the first play from scrimmage found a seam through the heart of the line and sprinted for a 69 yard touchdown.
Oregon had an answer though, their newest weapon Onterrio Smith. With Maurice Morris taking a breather, the ball-carrying duties fell to Smith and he took full advantage, picking up 52-yards on one run setting up the Ducks inside the 10 yard line.
The drive was quickly finished off with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Harrington to Morris, as the Ducks refused to back down following a Wisconsin strike like they had the year before.
Leading 24-21, Oregon’s defense held their ground as Wisconsin threatened to get into scoring range once more. As the final seconds ticked down in the third quarter, Oregon forced Wisconsin into a long field goal attempt. In 2000 Wisconsin had arguably the best pairing of kicker and punter in the nation, but both had graduated and their replacements lacked the legs of their predecessors. Oregon freshman defensive lineman Igor Olshansky got a great push in the middle and got one of his enormous paws up blocking the ball, which was then grabbed in the air by David Moretti and returned for a good gain before being forced out of bounds.
“I used to get blinded with excitement, even if I wasn’t in for the play,” said Tetterton. “Especially if it was somebody on the D-line that made the play, it was almost like I made the play too, it was my brother, a fellow D-lineman. That was awesome seeing Igor block the kick.”
Oregon did not take advantage of the favorable turn of events. On the next possession Joey Harrington threw a pass directly to Wisconsin cornerback Scott Starks, now wearing the #2 jersey that Jamar Fletcher had adorned the year before when picking off Joey three times.
What at first seemed impossible now came easy for the Badgers, a team too talented to be kept down forever. Sorgi was torching the Ducks, targeting his favorite receiver Lee Evans for big gains. The Sorgi-to-Evans combo connected again shortly after the turnover, this time for a 48 yard gain to the goal line that set up a touchdown, giving the lead back to the Badgers 28-24.
Time ticked down in the 4th quarter when Oregon got the ball back, still down 4 points. Oregon fans had seen this before, Oregon players had seen this before, it was time for the Ducks to display that 4th quarter magic that had become their trademark. But the Badgers had seen this before, and successfully stopped Oregon, the rare stumble in an otherwise now legendary career for Harrington of late 4th quarter comebacks.
The Ducks got things rolling with a big pass to Jason Willis for a 23 yard gain.
“I was out there to prove a point,” said Willis. “I knew I was going up against one of the top corners in (Mike) Echols. We wanted to open the season with a win so badly, to set the tone for the rest of the year, and make amends for the loss the year before. We were at home, we were more comfortable, our confidence was so high at home we knew what we were doing even when we were down. By then we had earned that mindset that we didn’t have in 2000, more of a killer instinct that no matter what if it’s close in the 4th quarter nobody can beat us.”
Harrington immediately came out firing once more, connecting with tight end Justin Peelle for a 25 yard gain, as everyone in attendance and watching on television could sense the moment when Joey Heisman lived up to his earned moniker.
An Onterrio Smith run moved Oregon inside the 20, with Wisconsin’s defense reeling seemingly unable to stop the Ducks no matter what they did. But the Ducks had moved the ball downfield too quickly, with five minutes still left on the clock if they scored there was plenty of time for Wisconsin to come back. Three runs set up a 4th & inches at the 1-yard line. A field goal did them no good, down 4 points Oregon had to have the touchdown. All or nothing, Oregon chose to keep it in the hands of their leader, as Harrington leaped over the line diving into the endzone for a touchdown, reaching into skyward in celebration while on his back, a true Heisman moment.
So much was on the line. A mere inch separated the difference between Oregon’s hope of a national championship and defeat. The demons remaining from the tragedy and heartbreak of the 2000 failure were clearly exorcised in shining moment…but unlike all of Oregon’s previous last-minute comebacks, there was still time on the clock. Captain Comeback had been known for leading drives in the final minute, but with four minutes remaining on the clock it was up to the Oregon defense this time to come through in the clutch.
“After we scored a lot of the guys were laughing and talking like we got this, but Joey roamed the sideline reminding us that there was a lot of time still left on the clock,” said Willis. “We told the defensive guys it was in their hands now, we knew they would come through because they had played tough all game.”
“At that time they were throwing the ball pretty well on us and making headway, so we knew we had to play in our gaps and play smart, not give up any cheap stuff,” said Tetterton. “Just don’t let them get the first down, 3-and-out was all we were thinking about. Because of my size I wasn’t the best pass rusher so Igor went in. It felt like an eternity still on the clock, but if they drove and scored we were screwed.”
The defense wouldn’t have to wait for the third down, as on the second play from scrimmage Quinn Dorsey shook his blocker and chased down Jim Sorgi from behind knocking the ball loose, with linebacker Kevin Mitchell picking up the loose fumble.
Oregon could now burn away the clock sealing the game, but of course the Ducks never liked to make it easy. Wisconsin stuffed two run plays, then inexplicably Oregon threw the ball, the pass falling incomplete stopping the clock saving Wisconsin precious seconds. Wisconsin would get the ball back once more, this time with two minutes still left on the clock. The Oregon defense twice would have to come up with big stops to preserve the victory.
“As an offense, we really didn’t do our part killing the clock, but we had confidence in the defense to hold their own,” said Willis.
Wisconsin wasted no time in making it another gut-wrenching last second game, as Sorgi bought time with his feet before finding his reliable target Lee Evans who shook a tackler and picked up big yards on a 36 yard catch-and-run bringing the ball to midfield.
But again the Oregon defense stiffened. The Oregon pass rush got into Sorgi face on the first two downs forcing incompletions. On third down Sorgi tested the Ducks deep, throwing to Evans in man coverage, but cornerback Rashad Bauman made a terrific play leaping to barely knock the ball away at the last second.
This set up 4th & 10, now it was Wisconsin’s turn to play the role of the underdog trying to make a last minute comeback. A year prior the roles were reversed, the Ducks having to convert on a long 4th down against the Badger defense to keep their hopes alive for a big season. In that drive it had been dropped passes by Tucker and Willis that had dashed Oregon’s chances, and in a cruel but perhaps appropriate twist of fate it was a Wisconsin receiver making the fatal error that cost the game. Sorgi dropped back and fired a dart to wide receiver Nick Davis well beyond the first down marker, but Davis took his eyes off the ball to see where the hit would be coming from just as Willis had the year before, and let the ball bounce off his hands. The ball hit the ground incomplete, and the celebration began.
A quick kneel down and the party had begun, fans stormed the field to celebrate with their Ducks, while Wisconsin players walked away pondering the what-ifs of their self-inflicted wounds that had cost them the game. Everything Oregon had done wrong in 2000 was committed by Wisconsin. They were two separate games, yet in many ways it was the identical story, the home team personifying poise under pressure while the visitors cracked under the strain.
For the Badgers, the season would turn worse. Wisconsin would drop the following week’s game at home to Fresno State, and an embarrassing loss at home being blown out by Indiana 63-32 personified Wisconsin’s slide from conference elite back to mid-tier status. The Badgers finished the season 5-7 with a loss to Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyon’s Axe, leaving them ineligible for a bowl game.
Oregon meanwhile soared to heights only imagined previously. Despite a stunning upset loss to Stanford at home that ended Oregon’s home winning streak, which for one week was the longest in the nation, the Ducks achieved their goal of a Pac-10 title through the leadership of Harrington and the first thousand yard rushing tandem in the history of the school, Morris and Smith. Through a fluke in the BCS system the Ducks would be held out of the national championship game in favor of a Nebraska team that finished third in their own conference, which prevented Oregon from playing in the Rose Bowl game that they had coveted so dearly. Instead the season ended with a high note, stomping Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing the year ranked #2 in all of the polls. Despite the slight disappointment in not getting a shot at the national title, it remains to this day Oregon’s only BCS victory and arguably greatest achievement, a season forever remembered more for its ending, but propelled by its beginning exorcising the demons that had haunted the team in their first matchup against the Badgers of Wisconsin.
Now ten years later, the two programs get to relive the memories of the epic battles that played out on the turf of Camp Randall and Autzen in 2000 and 2001 as preparations commence for the final deciding game…who will win the 2012 Rose Bowl. For the Oregon players who worked so hard for the chance to play in a Rose Bowl game, only to have that hope dashed by Wisconsin in 2000 and snubbed by BCS computers in 2001, it seems fitting to hope that Oregon can come away with a Rose Bowl victory come January 2nd, 2012, earning the rings that the team from a decade prior had fought so hard to earn and did so much to build the foundation for the current team’s success.
Chris Tetterton walked on at Oregon as a local Eugene native, and worked his way into the starting lineup by his senior year of 2001. After the 2001 season and receiving his degree, Tetterton moved to California to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Known as a gearhead in college who rebuilt a car and would earn money on the side fixing teammate’s vehicles, he now works on special FX in Hollywood, currently designing and operating pneumatic obstacles for the ABC TV show Wipe Out. Chris Tetterton still gets to hit people, only now he does it through his mechanical knowledge and pressing buttons rather than in the trenches of a football field.
Some of Chris Tetterton’s handiwork:
Jason Willis continues to play professional football. After his time in Eugene Willis joined the Seattle Seahawks and the Miami Dolphins before proceeding to the Arena Football League. Next season Willis will be playing for the San Antonio Talons, while he aspires to someday return to the NFL.