Jonathan Stewart came into the 2007 season with high expectations, and he would deliver with a record setting season at Oregon. Earlier in his career at Oregon, the running back showed unbelievable flashes of previously unparalleled potential, but was often hindered by injuries. In 2006 was when Stewart really got things going. He started 12 games, was named 2nd team all Pac-10, finished with just under 1,000 yards rushing and 1,771 all purpose yards. The next season, Chip Kelly had arrived as Offensive Coordinator and quickly built an offensive attack that carried the Ducks to one of the most exciting and productive seasons in Oregon history.
Stewart was one of the highest rated recruits in Duck history. The Fort Lewis, Washington native possessed a rare combination of size and speed. At 5’10 and 235 pounds, Stewart was almost impossible to tackle one on one. He could run away from defenses with 4.38 40 speed. His strength in the weight room was also legendary, with a 410 pound bench press and a 402 pound power clean, which was second only to Haloti Ngata’s 407 pound lift.
In 2007, Dennis Dixon had emerged as a true dual threat and a master of play action fakes. So good in fact, even the TV camera operators would frequently struggle to follow the player who was carrying the ball.
Lacking a consistent passing attack had limited the Ducks in previous seasons. Opponents would simply load the box to stop the run, and take their chances with Dixon or Brady Leaf throwing. Not a bad idea as early on, Dixon had struggled with accuracy often missing low, was unsettled in the pocket, and seemingly took off and ran (out of bounds) at the first sign of pressure. This season would be different.
The offensive line had become a real strength with players such as Geoff Schwartz, Jeff Kendall, and Max Unger. This group gave Dixon ample time to make his reads, and cleared the way for a record breaking rushing attack.
The Ducks hosted Houston for the season opener. The Cougars were able to swarm Stewart, limiting him to just 67 yards on 14 carries. The other Ducks in the backfield that day would more than compensate, with Jeremiah Johnson rushing for 70 yards and 2 scores. Dixon set a then Oregon QB record, rushing for 141 yards including a 80 yard TD burst down the sidelines. In what was a hard fought game that was close well into the 3rd quarter, the Ducks would ultimately prevail 48-27. Not wanting the players to have all of the fun, the Duck mascot even got into the action, pummeling the Houston Cougar into the Autzen turf.
Most Duck fans had the next game circled since 2003, when the Wolverines had come to lose at Autzen. Oregon would travel to Ann Arbor Michigan to take on the Maize and Blue in the Big House. Michigan had lost the previous week in the infamous Appalachian State gaff, and Michigan was looking to bounce back against the Ducks. This game would prove to be joyously one sided.
The 39-7 win was Michigan’s worst loss since 1968. This game was an early sign of things to come for the new Duck offense. Stewart rambled over, around, and through the ‘winged helmets’ defense for 111 yards on just 15 Carries. With the Michigan on its heels, the Ducks got creative. Stewart had one of the better runs of that season on a Statue of liberty play, where he hurdled over and ran through defenders, breaking several tackles.
The fake Statue of liberty play worked pretty well too.
The Michigan game gave Stewart and the team some rhythm and swagger. The Ducks cruised past the next two opponents by a combined 107-52. Against Fresno State and Stanford, Jonathan Stewart rushed for a combined 325 yards and 3 touchdowns on 36 carries, a 9.02 per carry average. In the Fresno State game, Stewart had a spectacular 88 yard run.
Just as it almost seemed the Ducks couldn’t be stopped, the #6 Cal Bears and College Gameday came to town. While Stewart had a solid day with 120 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, the Ducks turned the ball over and got behind early, and their come back effort came up a few feet short. With Oregon driving, Cameron Colvin’s fumble near the goal line somehow rolled out of the end zone instead of out of bounds. Cal hung on for a 31-24 win. The game remains the Ducks only loss in Autzen on the ever popular ESPN weekly showcase.
The next week the Ducks pounded Washington State in a route 53-7. While the final score was nice to look at, the Ducks depth suffered as WR Cameron Colvin and RB Jeremiah Johnson were lost to season ending knee injuries. Stewart was held to just 66 yards on 13 carries in the game. Injuries would plague this team in 2007, and ultimately derail one of the best teams in Oregon history from reaching some otherwise obtainable goals for that season. Jeremiah Johnson had emerged as a big play running back with that vicious stiff arm, and quick feet.
Cameron Colvin was finally starting to show the promise that made him such a highly touted recruit. Johnson would recover and go on to have a great season in 2008, but that would be the last time Cameron Colvin wore an Oregon uniform.
The next week, the Ducks would roll the Washington Huskies in record setting fashion. Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart pummeled the Dawgs in Seattle 55-34, amassing 465 rushing yards. Stewart had an amazing 251 yards and 2 touchdowns on the day when the Fox Sports camera crew could rarely tell who had the ball, let alone the Huskies defense. A victory over the hated Huskies is always good, but to do so in such dominating fashion on the road was that much better. At the time, the 251 yards Stewart compiled were second only to Onterrio Smith’s 285 yard explosion at Washington State in the Oregon record books.
#9 USC came into Autzen the next week in a game between top 10 teams. Stewart would go for 103 yards on 25 carries and scored 2 TD’s. Oregon jumped out to a 10-3 halftime lead an hung on for the win 24-17, with Matthew Harper’s late interception of Mark Sanchez sealing the victory. The mighty Trojans had started the Season ranked #1. The victory moved Oregon up to #4 just in time for another showdown at Autzen.
Next up was #6 ASU and again ESPN College Gameday would make the trip. This time the Ducks were able to make the most of it. Stewart carried 21 times for 99 yards and 1 TD. Late in that game, Heisman front runner Dennis Dixon was tackled and fell awkwardly to the turf clutching his knee. The 59,379 fans in Autzen collectively gasped. Then, Dixon popped up as if nothing was wrong, and trotted off the field. The Ducks went on to win 35-23, but Dixon’s knee wasn’t OK and neither were the Ducks.
Twelve days later, Dixon returned on the field for the #2 Ducks in Tucson. Dixon sprinted 39 yards for a score against Arizona on the first possession. Duck fans were overjoyed to see the seemingly healthy QB back on the field. Just a few plays later, he would go down- without contact- revealing a season ending torn ACL. With Dixon going down, his chances of winning the Heisman and the Ducks chances of winning a BCS title sadly went with it. The team had lost such a big key to it’s success to that point, and the Ducks couldn’t respond losing 34-24 that terrible night in Tucson.
The next 2 games the depleted Ducks scrambled to score points without Dixon and finished the season on a 3 game slide, including a painful day at UCLA and the last Oregon loss in the Civil War.
Opposing Defenses could key almost entirely on Jonathan Stewart and the running game. Despite that, he still managed 327 yards on 80 carries over that span. Stewart would not find the end zone again until the Sun Bowl against the Bulls of South Florida, who also had been ranked as high as #2 in the nation earlier in the season.
The Ducks had a horrendous display in their bowl game the previous year against BYU. How would this team respond without it’s quarterback, and so many other key players? Turns out, they would respond very well behind another colossal game from Stewart. Safe to say the Bulls were not ready for Mr Stewart and the Ducks that day.
The Oregon offense that had looked so flat and had a revolving door at the quarterback position over the last 2 3/4 games showed some explosiveness again. The Ducks took advantage of the time before the Bowl game to prepare freshman Justin Roper to play at quarterback. Thrust into the starting role, Roper played well. He threw 4 touchdown passes and managed the game efficiently as he led the Ducks to a 56-21 win.
Of course, experts will tell you that it is easier to play quarterback if you have success running the football. The Ducks had it and then some on that day. Stewart exploded for 253 yards on 23 carries (11 yards per carry), caught 2 passes for 29 yards and had 2 touchdowns on the day. Stewart was named the Sun Bowl MVP and his 253 rushing yards, a Sun Bowl record. This was a career day for Stewart, surpassing his 251 yards against the Huskies earlier in the season.
The Sun Bowl would be the final game for him as a Duck, 2007 the encore performance of an amazing career. He would go on be selected as the 13th overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers. His first season, he set the Panthers rookie rushing record, and remains the starter and key contributer for the team this season.
Stewart finished the 2007 season near or at the very top of the U of O record books in many categories:
*Stats as of 2010
Most Rushing Yards in a Game
- Onterrio Smith- 26 carries 285 yards ’01
- LaMichael James- 31 carries 257 yards ’10
- Jonathan Stewart- 23 carries 253 yards ’07
- Jonathan Stewart- 32 carries 251 yards ’07
- Bobby Moore- 27 carries 249 yards ’71
Most Rushing Yards in a Season
- LaMichael James- 1,731 yards 5.89 yards/carry 144.2 yards/game ’10
- Jonathan Stewart- 1,722 yards 6.15 yards/carry 132.5 yards/game ’07
- LaMichael James- 1,546 yards 6.72 yards/carry 118.9 yards/game ’09
- Saladin McCullough- 1,343 yards 5.03 yards/carry 111.9 yards/game ’97
- Reuben Droughns- 1,234 yards 4.45 yards/carry 112.2 yards/game ’99
Most All Purpose Yards in a Season
- Jonathan Stewart- 2,484 yards ’07
- Saladin McCullough- 1,944 yards ’97
- LaMichael James- 1,937 yards ’10
- Ricky Whittle- 1,935 yards ’95
- Patrick Johnson- 1,831 ’97
Career Rushing Yards
- Derek Loville- 3,296
- Lamichael James- 3,277
- Jonathan Stewart- 2,891
- Terrence Whitehead- 2,832
- Sean Burwell- 2,758
Career All-Purpose Yards
- Derek Loville- 5,223
- Sean Burwell- 4,972
- Jonathan Stewart- 4,889
- Ricky Whittle- 4,488
- Terrence Whitehead- 4,335
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo from Bob Wilson