Friendship, Not Rivalry, Propels Oregon Running Game
Dec. 31, 2001
By LANDON HALL
AP Sports Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - The Oregon Ducks weren't sure how this situation wasgoing to work out. Tailbacks can be the jealous type, they knew that. Andhere they had two outstanding ones competing for carries.
Much to their delight, starter Maurice Morris and backup Onterrio Smith havegiven the second-ranked Ducks a 1-2 punch like they've never seen. That thetwo men became close friends along the way, instead of rivals, is even moresurprising.
'I think that their relationship has been a tremendous boon to this footballteam,' coach Mike Bellotti said. 'If you have superstars that are warring orat odds with each other, it affects the psyche of the team. If you havestars that get along and support each other, your team understands thatunity and chemistry are more important than talent.'
Smith has 1,007 yards entering Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl against No. 3 Colorado.Morris needs 40 yards to give Oregon its first pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
'I think I'm a great complement to Mo,' Smith said. 'With him coming in withhis style of running and me coming in with my style of running, we have thedefenses on their heels.'
Oregon showed what a force it can be on the ground against Washington State,on a rainy night in Pullman on Oct. 27. The Ducks were coming off a loss toStanford - their only defeat this season - and the Cougars were unbeaten,with the best run defense in the Pac-10.
Morris gained 138 yards before leaving with a left hamstring injury, butSmith became an instant star by running for 285 yards, breaking the30-year-old school record of 249 set by Ahmad Rashad, then known as BobbyMoore.
Smith was incredible in that game, and the following week Morris said thesophomore probably would become the greatest back to ever play in Eugene.Yet Morris, deeply respected by teammates for his work habits and toughness,remained the starter. Smith said he felt 'honored' to back him up.
Such is the admiration they have for each other. When one player comes offthe field, the other is the first to encourage him. After the WashingtonState game, Morris made off with a coach's game tape just to watch Smith'smoves over and over.
'He has the quickest feet that you're probably going to see,' Morris said.'His ability to make people miss is amazing. He definitely makes some peoplelook stupid.'
Smith's emergence has benefited Morris in other ways. As a junior last year,Morris had a school-record 286 carries for 1,188 yards, and his body beganto break down with rib and thumb injuries.
'Mo has had such a huge part in getting us here, I hope he realizes that,'quarterback Joey Harrington said. 'There were times last year when hecarried this team on his back.'
While Morris was grinding away, Smith could only practice. He had beenkicked off Tennessee's team after testing positive for marijuana, andtransferring forced him to sit out a year. Instead of marking time, Smithworked harder than ever on the scout team, impressing everybody with hisintensity.
'He came out every day saying, `I'm going to make you guys better today,''said offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. 'A lot of guys with his staturewould sit back and say, `I don't need to work hard on the scout team. I'm agreat player.' Not him. He came out every day to work, so he earned a lot ofrespect from the team right there.'
Some might have expected Morris to be threatened by his backup, but he andSmith hit it off immediately. 'We're real tight,' Morris said. 'I love himjust like a brother.'
Morris often would give Smith a ride to campus in the mornings, and bringhim breakfast. Smith drove sometimes, but never remembered to bring food.
'That's Mo right there,' Smith said. 'He'll give before he'll receive.'
They are vastly different people, in personality and the way they move onthe field: Morris is more powerful, and says few words. Smith has greatlateral quickness and talks up a storm. At Sunday's Fiesta Bowl media day,Smith sat in the bleachers, taking in the sun and doing several interviews,while Morris stayed nearly out of sight in the shadows of the top row.
'Mo is more quiet. When he gets on the field, he just does it,' said lefttackle Jim Adams. 'When Onterrio gets out there, we know he's there. Butthey're both talented, so whoever we have in, I don't think we can gowrong.'