Oregon's Fife Gets The Attention, While Smith Quietly Plays Well

Sept. 2, 2002

By ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer

EUGENE, Ore. -- While all the attention was on new quarterback Jason Fife, Onterrio Smith quietly began his highly anticipated first season as the Ducks' starting tailback.

Smith, who was Oregon's leading rusher last season despite being the backup to Maurice Morris, gained 124 yards on 28 carries Saturday as the 15th-ranked Ducks defeated Mississippi State 36-13.

And he did it with a tight right hamstring.

'I wasn't my normal self,' the 5-foot-10, 204-pound junior said. 'I couldn't make cuts like I normally do.'

The 5-foot-10, 204-pound Smith transferred to Oregon after getting kicked off the Tennessee team. He gained 1,058 yards last season - nine more than Morris' total - and his 285-yard performance at Washington State broke Ahmad Rashad's single-game record.

Before this season started, Smith bragged of reaching the 2,000-yard mark.

'That's just something I feel like I can get accomplished with the offensive line that I have,' Smith said. 'It's not cockiness, it's just confidence.'

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said after Saturday's game that it wasn't just Smith's running that made him stand out.

'I think to be effective in this conference, and certainly to be effective in the month of November, you have to have a good running back. I think Onterrio is a great back, and we've said that all along,' Bellotti said. 'He's a durable back. He ran well, he blocked well.'

Smith was pleased with the way everyone played Saturday - himself included - even though the Ducks weren't up against Mississippi State's starting quarterback.

Kevin Fant was suspended for one game by the NCAA on Thursday after questions arose about a booster's involvement in Fant's purchase of tires for his vehicle.

So the Bulldogs started redshirt freshman Kyle York, who held up admirably in his college debut. York finished 18-for-37 for 192 yards and a touchdown, but he was unable to overcome Oregon's early lead.

Fife, making his debut at starter for departed Heisman finalist Joey Harrington, completed 14 of 26 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns.

'To be honest, he really shocked me,' Smith said about Fife. 'He played really well. Se made some big plays and showed a little bit of scramble.'

Smith was impressed at Oregon's complete performance, coming off a dream 11-1 season that included an outright Pac-10 title and a No. 2 final ranking.

Harrington even showed up to see how the Ducks would fare. He was rewarded with enthusiastic applause when he appeared on the sidelines before the game.

'I was real anxious to see how we'd react,' Smith said. 'I was actually surprised. We made them lay down in the first half.'

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