Ducks' Offensive Line Quietly Excels

Dec. 29, 2001

TEMPE, Ariz. - Some of Oregon's players call quarterback Joey Harrington 'the Princess,' because no one is allowed to touch him during practices.

The offensive line for the second-ranked Ducks has made sure no one harms the Heisman finalist on the field, either: Opponents sacked Harrington just 11 times in 11 games this season, the lowest number of any Pac-10 team. Stanford was second in the category with 23 sacks.

Yet when the conference's coaches picked the season's best players, no Oregon offensive lineman made the first or second teams. And when the Ducks play No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday, the group will be vastly overshadowed by the Buffaloes' linemen loaded with NFL potential.

Harrington, a stat freak, was quick to defend his line Saturday by noting that the unit has allowed the fewest sacks in the league four years running.

'Sure, there may be guys who are bigger and stronger around the conference, but nobody works better as a team,' said Harrington, whose team is staying - incidentally - at the Fairmont Princess Resort, on East Princess Drive in Scottsdale.

Oregon had to replace its starting center (Jeff Austin) and right tackle (Lee Gundy) from last year, and the line struggled to win its first four games. The breakthrough was a 63-28 win over Arizona in which the Ducks piled up 607 total yards. The pass protection was so strong that Harrington had one of the nation's best touchdown-to-interception ratios this season: 23 TDs and just five picks.

'I trust that I'm going to have the time,' Harrington said.

The line's run blocking has helped Oregon get within just a few yards of having two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history: Sophomore Onterrio Smith has 1,007 yards and senior Maurice Morris 960.

'To have those two runners run like they have, somebody is doing something right up front,' said Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.

The combination of running and passing, combined with Harrington's maturity, has made the Ducks' offense very efficient. The offense committed just 11 turnovers this season, and ranked 20th in the nation in total yardage at 434.4 per game.

'We haven't seen a team with the balance that they bring to the table,' said Colorado free safety Robbie Robinson.

Led by All-American Andre Gurode, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound guard, the Buffs are expected to pound the Ducks' smaller defensive front with run after run. Tackle Victor Rogers (6-7, 320), and All-American tight end Daniel Graham (6-3, 245) also are headed to the pros.

Oregon's group is a bunch of no-names. The last Oregon offensive lineman to make the all-conference first team was tackle Gary Zimmerman in 1983, but the current Ducks doesn't feel slighted.

'Those things are out of our hands. I believe the best we can do is control things that are in our hands, and that's keeping people off Joey,' said left tackle Jim Adams. 'I'd rather take home a win than personal honors.'

AP Sports Writer

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