The desert has been an inhospitable place for the Ducks

EUGENE — The desert has been inhospitable to the Ducks in recent years. In Oregon's past two trips to Tucson, the team lost its starting quarterback to injury. And in 2007, the Ducks lost more than that.

Oregon again visits Arizona this Saturday with both teams playing for a Rose Bowl berth. The 11th-ranked Ducks (8-2, 6-1 Pac-10) sit atop the league standings, and can visit Pasadena in the new year if they win out.

The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) are on Oregon's heels, along with Oregon State and Stanford, and could earn a trip to their first-ever Rose Bowl by winning their final three games.

The stakes were even higher for Oregon two seasons ago: The Ducks were ranked No. 2 and had set their sights on a national championship. Dennis Dixon, the versatile quarterback in Oregon's innovative spread-option offense, was a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

Dixon had a 39-yard touchdown run on the Ducks' first possession against the Wildcats, but a short time later he was making a cut and his left knee buckled. Oregon went on to lose 34-24 and Dixon went on to have season-ending surgery.

Gone were the hopes for a national title and a Heisman.

"That was a tough one," Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl said this week. "Losing Dennis after he scored. We just couldn't do anything on offense and it was really frustrating. It was heartbreaking to lose like that especially when we were No. 2 in the nation."

Two years earlier the Ducks beat the Wildcats 28-21, but quarterback Kellen Clemens' left ankle broke when he was sacked by Arizona's Copeland Bryan in the third quarter. Clemens, who missed the rest of the season, was closing in on Bill Musgrave as Oregon's career passing leader.

Safety T.J. Ward said the Ducks weren't buying into a Tucson cruse.

"We're not going to let what happened in the past affect how we play this week. We know what's at stake," Ward said. "We got two more games and if we win these, we go to the Rose. So it is what it is — win out."

When Dixon went to Tucson, he had thrown 20 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He had run for TDs in Oregon's first eight games. Running back Jonathan Stewart averaged 126.9 yards a game going into the game.

This season, Oregon has another dual-threat QB in junior Jeremiah Masoli, who has thrown for 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He has run for nine more scores.

And the Ducks have redshirt freshman running back LaMichael James, who has overperformed as LeGarrette Blount's replacement. James has 1,193 yards rushing this season, a record for an Oregon freshman. He's run for 11 TDS.

Masoli threw for a career-high 298 yards, passed for two touchdowns and ran for three more in a 55-45 win over the Wildcats last season at Autzen Stadium.

Arizona had closed to within 48-45 midway through the fourth quarter, but Blount sealed it for the Ducks with a 40-yard run.

Blount, who ran for 1,002 yards last season, was suspended after Oregon's loss in the opener for punching a Boise State player. He was reinstated last week after meeting certain conditions set by coach Chip Kelly, but did not play in Oregon's 44-21 win over Arizona State this past Saturday.

It's uncertain whether he'll play in Tucson.

Maehl said Oregon can use its past in the desert — rather than fear it.

"Anytime you lose to someone like that in that type of situation you want revenge, you know, payback," Maehl said. "But we're just focusing on what we need to do to get a win."

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