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Alonso Works His Way to Rose Bowl Hero

The Rose Bowl’s staid history has never seen an offensive explosion quite like the show put on by Oregon and Wisconsin: 83 combined points, a bowl record, 1,129 yards of total offense, one single yard shy of the bowl’s record, and little in the form of defense, minus three big moments from the Ducks over the game’s final 16 minutes. The Oregon defense? The offense did the heavy lifting, yes, but the defense stood tall when it counted. These defensive stands provided the tipping point, the moments that tip the balanced scales in the Ducks’ direction, and none stands taller than Kiko Alonso’s interception of a Russell Wilson pass in the third quarter.

Oregon’s been on the receiving end of a similarly game-altering turnover. Think back to September — the first Saturday of the season, actually — and recall how L.S.U. changed the momentum of a game that, through one quarter, had gone Oregon’s way.

De’Anthony Thomas, back to receive a punt deep in his own territory in his first game as a true freshman, had the ball stripped free by L.S.U.’s Tryann Mathieu. This was before Mathieu burst onto the national stage, if you recall. Mathieu then scooped up the loose ball and ran it three yards into the end zone to give L.S.U. a 9-6 lead. L.S.U. eventually won by 13 points.

Alonso’s play came later, with about a minute left in the third quarter, and was infinitely bigger. L.S.U. beats Oregon in September whether Mathieu strips Thomas or no; perhaps the game changes, meaning the Ducks hang around through the half — maybe through three quarters, even — before the Tigers pull away. Either way, the Tigers are pulling away.

Alonso’s interception changed the Rose Bowl. It put fresh life into an Oregon defense that grasped at straws for the better part of three quarters. It maintained Oregon’s three-point deficit: perhaps the Badgers push the lead to 10 should Alonso not make his play.

Basically, Alonso put Oregon in a place where it could win the Rose Bowl. The offense did the rest, scoring a touchdown right off the interception and adding a field goal later, but the interception turned an even game — one that could have gone either way — into one where Oregon dictated the tempo.

Alonso may not have been the Rose Bowl’s clear M.V.P. — Lavasier Tuinei saved the best game of his career for the right time, and Thomas, 12 games removed from that disaster against L.S.U., broke out in Heisman fashion. But his play decided the Rose Bowl; doesn’t that make him the M.V.P., in a way?

I’m not going to say it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player. Alonso’s mistakes have been entirely self-inflicted: he was suspended for all of the 2010 season for a D.U.I., for starters. And Alonso’s 2011 season was long in doubt for his offseason arrest on burglary charges. He was suspended from team activities over the summer, and his status was unknown into late August.

He worked his way out of Chip Kelly’s doghouse, which is no easy feat — ask LeGarrette Blount, or Cliff Harris. Then he worked his way back into defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti’s good graces, which was an only slightly easier achievement.

Alonso didn’t take the easy road to Rose Bowl hero, but that he fought and clawed his way back into Oregon’s mix stands in contrast to the long list of would-be college contributors who threw in the towel — or never learned their lesson — after encountering off-field speed bumps.

The irony is coming fast and furious. Oregon wins what one could call the biggest game in program history thanks to its defense. Wait, the defense? And the player who provided the tipping point was Kiko Alonso. Wait, Alonso? For one afternoon and early evening, everything was topsy-turvy.

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  1. BobJ says:

    It seemed like whenever the Ducks’ defense was making a big play it was Alonzo who was doing it. He had a whale of a game, this interception notwithstanding.

  2. DMK says:

    I could not be less touched by the Kiki feel-good story. Making a tackle is not redemption for felony burglary. The guy didn’t just toke what he wants or get liquored up: he’s plain old dirty thief. Low down.

  3. Eksynyt says:

    DMK is a Husky fan and a hater. Oregon is an elite program now that we have won the Rose Bowl…nothing else to say.

  4. DMK says:

    What’s a husky?

  5. Burnt Orange says:

    DMK is a Bama fan. Wouldn’t say he is a hater of anyone except maybe Auburn though he clearly does not care for S.Carolina. On Kiki, what is the big deal about a felony burglary ? After all, about a dozen LSU players dragged a guy from his vehicle and curb stomped him ( and a Marine who tried to help him ) half to death. Those players should have never played another down this season but that whole sorry episode seems forgotten.

  6. DMK says:

    Burnt Orange,

    Here’s the problem with the Kiki narrative: In a year where we’ve seen top-notch sportsmen do horrific, vile, unspeakable deeds off the field, it’s finally time that we decouple narratives of athletic/coaching prowess from anything having to do with general ethics or morals.

    The idea that working hard at ball games has anything to do with being/becoming a good person needs to be abandoned.

    Even worse is the offensive logic that a player can achieve “redemption” for a crime by leading a game-winning drive or coming up with a key pick. It was always a dumb thing to say, but after this year, even the lamest commentators should drop it.

    As for the LSU thugs, I agree they should have been tossed from the team. But that’s football!

    What got me going about KiKi was the post-game rhetoric about how he “overcame” and “persevered” and all that garbage. At least with J. Jefferson I’ve not yet heard on national TV how he “redeemed” his kicking in a guy’s skull by running a nifty speed option. Maybe we’ll hear it Monday …

    Maybe Sandusky will coach again and win a big game and then we can here how he’s made it all better.

  7. DMK says:


    I’m a South Carolina alumnus! All of us want to be in love with the Gamecocks, but they’ve done us oh so wrong so very many times …

  8. cordialduck says:

    Hard work on the field by a delinquent player does not redeem them of the crime; that’s for the court system to (hopefully) proscribe. Under Kelly, it’s well-documented that Kiko and other players with legal issues have much more to do than just play hard football to get out of the doghouse. And Kiko’s burglary charge did not stem from any “thievery.”

  9. DMK says:

    Great. When a player is on the field, we should talk about how he’s playing. I suppose I’ll tolerate a true feel-good story now and then. I have no interest in hearing how some thug struggled upwards and overcame by redemption because he did community service or ran laps after committing an idiotic crime.

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