BY Gerald Nicdao
EUGENE, Ore.—On the very first play of the game, Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson threw his hands up in disgust. Jackson had beaten the corner. He was going to beat the safety. But quarterback Nate Longshore threw his pass to tight end Cameron Morrah, who couldn’t make the catch because Longshore’s pass had sailed high. Jackson was probably thinking that he could have sent a message to the 59,273 fans at Autzen Stadium, who had last seen him in 2005 when he had a grand total of zero receptions and several drops. By the end of the game, the junior had delivered the message loud and clear. Jackson caught 11 balls for 161 yards and two touchdowns as he put his name back into the Heisman Trophy circle, lifting his Bears to a 31-24 victory. The 11 catches Jackson made was a career high. Ditto for the 161 yards. And those two touchdown grabs were his first two of the entire year.
Welcome back D-Jax.
“DJ is my MVP,” fellow wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins said. “I was talking about him all week in practice. We knew he was going to make the plays.” Before Saturday’s win, Jackson had been hampered by a sprained thumb. Longshore looked to other receivers as the starling was double and triple covered. And it looked like Jackson was trying to make up for his lack of production in the punt return game. After a 77-yard punt return against Tennessee, Jackson looked like he should not be returning punts. Jackson had just 19 yards on punt returns after he dazzled the Volunteers. Jackson started to look, dare I say it, like a normal human being. But Jackson always plays best on the biggest stages, and there was no stage bigger than playing at Autzen Stadium, with a chance to put an end to all doubts that Cal is a legitimate national title contender. He may not have done his usual thing on the punt returns—Oregon gave him no chance—but he finally found his stride in the passing game. His second touchdown—a 31-yarder—was signature Jackson.
The junior hung out on the sideline, where Longshore threw him a three-yard pass. It looked like Ducks corner Jairus Byrd was going to make the tackle. But Jackson put a little hitch on his run, enough to fake Byrd, and Jackson did the rest, blowing by Byrd and high-stepping into the end zone. “Today was one of those days when the defense played man coverage,” Jackson said. “They brought the safeties down and Nate Longshore did a good job finding me with the football.” Earlier in the week, Jackson sat down with former Heisman winner Desmond Howard as they taped a segment that was going to be shown on ESPN’s College GameDay the morning before the game. Howard, before the season started, predicted Jackson would win the Heisman Trophy. Jackson still has a long ways to go, and after an unusually unproductive first month of the season, has to do a lot to still be considered a legitimate favorite. A few more games like the one Saturday, and he may join Howard on that very exclusive list of non-quarterbacks and non-running backs to have won the Heisman. Plus, at this point in an already crazy college football season, who would you rather give the trophy to? Colt Brennan of Hawaii? Boston College’s Matt Ryan? That’s what I thought.