Joey Heisman

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October 8, 2001
Joey Heisman

Watch out, David Carr; Oregon’s Joey Harrington is quickly moving up the senior quarterback class after his performance this past Saturday against Arizona.

Harrington threw for three touchdowns and ran for three more, pacing a 63-28 whipping of the Wildcats. He threw for 279 yards while completing 63% of his 24 passes — all in just three quarters of action. The win gave Oregon its first 5-0 start since 1998 and has them ranked fifth overall in the nation. This weekend, the team will try for its first 6-0 start since 1964.

That’s likely to happen, too, because Harrington is on some kind of roll. In his past two starts (Arizona and USC), Harrington has rolled up 9 total touchdowns while completing nearly 70% of his passes (32 of 48).

The rangy, athletic Harrington (whose nickname is "Joey Heisman," coined to coincide with the Ducks’ Heisman campaign, which includes a gigantic billboard in the middle of Times Square) has drawn favorable comparisons to Bronco Brian Griese. Both are gutty, smart performers who take what the defense gives them, have their heads on a swivel during play, and can beat you through the air or on the ground. Of course, Harrington’s not in Griese’s class just yet. He can look ordinary at times, primarily because his mechanics are still very suspect.

But Saturday, Harrington looked poised and fluid. His passes were near-perfect, and even those that hit the turf were thrown to places only his receivers could reach. In fact, his lone interception deflected off its intended target. He’s in the zone right now, and zipping up the 2002 draft board. It’s likely that if the draft were held today, he’d be the first quarterback taken, regardless of what underclassmen declared. That’s because Harrington has that certain something scouts look for in a quarterback, beyond the physical, beyond the numbers. In short, Joey Harrington is a difference maker.

Exuding confidence, Harrington’s the guy you want on the field when the game matters most right now. He’s led Oregon to seven come from behind victories in his career, is undefeated in the postseason and is now 21-2 when playing the majority of minutes at quarterback. The Ducks have rallied around Harrington, too, proving he’s an adept leader on the field. At this point, the team would likely follow him anywhere. And he seems content to lead them to W’s.

Best of all, Harrington is learning his trade in the nation’s best conference, the Pac-10, which has four teams ranked in the top 25 and five overall that are undefeated. California, who the Ducks draw this week, is not among that illustrious group, but Stanford (3-0), Washington State (5-0) and UCLA (4-0) are, and all three appear on Oregon’s schedule in the final six weeks, not to mention their annual match-up with Oregon State. Last year, the Beavers rattled Harrington and forced five interceptions, denying him and his Ducks a trip to the Rose Bowl. It looks, however, like Harrington has put that setback behind him.

This year’s Rose Bowl is the site of the 2001 National Championship game, and if Harrington wants to be a part of it, he’ll have to show his early season success is part of his maturation as a quarterback — he’ll certainly be tested from here on out. By season’s end, we’ll have a good idea if Harrington has enough of that certain something to be a factor in the Texans’ plans.

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