Harper becomes latest Oregon QB to step up

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A month ago, the prospect of Chris Harper leading Oregon on a game-winning touchdown drive seemed remote, if not totally off the radar.

Nate Costa had been tabbed the team's next superstar quarterback after coming off a knee injury last fall. The Ducks also had Justin Roper, the 2007 Sun Bowl hero who was more than capable of carrying the load.

Harper seemed destined for clipboard duty and the occasional appearance in custom packages or during mop-up time.

But there he was Saturday, piloting Oregon's offense in the second overtime against Purdue. Despite the setting and the situation, Harper never flinched and the 16th-ranked Ducks prevailed.

"Justin was prepared last year, he came through in the bowl game," Harper said. "All of us have got to be prepared. I was ready to play, I did what I did in practice and we got in the end zone."

After taking a 5-yard loss on the first play, Harper rebounded with an 8-yard run to the Purdue 2-yard line that set up LeGarrette Blount's winning plunge. The 6-3, 230-pound freshman never got nervous, despite his first road game.

"I like playing on the road," Harper said. "I like the fans talking all that stuff. It kind of gets you fired up."

Harper will need to keep his poise next week against Boise State. Roper is expected to miss 2-4 weeks after spraining his left knee in the first overtime Saturday.

The Ducks will go with Harper and sophomore Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback, with freshman Darron Thomas as an emergency option.

"He said after last week the game started to slow down a little bit," coach Mike Bellotti said of Harper. "I'm sure again, it's going to slow down even more now. That's a big-time pressure situation for a young man. He handled it extremely well. He had no problems whatsoever.

"Harp is one of the most dangerous guys on our team with the ball in his hands, so we want to create more opportunities for that."

Harper admitted he didn't think he would play a major role Saturday, but he never forgets what offensive coordinator Chip Kelly told him during spring practice.

"You've got to prepare like you're going to be the starter," Johnson said. "That's what me and Jeremiah both do and if something happens like it happened today, we're both ready to go in and help."