Q&A: Oregon under the Microscope

5-2 California will host 6-2 Oregon this Saturday. One of these teams will take a step closer to first place in the Pac-10 with a victory. UO and Cal have been trying to dethrone USC's reign for a number of years. Cal Sports Digest got a chance to talk with John Hunt from The Oregonian about the direction of the Duck football program and the expectations they have for some of their underclassmen.

The Oregon Ducks have been a very successful team over the years and have always been one of the top teams in the Pac-10. What made Head Coach Mike Bellotti change from a pro-style offense to the spread given the success that the program already had?

Bellotti has said that he made the switch to the spread because there was so much familiarity within the Pac-10 that he needed to stay ahead of the opposition. Another possible reason – although Bellotti & Co. would never say this – is that they saw the spread as an offense that not only could be successful but also one that could attract a more exciting brand of athlete and be "cutting edge,'' to fit in with the program's mission.

Oregon has had a lot of bad luck at the quarterback position, starting with the injury to Dennis Dixon last season and the rash of injuries at the position this season. If the Ducks continue to use the spread, does Coach Bellotti feel like he needs to have two capable players at the position to prevent the team's chances of winning from decreasing if the number one quarterback goes down?

Yes, the Ducks always prepare three quarterbacks. But no matter how much you prepare the backups, there is a falloff. It was precipitous from Dixon last year. And it took the Ducks a while this season to recover from Nate Costa's injury in August. If Masoli should go down now, Roper could get the job done but, at a not-so-elusive 6-foot-6, Roper would be likely to get hurt again.

This is Jaison Williams last year, what players does Oregon have at the receiver position that have speed and the ability to be game changers over the next few seasons?

They are using Chris Harper, a true freshman brought in as a quarterback, at slot receiver, and he's doing very well – he's 230 pounds and very fast. Jamere Holland (redshirt sophomore), the transfer from USC, is by far the team's fastest player but doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the coaching staff. Along with Harper, the Ducks have impressive big freshman receivers in Dion Jordan and Garrett Embry. But no, there is nobody with the size and speed of Williams (but plenty with better hands).

There has not been a team in the conference that can be penciled in as being at worst the second best team in the Pac-10 year-in-and-year-out. What are Coach Bellotti's goals for this program? Does he want a national championship or at worst a BCS game?

Oh yeah, Bellotti wants the NC. He has been too close (2001, particularly) not to have that as a goal. He is, and has been for quite some time, tired of being not as good as USC. Unfortunately, as long as Pete Carroll is there and as long as Southern California is producing superior athletes, the Ducks can only realistically hope to be second best. But hey, that could still land them in the championship game sometime, theoretically.

The Ducks have a lot of seniors on defense. Has there been a lot of emphasis on that side of the ball during the recruiting process over the last few seasons that will prevent the Ducks from experiencing a drop off on the defensive side of the ball next season?

As long as Bellotti is coach, the recruiting emphasis will be on offense. The defense badly wanted Jeremiah Johnson to play defensive back, but he stayed on offense (even though he was in the same class as Jonathan Stewart). The Ducks do, though, have an impressive group of young linebackers that are physically better than their average backers of recent years, but it's a tough defense to learn. There is a lot of young talent in the secondary, too, with Talmadge Jackson, Anthony Gildon and Javes Lewis.

The series between Cal and Oregon has been very competitive over the years. This week's game will keep one of these teams tied for first place and at least in position to finish in second place in the Pac-10. What are the programs feelings about this rivalry?

It's an odd rivalry. For Oregon, the rivals are Oregon State and Washington. But the Cal rivalry was mainly brought on by all the Ducks moving to Berkeley, led by Jeff Tedford – even down to Jim Bartko, the right-hand man of Phil Knight who went to Berkeley only to return to Eugene when Knight had issues with the athletic department.

Cal has switched back and forth between quarterbacks Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore. Which quarterback concerns Oregon's defense the most?

Riley, because he has more mobility. The Ducks feast on stationary passers like Purdue's Curtis Painter and Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter. The defensive ends, Nick Reed and Will Tukuafu, are too good on the rush, and the defensive backs, although they have struggled at times this season, are too solid.

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