Dust, wind concern for Sun Bowl

Coaches and players are preparing to play in a windy, dusty environment tomorrow for the Sun Bowl. Plus, find out who will be the Ducks' starting quarterback against the Gophers.

Oregon is accustomed to dealing with rain storms, not dust storms.

The Ducks say they will adjust while in El Paso for the Sun Bowl to play Minnesota on Dec. 31.

Oregon arrived for its first day of practice with dust obscuring the sun and 20-to-30 mph winds blowing dirt everywhere.

"We might as well get used to it," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti told the Eugene Register-Guard. "I understand it might be windy for the game. The more we can practice in it rather than be surprised on game day, the better chance we have to adjust our game plan."

The ball was moving around so much that reliable placekicker Jared Siegel's attempts were blowing well off line. Punter Paul Martinez had to adjust his release point.

If the wind blows on game day, that could very well go against the pass-oriented Ducks and in favor of the running team from Minnesota.

Oregon is averaging 242 yards per game passing with Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife combining efforts. The Gophers muscle their way to 293 rushing yards per game, the third-best mark nationally.

If the Gophers are running the ball effectively against Oregon's 12th-rated rush defense, then Minnesota won't have to worry about the ball being effected by which direction the wind is blowing.

The Ducks say they are prepared.

"Our attention to detail right after finals was awesome," Bellotti said. "I thought we got a lot of great work done and had a great attitude."

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Ducks appear set to win or lose with quarterback Kellen Clemens. After sharing the duties with Jason Fife much of the year, Clemens appears to be "the man" for the Sun Bowl. Fife is listed as the team's fourth receiver for the game. Clemens has completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,037 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Fife has thrown for 866 yards and thrown six touchdowns while offering a bigger running threat.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE; The Ducks are 12th nationally in rush defense, allowing 95.92 yards per game — a key figure when facing a Minnesota team that averages 293 yards on the ground and scored 42 rushing touchdowns in the regular season. Oregon held six of 12 opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. Michigan had minus-3 yards in a 31-27 Oregon victory.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is a business trip. We're going to enjoy ourselves, but at the same time, we have a mission to finish our season the right way." — Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon vs. Minnesota, Wednesday, Dec. 31, Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas — Games are said to be won in the trenches. That cliche could be true in this case with Minnesota hoping to use its power to get past Oregon, while the Ducks hope to utilize speed to fly around the field.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Kellen Clemens — Solidified himself as the starting quarterback late in the season, leading a fourth-quarter comeback against Cal and then directing wins over UCLA and Oregon State. He has six touchdown passes and only one interception in his last nine quarters.

Linebacker Kevin Mitchell — Voted the team's most outstanding player, Mitchell is a superb sideline-to-sideline linebacker who made a team-high 103 tackles.

INJURY IMPACT: Looking ahead to next season, the Ducks will bring back two key players who missed all (or nearly all) of the season. WR Keith Allen, who suffered a torn ACL in fall camp, will help fill the void left by Samie Parker. DT Haloti Ngata, who suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the opener against Mississippi State, will be back to help anchor the defensive line. ... The Ducks played all season without starting senior guard Joey Forster, who suffered an ACL injury in camp.

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