Bellotti excited about series with Sooners

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti (pictured left) talks about the home-and-home season with Oklahoma and his expectations for his Ducks in 2004. The Sooners will play Oregon on Sept. 18 in Norman. Oregon finished the 2003 season at 8-5. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

NORMAN, Okla. — When OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione worked every angle possible and finally was able to get the Oregon Ducks on the schedule, he also put together a game that will feature two outstanding coaches. Coaching for Oklahoma is the best coach in college football, Bob Stoops, and for the Oregon Ducks Mike Bellotti, who is considered one of the top coaches in college football.

Both coaches love challenges and both love the fact that their respective teams will get a chance to play one another. Just how good or just what will Oregon bring to Norman this coming season? To find out we turn to Coach Bellotti, who is entering his ninth year with the Ducks and recently talked to for the Two Minute Drill.

JH: All Oklahoma fans were hoping that this game would be played, and finally after some tough negotiations between several schools this game is a reality. What are your thoughts on how it all went down?

MB: "I think the sticking point was with some of the other teams that were involved. It did take a lot of work and I think our administrators worked long and hard to put this thing together. Certainly, we are as excited as Oklahoma. I think it is a great challenge to be playing a National Champion game contender and a national runner-up in the nation last year. They are just a great football team and a great football program."

JH: Did your AD ask you if you really wanted to play Oklahoma or was this game thrown on you in any way?

MB: "He let me know initially when the talks began what we were trying to do. Obviously, we were excited to try to schedule a home-and-home with Oklahoma. There were some hurdles that we had to overcome, because we had a game already scheduled on that date with Nevada and we had to get them an equitable opponent for that date, and doing all those things were tough to do. We had to make sure that all the dates matched up and that we could work out all the angles.

"We talked as a staff and felt like if you want to be considered among the best you have to play and compete against the best. I know that Oklahoma, in some regards, needed this game more than we did, because they did not have a BCS opponent in their non-league schedule. So obviously, we filled that bill. You never know how these things go anyway. Bobby Stoops has done a tremendous job there and he had another tremendous recruiting class this year. Obviously, we have our work cut out for us."

JH: Oregon and Oklahoma have played in the past and those games weren't returned with games to Eugene. So you must feel pretty good that your program has come so far that OU will go with a home-and-home series?

MB: "I think in our four previous meetings none of them were in Eugene. It was not a return game and it was more of a money game at that time, and obviously then we were doing it for different reasons. I think now the fact that we can schedule them with a home-and-home basis is a positive pat on the back from where we have come from.

"We also have home-and-home series with Michigan, which we will conclude in a couple of years. We have had Michigan State, Wisconsin and we are going to have Purdue. Colorado is also scheduled in the future along with Oklahoma out of the Big 12. Certainly, we want to play the best out there and high profile teams. Bob Stoops called me and we talked about what it takes nowadays to stay on top of this thing and to be in the rankings with the BCS aspect of it. You have to play a good schedule, and there is no question about that."

JH: How far along are you with spring practice?

MB: "Our first day of pads was today. It is actually our third day of spring practice."

JH: How are they going so far and what are the keys for you during spring practice?

MB: "We have a young defense, but we return 9 of 11 starters on offense, so we will have a veteran team on offense, and have a quarterback that started 13 games for us. We love how he is developing, a young man named Kellen Clemens. We had two young men go out early on defense and we lost five other starters there, so we are replacing seven starters on defense. I think we have talent, but it is young and inexperienced talent. Obviously, this spring we have to go a long ways to making those kids feel comfortable working together."

JH: Who do you hope steps up on your defensive side of the ball?

MB "We have a kid coming back named (DT) Haloti Ngata, who was a freshman All-American. He did not play last year due to an injury that he suffered in the very first game. We have to get him back healthy and ready to go. Jerry Matson is our leader and our leading tackler coming back. He was our starting middle linebacker last year. Marley Tucker is a returning safety and a good player for us.

"I think those guys right in the middle of our defense give us some strength and experience, but we need a couple of our young linebackers that we've got to step up. Ramone Reed is really going to be a senior, but he has not played for two years. He played extensively as a true freshman and is coming back off some injuries. We also have a young man named Justin Andrews at linebacker and those two are players that I see being keys to our success. Both of them have to step up and be ready to play every game and every week of the whole season."

JH: While you return your starting quarterback, didn't you graduate a quarterback that played a bunch for you last year?

MB: "Jason Fife alternated at quarterback for us last year, but he never started for us. He will most likely sign a pro contract and may even be drafted. We have had great fortune here of having some of our back-up quarterbacks, A.J Feeley for example and Jason Moss, get drafted and go into the NFL or CFL and do very well. We have a great quarterback tradition and I think Kellen is going to continue that.

JH: What are the keys to your offense this spring?

MB: "I lost a great playmaker is Sammy Parker. He was the fastest football player in the nation last year, running a 10.18 hundred meters. So we have to create some opportunities for playmakers. Terrance Whitehead will be our returning tailback and Tim Day has become a big play tight end for us.

"It probably starts all at the line of scrimmage up front, and in our offense line we have four guys coming back that played an extensive amount of football last year. We are led by Adam Synder, our offensive tackle. However, the development of Enoka Lucas at our center position is going to be the key for us this spring. We lost a three-year starter at center and that position makes your offense go. If Enoka can step up, and he seems to be ready to do that, I think he is actually a better athlete and now we just have to give him the experience then I think we will be alright there. I think our offense can be very good."

JH: You also had a transfer at tailback in Chris Vincent, so tailback looks to be a deep spot for you?

MB: "It is deep. We have two seniors in Kenny Washington and Ryan Shaw that came on and have played well for us. Ryan was first team all-league as a return man as he led our league in kickoff returns. He and the others are very explosive backs, so we are deep at the tailback position.

Chris Vincent was the man that I thought last spring that was going to take the job. He did not have as strong a fall and we are looking forward to him coming back hard to compete. If he can do that then tailback can be one of the deepest positions on the field for us."

JH: "What is your non-conference schedule along with Oklahoma?

MB: "We open up with Indiana at home and then go on the road to Oklahoma and then play Idaho at home. We play three straight and we have no byes next year. We go right into Pac 10 play after that. I don't know if I am happy about that or not. I am getting used to the byes, and with the wear and tears on the bodies you need a little time to rest. We go right into it with Big 10, Big 12 then Idaho and then Pac 10."

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