Side by side - UO (7-4) at OSU (7-4)

The Oregon Ducks make their way north Friday, Nov. 24 for the 110th Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers. The home team has won the last nine times in the series that dates back to 1894. A victory for OSU locks up third place in the Pac-10 while a win for UO could cause a chaotic tie for the third spot in the conference of champions.

LAST WEEK: After giving up a long touchdown to Stanford on the their first drive of the game the Oregon State defense clamped down while the Beaver offense took care of the ball as OSU won for the fifth time in six games with a 30-7 victory over the Cardinal in Palo Alto.

RB Yvenson Bernard led the way with 36 carries for 168 yards, both season highs.  QB Matt Moore completed 15 of 24 for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 28-yard strike to WR Sammie Stroughter in the first quarter.  PK Alexis Serna added nine points going a perfect 3 of 3 from the field.

The Beaver defense limited the Cardinal to just 210 total yards and 11 first downs while sacking the quarterback five times and forcing two turnovers.  LB Joey LaRocque led OSU with seven stops while CB Coye Francies picked off his first pass of the season and caused his third fumble of the year.

LAST WEEK: Disaster is about the only way of adequately describing the Oregon-Arizona 37-10 loss from the Ducks' perspective. Coming off a disappointing loss to USC the week before, the Ducks hoped that they could find some energy in front of the home folks at Autzen Stadium, but instead they were nearly booed off the field.

Turnovers again plagued the team in green, as quarterback Dennis Dixon was unable to get the ball to open receivers and found defensive backs instead. Dixon was picked off three times and when Brady Leaf came in the fourth quarter to try and rescue some Duck pride, he too threw to the white team. To compound matters the Ducks tried to punt return specialist, Patrick Chung and Andiel Brown and both fumbled punts that left the Wildcats in great field position inside Oregon's 20.

Arizona took advantage of all the Oregon gifts by running the ball down the Ducks' throat. Wildcat running back Chris Henry racked up a career high 191 yards of rushing to go along with two touchdowns and at times looked like he ran with little fear of any Oregon defender even touching him.

About the only thing positive to happen for the Ducks was Jeremiah Johnson's 103 yards of rushing on 10 carries including long run of 44 yards and the solo Oregon touchdown.
WHEN OREGON STATE IS ON OFFENSE:  Much like any offense the Oregon State attack is most lethal when they can run the ball twice and throw in a play action pass or rollout every once in awhile to keep the defense honest.  The Beavers have been the masters of long drives this year leading the conference in time of possession at 32:23 a game.

And while the long drives have been nice, they don't always finish them off with a touchdown or even three points.  OSU is right in the middle of the Pac-10 scoring 83.7-percent of the time they are inside the twenty, but are second in field goals made (13) and field goals attempted (16) in the redzone.

The offense is at their best when QB Matt Moore is distributing the ball to all of his receivers, making quick decisions and  not turning the ball over, something he has done a decent job at this year.  To date he has only six interceptions, none in the last four games, and has the longest active streak in the nation with 117 passes without an interception.  In the last six games he has completed 64% of his passes for 1,384 yards and six touchdowns while adding four more touchdowns with his legs.

The only thing had has done wrong in the last six games is not protect the ball when he fumbled three times versus UCLA.  Amazingly he has only -1 yards rushing on the season which shows how effective he has been picking up positive yards with his feet.

Moore's favorite receiver is junior Sammie Stroughter who is just 14 yards away from reaching 1,000 receiving yards in 2006.  Stroughter is an explosive player with solid hands who can stretch the field and make people miss.  He is second in the conference and 12th in the NCAA for receiving yards per game (89.5).

Starting in the slot is junior Brandon Powers who is the team's second leading receiver with 34 catches for 349 yards and one touchdown.  Powers knows the offense like the back of his hand and is invaluable in running and passing plays.  The California native has picked up his play of late grabbing at least four receptions, the majority of them going for first downs, in the last three games.

Senior Ruben Jackson will be making his second career start at flanker as Anthony Wheat-Brown continues to serve his suspension for violating team rules.  Jackson missed three games prior to the Stanford game with a high ankle sprain.  The coaches like to get Jackson the ball on reverses where he can use his speed and athleticism.

Backing up both the flanker and slot positions is the speedy sophomore Chris Johnson who has seen limited action this year with three catches for 39 yards in eight games.  Johnson did make a spectacular, one handed grab against Stanford last week that resulted in a first down though.

Astoundingly TE Joe Newton has had zero catches in the last two games, but he continues to be an integral part of the offense.  Defenses have stacked the box against the Beavers forcing the coaches to hold Newton in to help with blocking.  As a result he is the team's fourth leading receiver with 38 catches for 338 yards and four touchdowns, just one in Pac-10 play.  Senior TE Jason Vandiver is a big part of the two tight-end sets and used exclusively as a blocker.

In the backfield is RB Yvenson Bernard who topped the 1,000 yard mark for the second consecutive season.  Bernard has been playing through an ankle injury since the Arizona game and looked the best he has been all year against Stanford a week ago.  The Florida native does everything right from blocking, to receiving, and to running.  He is the team's third leading receiver with 33 catches for 183 yards.  Junior Clinton Polk has also been slowed by an ankle injury.  Polk is a nice change of pace from Bernard as he prefers to use his speed to get to the outside and has the legs to outrun defenders.  OSU is 6-0 this season when a running back rushes for over 100 yards.

Occasionally the Men in Black will lineup in the I-formation where freshman Micah Strickland or Andy Stewart will put their hand down in the fullback position.  They are used almost solely as blockers although Strickland has been inches away from hauling in a couple of touchdowns.

The offensive line has gone through their fair share of injuries.  RT Josh Linehan has been out since September with a knee injury, C Kyle DeVan is playing through a nagging knee injury, RG Jeremy Perry is playing with a bruised knee and sore ankle and RT Andy Levitre twisted his ankle last week. The good news from all of this is that the backups have filled the holes nicely. The versatile Levitre has not skipped a beat filling in for Linehan, while Adam Speer has played well at both right guard and at center.

The unit prides itself on its aggressive play and excels at pass protecting. LT Adam Koets is one of the most athletic lineman on the team and is responsible for protecting Moore's backside. DeVan is having his best year as a Beaver, while left guard Roy Schuening will be an All-Pac-10 selection.

Many of the running plays go over the right side with the aggressive Perry leading the way. The Beavers also take advantage of the athleticism of the group, as they run many plays requiring the lineman to pull and get out in front.

The offense ranks fifth in the conference in scoring offense (25.9), fifth in pass offense (230.6) and seventh in rush offense (126.8).

WHEN OREGON IS ON OFFENSE: A healthy and confident Dixon had been the ideal quarterback for Oregon's spread offense. His ability to scramble and run the ball was a tremendous weapon but lately he has been ineffective and prone to making poor decisions. If head coach Mike Bellotti opts for Brady Leaf as the staring signal caller then the spread offense will have a different look. Leaf does not have the scrambling ability Dixon does and will get sacked in the backfield. However, Leaf is like a streaky jump shooter in basketball -- once he gets warmed up he becomes a completion machine. The key of course is him getting into a rhythm.

All of Oregon's scholarship receivers are 6-1 or taller and in seven games this season one of those tall, fast receivers have had over 100 yards receiving. Jaison Williams is having a tremendous year with five games over 100 yards but Jordan Kent and Brian Paysinger also had big days too. Last week Cameron Colvin looked as though he might break out, but with all the turnovers and Dixon's inability to go long, Colvin's day just fizzled out. Williams missed the Arizona game but should be available for the Civil War along with James Finley. Finley has struggled all year long with nagging injuries and has not had the same type of numbers he did in 2005. Bellotti mentioned on Tuesday that senior Kyle Weatherspoon could see time this week and if so it would be the first of the season. Weatherspoon has been on the sidelines for academic issues.

Dante Rosario is the tight end and is the team's second leading receiver at 34.5 yards per game on 37 catches for the year. Williams is the leading receiver averaging 92.9 with 62 receptions.

When the Ducks are successful they also employ a devastating running game featuring Jonathan Stewart and Johnson. Stewart was well on his way to 1,000-yard season but is now at 840 net yards for the year. When the Ducks are clicking Stewart can be expected to see rushing yardage of around 150 yards or more. Johnson has 479 yards rushing for the year. Both are adequate receivers.

Up until last week the offensive line had stayed together as a unit for nearly two years. Coming back from a 10-2 season it was reasonable to assume that a unit that had enjoyed so much success would only get better and continue to dominate as they had in the past. For the first half of the season that was true.

The Ducks are big up front. Senior center Enoka Lucas, 6-3, 299 has been the leader and is a player that many NFL scouts have kept an eye on along with fellow senior guard Palauni Ma Sun, 6-6, 335. Junior guard Josh Tschirgi, 6-4, 311 is a very hard worker and sophomore tackle Max Unger, 6-5, 296 was a first team freshman All-American last year.

One spot that seems open is right tackle. For over 20 straight games, junior Geoff Schwartz, 6-7, 340 was the starter and many expect him to be an automatic in the NFL draft in 2008. However, last week he was benched in place of Mark Lewis, 6-4, 292. The Oregon coaching staff indicated the reason for the switch was that Lewis had earned the spot in practice and that the coaches hoped that the move would cause Schwartz to become more aggressive.
WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL:  Statistically the Beaver defense is one of the top units in the conference and, in some instances, the nation. OSU leads the the nation in third down conversions allowed at 26.1-percent per game and is second in the Pac-10 in total defense allowing 289.3 yards per game.

The unit leads the Pac-10 in sacks with 38, accounting for a conference high 275 yards lost, and is averaging 8.0 tackles for loss per game, good for fifth in the nation. Seventeen players have at least one sack while six players have three or more.

The linebackers fuel the Orange and Black defense as weakside linebacker Joey LaRocque, strongside linebacker Derrick Doggett and middle linebacker Alan Darlin are one-two-three in tackles.  In the last seven games the three starting linebackers have accounted for 136 tackles, including 18.5 for loss and eight sacks.  The great news is all of them will be back next year.

LaRocque is a junior college transfer who continues to get better each week. He leads the team with 70 tackles and has recorded at least seven tackles in the last seven games.  LaRocque does a nice job of tracking the ball carrier and and wrapping them up.  Doggett is the most athletic of the bunch with good speed and big hit ability. He has 66 tackles, including four sacks and a team high 12 tackles for loss.

Darlin is a tough, physical player who excels at stopping the run. He has 11.5 tackles for loss and six sacks and often lines up on the line of scrimmage when OSU is in their nickel package. Bryant Cornell (16 tackles/1 int), Eric Moala Liava'a (8 tackles/1 sack) and Isaiah Cook (13 tackles/1 sack) all receive plenty of time as well, as the coaches like to keep fresh bodies in the lineup. It is not uncommon to see three new linebackers in between plays during a series.

The defensive line is anchored in the middle by the fiery Curtis Coker who demands a double team and does a wonderful job of clogging the middle.  He has 19 tackles and two recovered fumbles.   Senior Ben Siegert has been playing well of late at the other tackle position with 19 tackles and one sack, almost all of them coming in the last month. Pernell Booth (8 tackles), William Akau'ola Vea (15 tackles/ 3 sacks) and quick step Gerard Lee (15 tackles/1 sack) all see lots of time at the tackle positions as well.

Senior Joe Lemma, who has 33 career starts, mans the left end while Jeff Van Orsow mans the right side. Lemma struggles getting past the bigger tackles and has just 10 stops, but with four sacks. Van Orsow has 41 tackles, tops for a defensive lineman. Junior Dorian Smith leads the team with six sacks, splits time with Lemma at left end and brings a lot of energy off of the edge. Victor Butler is a pass rushing specialist who has 3.5 sacks.

Hard hitting strong safety Sabby Piscitelli patrols the backfield, where he has a team-high eight pass deflections and three interceptions.  Bryan Payton and Al Afalva have both started at free safety with Payton getting five starts and Afalava getting seven.

Payton is a tremendous athlete with a long frame and good ball instincts. He has 34 tackles and two interceptions.  Afalava, who missed one game with a concussion has stepped his game up laste in the season notching 25 tackles and one interception while backing up his reputation as a hard hitter. Daniel Drayton also rotates in when the Beavers use their nickel package.

Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes start at the corners. Lewis is the more athletic of the two and has good range with six pass deflections. Hughes is physical on the line, but sometimes loses his man on fly patterns. He has 24 tackles and four pass deflections. Junior Coye Francies is the first off of the bench and has a reputation as a hard hitter, forcing a team high four fumbles.  He also picked off the first pass of his career, which also was the first interception by a Beaver corner since the 2004 Insight Bowl.

WHEN OREGON STATE HAS THE BALL: Oregon has been a "bend but don't break" defense and has played well enough when they are not forced to constantly defend a short field. The strength is in the secondary and Oregon ranks first in the Pac-10 in pass defense allowing 147.7 yards per game.

While injuries have depleted the Ducks' secondary (Jackie Bates) and defensive line (Cole Linehan) for the most part Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti's charges are now as pretty healthy.

The Ducks run a 4-3 hybrid defense. They will play four down linemen, two linebackers and an outside linebacker that they call a strong safety. Matt Toeaina and Jeremy Gibbs and David Faaeteete is rotating in as does Ra'Shon Harris at defensive tackle. Darius Sanders, Nick Reed and Dexter Manley are the ends and can disrupt an opponent's passing game when given to the green light to go after the quarterback. Blair Phillips has been very impressive all yearlong is near the top of the Pac-10's leading tacklers (8.8 per game). Kwame Agyeman will be listed as a strong safety in the program but he really is an outside linebacker in the Oregon scheme. A.J. Tuitele is the weakside linebacker, and a tenacious tackler.

J.D. Nelson and Patrick Chung are big hitters out of the safety positions. Walter Thurmond starts at one corner and Jairus Byrd has been a solid at the other side.

Too often this season the Ducks have been run over not only by the likes of Adrian Peterson (211 yards), Dwayne Wright (154) and Justin Forsett (167), but also by Ryan Torain (114), Dwight Tardy (145), Chauncy Washington (119) and even Portland State's Mu'Ammar Ali (139). Last week Chris Henry went off for 191 yards. In some of the cases the big yardage was a product of explosion plays. Early on in the season the rushing yardage meant little because the Duck offense was scoring a boatload of points. In the last two games the point production has fallen off dramatically and the defense is left to cover.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Alexis Serna is having a decent year, making 18-of-25 with a long of 58 (ties a school record). Two kicks have been blocked, while four of his seven misses have been from 40 yards out.

Some of Serna's misses can be partially blamed on snapper Joel Cohen, who has been bouncing snaps off of the turf, but cleaned up his act against Stanford.  Luckily, Jon Stowbridge has done a fantastic job fielding the bad snaps and getting the ball placed.

Sammie Stroughter has been electric returning three punts for touchdowns while averaging 15.4 yards per return, good for fifth in the nation. Stroughter's success is directly related to special teams coach Bruce Read getting all of his players to buy into the system. Coye Francies and Gerard Lawson return kicks. Francies is a north-south type of runner and does a nice job with a 22.9 average. Gunners Sabby Piscitelli and Gerard Lawson usually do an incredible job covering punts and have delivered some ruthless hits this season.

True freshman Kyle Loomis is averaging exactly 40.0 yards per punt, the first time he has been at 40.0 for the year.  Loomis has a strong leg, but is inconsistent.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Place kicker Paul Martinez is 15-for-20 this season with a long of 48 and has one attempt blocked. Aaron Knowles is averaging 41.7 yards. Leaf is the holder on point after conversions and field goals. Eric Steimer is the long snapper.

Last week special teams took a huge nosedive when Chung fumbled a punt. To fix things the Ducks sent in Andiel Brown assume the return chores. The result was another fumble. Chung is inexperienced and while he has great speed and toughness, he has either fumbled or bobbled the ball on a number of occasions. Brown on the other hand is a very heady and steady player, but got caught with bad body position as he tried to field a punt last week.

Earlier in the year, Brown was questioned for letting a similar type punt to the one he fumbled go and it was eventually downed deep in Oregon territory. Brown's explanation was that he was concerned about trying to field the ball when he was in poor body position to do so. So, when last week he went ahead and tried to catch a ball that he had a poor angle on and he ended up dropping it. The Wildcats recovered inside Oregon's 15.
OREGON STATE CAN WIN IF: Control the line of scrimmage.  The Ducks lead the conference in total offense (437.7) and rushing offense (192.9) and are capable of scoring points in bunches.  With the quarterback situation a little murky in Eugene and Dixon's confidence teetering the defense must force the Ducks to throw the ball and not let them establish the running game.

Getting in Dixon or Leaf's face early and often would also help crush any early confidence.

OREGON CAN WIN IF: This paragraph has been the same over the last few weeks: Oregon will win if they do not give the (fill in the blank) good field position early with turnovers.

Dixon has all the tools to be successful and has proven so on the field, but do the Duck coaching staff truly believe Dixon has the confidence to lead the Ducks in the Civil War? Bellotti said on Tuesday in his weekly media conference that competition between Dixon and Leaf has been intense and no decision would be made until Thursday on who is the starting quarterback. If Dixon is the starter then expect to see the Ducks run the ball and use the big offensive line to control the tempo of the game. If Leaf starts then expect to see the Ducks throwing the ball and an up-tempo pace created by a no-huddle offense.

Stewart has been quiet for too long not to make some noise and this is his last opportunity to break a 1,000 yards in the regular season. He is very capable of doing so and has proven he can carry the team on his back when he gets going.

Oregon must also put enough pressure on Matt Moore to keep him from being too comfortable in the pocket and the defensive ends should be fast enough to keep him making plays while scrambling.

Essentially though if Oregon does not turn the ball over, it will be a long day for the Beavers.
OREGON STATE WILL LOSE IF: They turn the ball over.  It's really pretty simple.  OSU is plus eight in their last three victories, plus five for the season and 15-2 in the last three seasons when committing fewer turnovers than its opponents.

In their losses they are minus four in turnovers and 2-11 in the last three years when committing more turnovers than its opponents.

OREGON WILL LOSE IF: If the Ducks turn the ball over the Ducks will lose. The pattern has been established. Force the Oregon offensive into situations where they can not control the tempo. When that happens Dixon is forced into making decisions that are out of his comfort zone and he ends up throwing the ball up for grabs. The Oregon defense has been punished before in the run game and no matter how good a defense is, if they continually have to go back onto the field because of turnovers they will lose heart quickly.

If Leaf is the quarterback then the danger the Ducks face is Leaf getting sacked, as he is far less mobile. If the Ducks get behind early that may cause Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton to go away from the running game and keep putting the ball in the air.

It will be a long day for Duck fans if Moore and company have a short field, a rowdy home crowd and a shaky Oregon defense to contend with.
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Dan Norz is the publisher of Oh, I'd rather be a Beaver than a Duck... Steve Summers is the publisher for and Editor-in-Chief of eDuck Magazine.

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