No. 1 Ducks Faces First Challenge

The Oregon Ducks (6-0, 3-0) embark on a whole new phase of football, that being the top-ranked team in the country. On Thursday night at Autzen Stadium UCLA is the Ducks' first opponent to challenge the No. 1 status.

UCLA (3-3, 1-2) may look like it is in prime position to be Oregon's next victim, but Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly isn't so sure of that. All season long, Kelly has worked hard to keep his team from becoming over confident and even went so far as closing off practice last week even though the Ducks had a bye on the schedule. Turns out that the Ducks concentrated on the basics last week – tackling, blocking and keeping assignments, something Oregon does consistently in practice.

At this point of the year, there isn't much the other teams are unaware of about the opponents. For example, there is some speculation that UCLA's starting quarterback Kevin Prince may miss the game on Thursday as he sat out practice on Monday with a sore knee. Kelly feels if there is a quarterback change for the Bruins that UCLA will be running the same offense they have all season.

"If you've played six weeks running a certain offense practicing (that way) and now your quarterback has changed, your other ten players haven't changed," said Kelly at his weekly media conference on Tuesday. "I think they'll run the same offense no matter who the quarterback is."

UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel is looking forward to this contest and knows that even though his team has played Oregon tough the last couple of years, the Bruins must play better this year.

"(We're) very excited about the upcoming contest in Eugene," proclaimed Neuheisel. "Certainly it is a challenge to go up and face this kind of juggernaut of a football team. One that is very deserving of their No. 1 ranking."

Neuheisel thinks tackling and assignments are huge issues when playing the Ducks. He believes the Ducks use pace as a weapon and does so better than anybody else in the country. The UCLA headman believes that his defense must be able to make tackles knowing that stopping the Ducks with gang tackles is going to be very hard as Oregon will "play in space," relying on the athletic skill of the Duck players.

While Neuheisel thinks the emphasis of his team's performance against Oregon will be his defense against Oregon's offense, Kelly also thinks that special teams could have a major role in the game.

"If you are going to be a great football team, you have to have to be great on special teams," said Kelly. "We spend a lot of time on it in practice. You see a lot of our starters contribute on special teams. It is a difference maker in games."

Kelly believes that there is so much parity in the Pac-10 conference that the difference is who plays well on special teams, and that is one of the major reasons why Oregon is doing so well.

Obviously with Kenjon Barner sidelined, the question then is who is going to return kicks. As of yet, Kelly isn't saying.

Kelly did note that UCLA's Josh Smith is returning kicks at a 27.4 ypk average and describes Smith as "dynamic."

Oregon has some dynamic players on special teams too. Cornerback and punt return specialist Cliff Harris leads the conference in punt returns with a 25.5-yard return average including three returns for touchdowns. Harris also leads the conference in interceptions with four, including one returned for a touchdown.

Life for the Ducks as No. 1 could end this week but the Duck coaching staff is doing everything they can to make sure that won't happen. Kelly has never been too concerned about ratings, particularly midway through the season. When asked how his life has changed since the Ducks were voted the tops by both the AP and Coaches Poll, the coach jokingly referred to Director of Media Services Dave Williford as being a shield against all the questions, but in seriousness, the coach doesn't think things have changed that much.

"For the Stanford game we had more media coverage than this week," said Kelly.

"Being No. 1 has nothing to do with how we prepare."

Kickoff for Thursday's night game is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. (Pacific) and the game will be carried live on ESPN.

Notes:

The Scout team usually doesn't get much attention and Kelly said it is because no one has asked him about those players, which are composed of mostly redshirt freshmen from Oregon's 2010 recruiting class. Off the top of his head, Kelly cited Bryan Bennett, Keanon Lowe, Eric Dungy, Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Marcus Davis as standouts.

UCLA is concerned about Oregon's athletes and obviously one of the biggest concerns is LaMichael James, who leads the conference and the country in rushing with a 169.6-yard per game average. James has nine rushing touchdowns and one receiving. One factor in James' gaudy numbers is the explosion plays he's had. So far this year, James has gone off eight times for runs longer than 28 yards. He also has an 84-yard pass reception for a touchdown. In fact the Ducks as a team have 27 plays that have gone 27 yards or longer with 14 of those plays resulting in a touchdown.

84 - James reception (Darron Thomas) at WSU*
76 - James rush vs. STAN*
72 - James rush at UT*
66 - James rush vs. PSU*
61 – David Paulson reception (Thomas) at ASU
60 - Barner reception (Thomas) vs. UNM*
55 - James rush at WSU
54 – Josh Huff reception (Thomas) at ASU*
52 - James rush vs. PSU
47 – Jeffery Maehl reception (Thomas) vs. PSU*
43 – Nathan Costa rush at WSU
41 - Huff reception (Thomas) vs. STAN*
41 - Barner rush vs. UNM*
40 - James rush vs. ASU*
39 - Maehl reception (Thomas) vs. UNM
38 – Remene Alston rush vs. UNM
36 – Andres Reed rush vs. PSU
35 - Thomas rush vs. PSU
35 - James rush vs. PSU*
34 - Maehl reception (Costa) at WSU*
30 - Paulson reception (Thomas) vs. UNM*
29 - Maehl reception (Thomas) vs. STAN*
29 – Lavasier Tuinei reception (Thomas) at UT*
29 - Reed rush vs. PSU
28 - Maehl reception (Thomas) vs. PSU
28 - James rush vs. PSU
27 - Paulson reception (Thomas) vs. UT*
25 – Drew Davis reception (Thomas) vs. STAN*
25 - Barner rush vs. UNM*
* indicates TD


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