Special Teams Spark Offensive Explosion

It's not all that often that Oregon's offense requires coaxing in order to put up the gaudy statistics it has been responsible for this season. Today, however, was a different story. In the Ducks' 53-16 win over the visiting Washington Huskies, the tag team special teams effort by Cliff Harris and Josh Huff went a long ways in securing victory.

When the Oregon offense wasn't getting bogged down by penalties in the first half, it sputtered. Yes, the No. 1 Ducks held a 25-13 advantage over Washington at halftime, but the lead was anything but comfortable for an offense that is used to scoring points in bunches early and often.

"It was really strange," said Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich of the offense's struggles. "There were a lot of weird scenarios that we encountered in the first half that we're not used to seeing."

Credit the Husky defense for staying in the fight and forcing the Ducks to earn everything they received, but also credit sophomore cornerback Cliff Harris and true freshman wide receiver Josh Huff for buoying the Ducks while the offense tried to find their feet.

"(Josh and Cliff) were big," remarked Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. "Josh did some nice things and Cliff did some nice things. With our special teams, we're a full team. One of the thing you realize today is that (Washington) had to play a lot of starters on their special teams, but because of the depth we have, we don't have to do that."

Considering that both Huff and Harris were backups to return ace Kenjon Barner before Barner suffered a concussion during an October 9 tilt at Washington State, their performance makes their contributions even more remarkable, at least those on the outside. For Barner, who returned to action this afternoon rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown, he's always had faith in both players' abilities.

"I would say that we haven't missed a step with Cliff or Josh out there," admitted Barner. "They get in and they take care of business....you never know what one specific individual can do, but what they go out and do, it doesn't come as a surprise."

Combined, Harris and Huff accumulated 311 return yards, with both players coming within a broken tackle or two of finding the endzone on a handful of occasions. This was particularly true for Harris, who already has three punt returns for touchdowns to his credit this season, and who was a hair away from nearly doubling that total this afternoon.

"I feel can (take it the distance) every time," stated Harris. "But will it happen every time I touch the ball, I don't know. The ball comes to me and I just react to whatever is in front of me...sometimes it seems like it's in slow motion and sometimes it's fast. Sometimes I do be surprising myself out there with moves I make."

When asked what it's like block for a guy that's as combustable and unpredictable in the return game as Harris, senior defensive tackle Brandon Bair said it's essentially a matter of getting a block and trying to get out of his way -- a truism that Bair discovered first hand today.

"You just block," Bair chuckled while shaking his head. "You always have a designed return but he makes something happen out of nothing all the time. We saw that today when I was able to block for him downfield and he passed me and decided to cut back and I was the one who took him out. That guy is constantly moving around and he just makes things happen."

Not one to lack considerable self-esteem, Harris' brash comments can be construed as cockiness or hubris, even though the Fresno, Calif. native would disagree. Regardless of your opinion of him however, Harris states he remains unaffected of outsiders' perception of him.

"Some people might take my confidence for cockiness," says Harris with a smile. "But so what. I'm just gonna play football."

Whether it's cockiness or confidence that defines Harris, there's no doubt that he's one to call it like he sees it. With Huff's sterling special teams performance somewhat overshadowed by Harris', Harris was at the front of the line to shower the young Houston, Tex. native with praise.

"Every week he impresses me," said Harris of Huff. "That guy is something else. That's all I could tell you. He's something else."

Though Harris admits that he tries to pass along whatever magic he has to his fellow kickoff returner.

"They say it's my cockiness or confidence, but I try to make sure it rubs off a little bit," grinned Harris. "So I be in his ear and all, but he's doing his thing right now."

At 9-0 and rolling towards the goal of an undefeated season, the next stop on the Ducks' schedule takes them to Berkeley, where Oregon will face a California team who has shown flashes of both brilliance and utter ineptitude. With the Golden Bears sporting an undefeated record at home, Harris and Ducks vow that they will prepare as hard for next week, as they have for every other opponent this season.

"(California) is the next one on the list," says Harris.

"It's time to get ready for the Super Bowl."

Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney

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