Will answers be found in the bye week?

Arizona State Head Coach Dirk Koetter was not mystified about what Oregon planned to do defensively last Saturday in Tempe when his Sun Devils took on the Ducks. The Ducks were committed to stop the run and make ASU throw the ball deep and that is exactly what Koetter's charges did to the tune of a 59-14 win. Koetter indicated the Sun Devils executed well and were successful with the long pass.

"They (Oregon) want to crowd the box and have you throw it down the field," Koetter told the weekly Pac-10 media telephone conference that was broadcast over the Internet.

Mike Bellotti, when asked about his defensive schemes said that the Ducks are committed to what they do and that is stopping the run and forcing the opponent into long passing situations. It sounds as though Koetter and Bellotti are on the same sheet, so where is the breakdown? Playing a two-deep scheme might be an answer but when questioned about it Bellotti pointedly responded.

"We did play some two-deep zones," said Bellotti. "You just didn't see it."

Oregon is now resting, rehabilitating and taking stock on a season that started so promising and now has spiraled nearly out of control in a three-game losing streak. Bellotti characterized last weeks drubbing by ASU as the low point of his coaching career. The Ducks have a bye this weekend and this gives the battered team a chance to take a few days off. The team will not practice on Friday, Saturday or Sunday but have already scrimmaged on Monday and will scrimmage again on Tuesday and Thursday. The Oregon coach said the Monday's scrimmage was the best the Ducks have had in some time even though typically the Monday practice after a game is void of hitting. The main reason Bellotti thinks the Ducks are in the state they are is due to execution. What he plans on doing is trying to get the team healthy, refocused, rebuild confidence and enjoyable for the players during the next two weeks.

"We are going to make football fun," Bellotti vowed.

The Ducks started off the year with four straight wins including a monumental victory over Michigan that saw Oregon dominate the Wolverines on offense and defense, at least for three-quarters of the game. The fourth quarter of the Michigan game saw Wolverine quarterback John Navarre furiously throwing completions and allow the then No. 3 ranked team to nearly come back on the home team Ducks. Was that a precursor for the rest of the season? Bellotti admitted that the Ducks knew all along that teams would try and exploit the Ducks weak secondary and that the Ducks defensive backfield "hadn't truly been tested." Obviously the Ducks secondary has now been tested in the last three games to the tune of 131-to-43 points, 1,151 yards passing or 383.66 yards per game. By the way, how well did the Ducks stop the run in the last three games? The three opponents, Washington State, Utah and Arizona State combined for 368 yards rushing or 122.66 ypg. Despite the fact that Koetter is the former offensive coordinator at Oregon, there is little doubt that the word is out about Oregon's defensive plan just as Koetter so eloquently stated. The Ducks will stay with their defensive philosophy though according to Bellotti, so what is the plan to fix an obvious problem?

"We need to do a better job of pressuring the passer and pass defense (secondary coverage)," said Bellotti.

The defense though isn't the only part of the team struggling. In some ways the defense has been put into its predicament by the offense. In the first four games of the season the Ducks averaged 38 points per game but in the last three games the scoring by Oregon has dropped to 14.3 ppg. Several factors have accounted for the offensive drop off including poor line play, injuries to key personnel and the big question of the season -- who is the starting quarterback? The quarterback question may not yet be answered as senior Jason Fife sprained his ankle during the ASU game and may not practice this week. Sophomore Kellen Clemens had a terrible outing, giving up two interceptions that resulted in ASU touchdowns on his first two passing attempts. Bellotti hopes that the quarterback competition will continue once Fife is mended, but really what is being suggested is that neither Fife nor Clemens have taken the opportunity to distance themselves from each other in the competition race. The head coach indicated that the competition between Clemens and Fife would be revisited and retested. Bellotti was questioned whether true freshman Johnny DuRocher might see playing time. Bellotti has been impressed with DuRocher's development but thought barring bizarre circumstances, DuRocher will stay the third-stringer and not endanger his redshirt status. However, Bellotti did not entirely rule out the possibility of playing DuRocher.

"If our performance doesn't improve," said Bellotti. "It (playing DuRocher) would be an option."

One other factor regarding the performance of the offense is that the best offensive player, Samie Parker has only been available for four practice days over the last four weeks. Parker sprained his ankle during the Arizona game and has missed several practice sessions due to a death in his family. Parker should be in full health and fully practiced by the time the Stanford game rolls around on October 25th.

On the injury front, the Ducks now have suffered 10 or 11 season ending injuries. The latest to that list includes wide receiver Kellen Taylor who broke his wrist during a special team's play against ASU. Reoccurring concussions have forced safety Stephen Clayton to retire from football, and Bellotti reported that fullback Luke Rowley is also facing the end of his career because of concussions. Regardless of injuries, Bellotti made it clear that every team faces injury problems and must play through.

Can things get worse for the Ducks? That is the question many are asking and even some of the most die-hard Duck fans and supporters believe the Ducks will not win another game this season. It might be too early to tell if the Ducks winning ways are over. But how reassuring is it to stay with a defensive scheme that challenges an opponent to do the obvious? Perhaps in the next two weeks a spark will ignite among those that are charged with finding an answer and with those who carry out the task and answer the challenge. Bellotti pointed out there is still plenty of football left to be played and in two weeks the Ducks will know if the bye week was useful in finding answers for the second half of the season.

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