The Ducks first opponent, Indiana is a rebuilding program under third year coach Gary DiNardo. Last Saturday, the Hoosiers demolished Central Michigan University, 41-10. The scoring output was the most Indiana has scored during DiNardo's tenure as coach. DiNardo has a history of turning programs around, first at Vanderbilt (1991-94) where his team won more games (18) in four years than it did in the previous seven. Later at LSU (1995-99), the DiNardo led Tigers went to three straight bowl games and had seasons with impressive records (1995, 7-4-1; 1996, 10-2; 1997, 9-3.) This year's Hoosier team is a team that will rely on running the ball, but has a record setting receiver. Running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis, rushed for 97 yards on 28 carries, scoring one touchdown against CMU. Quarterback Matt LoVecchio was 9-for-14 for 121 yards and one touchdown. Indiana's leading receiver is Courtney Roby, who had five catches for 42 yards last week. Roby is Indiana's most dangerous receiving weapon and ranks fifth in school history with 1,714 career receiving yards, a mark that is 647 yards shy of the school record. Roby's 108 career receptions rank 10th in school history and are 40 short of the school record.
The Hoosiers rushed for a total of 203 yards against CMU and four different players including LoVesshio rushed for a touchdown. Indiana has a new offensive coordinator, Steve Addazio, so the Ducks will have to rely on what the Hoosiers have done in the past.
"(Indiana) will run until you stop them," Bellotti commented. "I think they had a very good comfort zone in terms of being able to run the ball effectively."
Bellotti believes that the defensive line is one of Oregon's strengths this season and the opening game will determine if the coach's evaluation is correct. Bellotti notes that while defensive ends Devan Long, Chris Solomona and Matt Toeania, and defensive tackles Robby Valenzuela and Haloti Ngata are experienced, the backs ups are talented but inexperienced. Defensive ends Darius Sanders and Ra'Shon Harris, defensive tackles David Faaeteete and Victor Filipe are physically impressive and have shown great promise in practice, they do not have a great amount of playing time under their collective belts. One of the disadvantages of not having a game played, is that the Oregon coaching staff doesn't know how the Duck defensive line will do against an Indiana offensive line that returns an experience set.
"Won't know how they match up until they get here," Bellotti remarked about how the Indiana offensive line matches up with Oregon defensive line.
Offensively, Oregon's line has been mixed and matched during fall camp. The Duck offensive line boasts four seniors, Adam Snyder,
"We more than any other team that I know have our (offensive linemen) play at least two positions," said Bellotti. "That pays dividends down the road (though) it may make it difficult for the synchronization at first."
The Oregon receiving corps has been dinged up during the fall camp and quarterback Kellen Clemens has not had as much of an opportunity to coordinate timing with receivers like Demetrius Williams, Garren Strong and Keith Allen as Bellotti would like. Tight end Tim Day has been recuperating from a stress fracture and the good news is that Day will see some time against Indiana. Bellotti describes Clemens as a great leader and great quarterback but hasn't been as consistent as the coach would like during fall camp because the mixing of the offensive linemen and unavailability of starting receivers.
"We've had five or six different receivers that have worked with the first team," described Bellotti of the problems of health of the receivers in regard to Clemen's performance. "Some have only practice three or four days out of the possible twelve to fifteen days."
Clemens will be backed up by true freshman Dennis Dixon at quarterback. Dixon has been very impressive in fall camp with his ability to scramble out of trouble and making plays on the run. Bellotti indicated that he plans to use Dixon as much as possible this season.
"We need to play the back up quarterback," Bellotti said.
The headman specifically mentioned a number of incoming freshman that will probably see playing time this year including Schwartz, Dixon, Faaeteete, wide receiver Cameron Colvin, cornerback Jackie Bates, linebackers John Bacon, Ryan Phipps and Kwame Agyeman. Bellotti also indicated that several of the freshman may become better than upperclassmen as the season progresses, dramatically illustrating just how good the 2004 recruiting class is.
For DiNardo's part, he feels that Oregon will be a very big test for his team.
"We got a tough game this weekend traveling to Oregon," DiNardo told writers in a telephone conference on Tuesday. "We will start to get ready today."
DiNardo, like Bellotti acknowledged that there are advantages and disadvantages of playing a team that opened a season with a bye. In Oregon's case, Indiana does not have the luxury of reviewing tapes of last week's game, but on the other hand, some first-game issues have been resolved for Indiana and not Oregon. Despite Oregon not playing last week, there are some things DiNardo has some concerns about including the infamous crowd noise at Autzen Stadium and Oregon's pre-season reputation.
"They are a physical, veteran group for the most part. It is their first game so we are going on last year's tapes so we don't know if there is anything new," commented DiNardo. "It will be loud and tough to communicate, and it is going to be tough for us going up against one of the better teams in the Pac-10."
The Ducks are ranked 24th in both the AP and ESPN Polls headed into the contest on Saturday. Oregon has played Indiana twice before and won both contests. The Ducks prevailed 28-22 at Portland's Multnomah Stadium (PGE Park) in 1963. The following year, Oregon traveled to Bloomington and won 29-21. The two teams will meet again at Indiana on September 25, 2005. Oregon has a 45-11 record at Autzen Stadium since Bellotti has taken over as head coach.
The wait is now over for the Ducks after a long summer vacation and it is clear Bellotti is ready to start a run for the Pac-10 Championship. This team has faced unusual adversity with the sudden and tragic death of incoming freshman Terrance Kelly. The fall camp caused observers at times to marvel at the talent level of the Ducks but also to ask questions about a team that has national championship aspirations. It is clear to anyone standing on the sidelines that this team has a special bond among the players, yet will that bond mean success on the playing field? This Saturday against Indiana will be the first step in answering those questions. Kickoff is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. in Autzen Stadium.