It is Time for the Players to Step Up

Mike Bellotti is looking for a few good men to show up at a contest he characterized as a "must win game" against Idaho on Saturday in Autzen Stadium. The Oregon head coach is not pleased with an 0-2 record heading into the Idaho game, but more importantly he is looking for his team to improve its execution and for players to realize their potential by effort.

"We are looking at Oregon as much as we are looking at the opponent," Bellotti told the weekly media conference that was streamed on oregonlive.com. "Making sure we are doing things right, playing the right people, the right mix on the field."

Two areas that specifically need improvement on offense according the headman are, 1) Finishing up drives and scoring in the red zone; and 2) improve the place kicking game.

The Idaho Vandals are 0-3 entering this week's game in Eugene with losses to Boise State (65-7), Utah State (14-7) and Washington State (49-8). Bellotti described Idaho as a one-back attack. Running back Jayson Bird, 6-0, 220, has 249 yards on 36 carries, one touchdown and 6.9 yard per carry average in the first three games. Junior quarterback Michael Harrington, 6-4, 210, is 42-of-68, one touchdown and three interceptions for a total of 258 yards. Harrington, from Portland's Central Catholic High School, is the brother of former Duck and current Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington. Michael Harrington is backed up by redshirt freshman Brian Nooy, 6-2, 198, who is 6-for-8, 79 yards and one touchdown. Nooy is a graduate of Pendleton High School and former teammate of Oregon offensive lineman Sean Flanagan. The leading receivers are senior Bobby Bernal-Wood, 6-2, 198, with 16 catches for 118 yards, and a long of 20 yards. Sophomore Wendall Octave, 6-1, 175, has 11 catches for and one touchdown.

Defensively, Bellotti expects the Vandals to show a multiple defense with a mix of zone and man coverage, and will also bring safety blitzes, something the Ducks have not seen much this season. Junior middle linebacker Cole Snyder, 5-11, 220, is the leading tackler for Idaho with a total of 30 tackles, including two sacks among his four tackles for loss.

Idaho Head Coach Nick Holt is in his first year and thinks the Ducks are as good as Washington State and Boise State, and in fact maybe better in some regards than the two schools he's already faced. He thinks the Ducks defensive line is very big and strong and thought that Oregon played well against Oklahoma last week at Norman, a tall order for any program to take on.

Bellotti might appreciate Holt's appraisal of the Ducks, but throughout his media conference Bellotti kept talking about players reaching their potential and executing the game plan -- for good reason. In the previous two contests, the Ducks have converted 9-of-29 third downs to first downs or 31 percent, while the two opponents have converted 12-of-31, or 39 percent. The Ducks have also tried to convert five fourth downs and were only successful twice. Last week, the Ducks were in the Oklahoma red zone four times, but failed to produce any points. Critical penalties cost the Ducks twice in staying within field goal distance, and two botched field goal attempts accounted for the other two missed opportunities. Bellotti wants that red zone performance to improve whether it is kicking field goals or scoring touchdowns.

"When you fail to convert opportunities those things effect not just the special teams not just the offense but the entire team," said Bellotti. "Those two areas are where we need to finish drives and score with each opportunity."

Several true freshman will have opportunities to see extended participation this season including cornerback Jackie Bates, defensive tackle David Faaeteete, wide receiver Cameron Colvin, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, linebacker Kwame Agyeman and quarterback Dennis Dixon. Bellotti noted that Bates, Faaeteete and Colvin had good games against Oklahoma, along with lettermen cornerback Marques Binns, defensive end Victor Filipe, linebacker Ramone Reed and linebacker Jerry Matson. Dixon's emergence as the No. 2 quarterback may have caused Johnny DuRocher to leave the team. DuRocher's departure will cause the Ducks to make changes in the responsibility of back up holder and who will play quarterback on the scout team. The Ducks are down to three scholarship quarterbacks. Bellotti indicated that both Dixon and redshirt freshman Brady Leaf will share duties on the scout team, and that Leaf will have duties holding for the place kicker in a back up role.

Bellotti discussed the linebacker position. He is pleased with the performances of Reed and Matson. The coach thinks that Justin Andrews had good moments but there were also plays he wishes could be taken back. Bellotti mentioned that he believes Anthony Trucks needs to make more plays as he has the potential for being a great football player. Bellotti discussed the secondary and thinks there is good depth with Aaron Gipson, Binns, Bates, Sam Hughes, Ryan Gilliam and Justin Phinisee. Coach Bellotti feels Gipson is a player that must be on the field, while Binns, Bates and Hughes made good strides. Bellotti thinks Gilliam is a player with great potential but must be more consistent.

There were no serious injuries last week although Phinisee is nursing a hamstring injury and Gipson suffered a concussion. Haloti Ngata is day-to-day with what Bellotti called a bruise in the hamstring area. Practice has been good so far this week and the Ducks attitude and spirits have been up despite having two losses. The Idaho game for the Ducks is a must win game as it heads into the Pac-10 schedule and it has always been that way for Oregon regardless of what happened in the first two games.

Many had high expectations of the 2004 Ducks and this Saturday could be the day Oregon gets back to addressing those expectations -- provided the right players answer the call to be the good men Bellotti is looking for.

Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

Notes:

Holt, who was the linebacker's coach at USC the previous three seasons has an extra task this week caused by the tragic shooting death of redshirt cornerback Eric McMillan. McMillan was gunned down apparently by two assailants on Sunday evening and died Monday morning. No motive has been determined for the shooting. Holt indicated in his weekly media conference that a memorial service would be held Wednesday on the Moscow campus of the University of Idaho. The Vandals will wear a helmet decal honoring McMillan. There is also a discussion with the University of Oregon to hold a moment of silence before the game Saturday to pay tribute to the slain player. Holt said that counseling services have been made available to his team and that he hoped that the process of going through practice would be the best way of treating the players grief for their fallen teammate. Holt experienced a similar tragedy two years ago at USC when an incoming recruit Drean Rucker, drowned in an accident just before the start of the 2003 season. The Vandals did not practice on Monday and expect to return to the practice field on Tuesday.

"Practice is the best cure," said Holt of his team's morale after the devastating news of McMillan's death.

To listen to the entire media conference from oregonlive.com, click here.

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