Ducks Toughen Up Against Idaho

There were a couple of obvious things that had to be accomplished by the Oregon Ducks heading into Saturday's game with Idaho at Autzen Stadium. First, would the Ducks be able to win and win convincingly, and second, this week would an opposing defensive lineman accuse the Oregon offensive line of being soft. The answer to first question was an astounding yes, as the Ducks beat the hapless Vandals 48-10, and the second is easy enough -- no Idaho defensive lineman was quoted...

...but Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti thinks it remains to be seen how tough the line is. "I'll have to watch the film and see," answered Bellotti to the question posed if his offensive line had responded to comments made last week by an Oklahoma defender that the Oregon line is soft. "I made them aware of that comment by the Oklahoma defensive lineman."

The is no question that beating Idaho cannot compare to wins the Ducks have had in the past, like Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl, or Texas in Holiday Bowl or a string of wins over USC when Carson Palmer was the quarterback. Today though, the Ducks needed a win and the bigger the better. The Oregon offense looked like a squad that was ready to shake off the rust of losing and reacquaint themselves with the joy of winning. In the first quarter, the Ducks methodically scored 21 points while giving up a field goal. Then with 11 seconds left in the first, big Chris Solomona showed great hands and running form when he picked off Idaho quarterback Michael Harrington and returned the interception 34 yards for a score. End of the first quarter, Oregon 27, Idaho 3. It was a little redemption for the previous two outings in which the Ducks dropped a 30-24 game to Indiana, and then were manhandled by Oklahoma, 31-7.

"We needed to start fast and finish strong," said Bellotti after the contest that improved the Ducks record to 1-2. "I think we did both of those things."

Oregon was operating on all cylinders and many things showed dramatic improvement over the last couple of weeks. The rushing game improved. The Ducks racked up 227 yards running the ball with Terrence Whitehead leading the way with 115 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown. Walk-on Andiel Brown, who didn't even expect to play against the Vandals, had 47 yards on 10 carries. Kenny Washington ran for 15 yards on five carries and one touchdown before sitting out of the contest, meanwhile Chris Vincent returned from whatever hiatus he has been on to rush for 13 yards. Dante Rosario finally carried the ball for the first time this and year, and scored a touchdown. Rosario had two carries for nine yards.

"We picked up guys, blocked guys, the running backs did a heck of a job," said Nick Steitz. "Everybody that touched the rock did well with it."

The passing game also saw improvement. Quarterback Kellen Clemens was 11-for-19, 157 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, all in just two quarters (first and third) of play. Dennis Dixon directed the team in the second and fourth quarters and was 5-for-8 for 75 yards. Whitehead had three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown and Tim Day also had three catches for 27 yards and three touchdowns. Nine different Ducks had receptions with the notable exception of Demetrius Williams, who is normally Clemens' favorite receiver. Clemens said that somehow he and Williams failed to hook up but that probably will not ever happen again.

"We need to continue to force the ball down field," remarked Clemens. "We need to take more shots downfield. We missed a couple. We'll work on it in practice and come out and do it next week."

Special teams looked considerably better particularly the punting. David Dittman kicked three times and averaged 45.0 yards with a long of 51. All the punts were high and did not allow the Vandals opportunities to make returns.

"We punted the ball well today," observed a pleased Bellotti. "David Dittman did a great job, he punted well with directed kicks with good hang times."

Defensively, the Ducks dominated the line of scrimmage. Even though Harrington showed a great quick release, something that reminded the fans in the stands of another Harrington (Joey, the former Duck and current Detroit Lions quarterback, and Michael's older brother), Oregon was able to put on a good pass rush and coverage. The Ducks managed to record 11 tackles for loss including two sacks, two interceptions, three break ups and four quarterback hurries. For Solomona, his interception is something he'll remember for along time.

"It was one of those plays you dream about," said a smiling Solomona. "When I made it, my mind was blank and it was pretty exciting...I'm not used to holding footballs so I just kept running. My goal was to score."

Harrington, was very accurate completing 20-of-32 for 192 yards. From afar, it would be easy to mistake him for No. 3, and at least his own coach was pleased with his effort.

"I thought (he) was excellent early on," commented Idaho Head Coach Nick Holt. "He made some real nice throws. He did make some bad mistakes, but that had a lot to do with Oregon's size and the constant pressure they put on him. Oregon is real physical up front and they really got to us."

Statistically, the Vandals didn't stand up to the Ducks, but no one expected them to. Oregon had a total of 455 yards offense compared to Idaho's 272 yards. Idaho had 60 yards rushing, and the Ducks had nearly four times that amount (227 yards). Idaho had a total of 212 yards passing. Idaho also dropped to 0-4 for the season, with losses to Boise State (65-7), Utah State (14-7) and Washington State (49-8). They were exactly what the Ducks needed for its third game of the season.

"They're an explosive group," said Idaho quarterback coach and former Oregon State quarterback Jonathan Smith of the Ducks. "They got some great players, and it will be interesting to see how they do in the Pac-10."

It will be interesting because next week the Ducks jump into the Pac-10 schedule against Arizona State at Autzen Stadium. Going into the season, the Ducks had high expectations for this year and after a shocking loss to Indiana and losing at Norman, some wondered if that confidence was still solid. The Oregon headman is still taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"I'm pleased that we won," said Bellotti. "I think we know we are going to have to take another step equal to what we just did to win in the Pac-10."

Oregon's offensive line was challenged by Bellotti during the week to perform and the results speak for themselves. Does that translate into a unit that can perform as well against Arizona State or the rest of the Pac-10? One Oregon lineman, Adam Snyder thinks it does.

"I think we did well (against Idaho)," said Snyder. "We opened some holes and protected the quarterback we did what had to win."

Beating Idaho was a quick cure for what had been ailing the Ducks -- no wins since last November, and the team and its fans went away happy. Bellotti though wants more out his squad. He looks at the convincing win over Idaho as a stepping stone, but by his words, there is something more in store for the Ducks in the future.

"We want to play national powers and I'm not sure we can judge based by this game," commented Bellotti of the Ducks performance and their aspirations. "If we do it again next week, I think they will have gotten the message and I'll feel good."

The Ducks needed the win and they got it. They will need to take the confidence they gained against Idaho and carry it through to the Pac-10 schedule starting next Saturday night. Kick off against the Sun Devils is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. and the game will be carried live on TBS.

Notes:
Bellotti reported the following injuries: Matt Toeaina sprained ankle; Kenny Washington, flared up ankle; Vincient, strained hamstring; Enoka Lucas, lower back; A.J. Tuitele, partial stinger to the neck; Jerry Matson contusion; Rosario dislocated finger, and reset it himself. Toeaina and Washington are the players the coach was most concerned about.

Place kicker ared Siegel's first extra point in the first quarter propelled the kicker into first place as Oregon's all-time leading scorer and finished the game with 276 points (Derek Loville is second on the list with 272 points, 1986-89). Ironically, Siegel missed a point after in the same quarter, ending his streak of 98 conversions.

The attendance for the Oregon-Idaho game was 57,912, the 32nd consecutive sellout at Autzen.

Stats from www.goducks.com.

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