The Ducks Need a Win

What is ailing the Oregon Ducks football team this season? According to the head coach it is essentially three reasons -- execution, finishing drives and the need for playmakers. Head Coach Mike Bellotti responded the questions during his weekly media conference and the Pac-10 media conference that were streamed live on oregonlive.com. The Ducks are preparing to travel to Pullman, Wash. on Saturday to face the Cougars. How important is the game in the Palouse?

"With more than one loss in the Pac-10 is very difficult," Bellotti responded to a question during the Pac-10 media conference. "We need that first win to get back at an even keel."

The Ducks (1-3) will face the Cougars (3-1) in a game that the Ducks need to win if they want to keep hopes alive of having a winning season or going to a bowl game. WSU is coming off a bye week and the Ducks are reeling from another frustrating loss at home to Arizona State. Oregon is hoping that this week they will be able to execute the game plan of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, the target of many irate Duck fans that believe the offense is stagnant and predictable. While there may be a number of fans hostile towards Ludwig's efforts, Bellotti is standing by the offensive coordinator.

"I have complete confidence in Andy Ludwig and his staff," announced Bellotti.

Bellotti indicated that his personal role in the offense is one of being a consultant and that in fact he thinks Ludwig is doing good job in preparing the game plan. The Ducks are able to move the ball, it is now a matter of executing and finishing drives and scoring touchdowns. Oregon has had a number of opportunities during the early season to score touchdowns but have either been turned away, misfired or taken itself out of scoring opportunities or has settled for field goals. Last week, the Ducks could only manage two field goals in the first half of play, despite making it to the ASU 5-yard line on one occasion and the 17-yard line on the other.

The headman believes that quarterback Kellen Clemens is doing a good job however is not as consistent as the coaching staff would like. Bellotti points out the quarterback has not been protected as well as he should and that the team that had been No. 1 in the Pac-10 in red zone efficiency and No. 2 last year, obviously has problems this year. Last week, Clemens was sacked six times and hurried three times. Counting the number of times he scrambled out of trouble, it isn't hard to see why the coach is concerned about the offensive line protecting the signal caller. At times the offensive line looked like a sieve against an aggressive Arizona State defense, particularly defensive end Kyle Caldwell who ended up sacking Clemens twice.

Would a more open offense and throwing deeper pass patterns be a cure for what ails the Ducks? Not necessarily, according to Bellotti. If the offense opened up, the coach would want things to be successful and right now he points to three things the Ducks are having problems with.

1) Efficient protection
2) Not putting the ball downfield with as much accuracy as needed
3) Not making some plays down the field

While Clemens did have to make a number of scrambles to avoid losing ground, he did miss some chances of making plays to his receivers. Either the receiver was unable make the catch or the ball was not thrown well in several instances. Bellotti thinks that the coaches need to make sure the players are capable of doing what is asked of them.

"Playing calling and execution can improve because they are not where we want them to be," admitted Bellotti.

The Oregon head coach has no immediate plans to become more involved in the offense than he presently is.

Bellotti also cited the need for players to become playmakers, both on the offense and the defense. Last week, three of Andrew Walter's passes were nearly intercepted and one of those times the defender had nothing but the green of Rich Brooks field in between him and the end zone. Instead of interceptions, the passes were knocked down. Bellotti hopes those statistics can change from being a break up to an interception.

One other area that has been a concern for Bellotti is special teams. Last week, the punting game was still in doubt as David Dittman's average punt was 37.0 yards and too many times the ball ended up in favorable field position for Arizona State.

"We have not played as well on special teams as we need to," Bellotti commented.

The Cougars beat Arizona two weeks ago, 20-19. WSU has a two-game win streak against the Ducks. Last year WSU demolished Oregon, 55-16 at Autzen Stadium and in 2002 the Ducks lost in Pullman, 32-21.

Washington State Head Coach Bill Doba is 13-4, and nine times during those 17 games the Cougars have held opponents scoreless in the first half. This is not particularly good news for the Ducks considering that besides the Idaho game, Oregon has only scored six points against Indiana, Oklahoma and Arizona State combined in the first half.

WSU is scoring 27.3 points per game this season and allowing opponent 15.0 points. They are rushing to the tune of 110.7 yards per game but are allowing 121.3 yards per game. WSU out gains foes in the passing game, 283.3 yards to 150.7 yards.

Quarterback Josh Swogger is 42-of-84, 513 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Alex Brink, from Sheldon High School in Eugene, is 13-for-25, 278 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Chris Braun is the leading ground gainer with 219 yards on 52 carries or a 4.2-yard per carry average. Tight end Troy Bienemann has the most catches with 12 for 134 yards and one touchdown. Wide Receiver Jason Hill is the leading receiver with 11 catches for 345, four touchdowns, with an average of 115.0 yards per game and a long of 76 yards. Wide receiver Trandon Harvey has 10 catches for 118 yards and one touchdown with a long of 51 yards.

Defensively, Will Derting leads the Cougars, a player Bellotti describes as a "dominant athlete." Derting playing from his linebacker position has 22 tackles, two for loss. Linebacker Scott Davis is the team's second leading tackler with 18 tackles, three for loss including one sack, and has two break ups. Both Derting and Davis have recovered fumbles. Punter Kyle Basler was named Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week two weeks ago, and has a 43.3-yard average with a long of 59 yards.

Regardless of how the season has gone so far for the Ducks, Bellotti still believes his team is confident and that they are a good team. What is gone now from the start of the season is a team talking about national championships. Whether the talk was all rhetoric for the benefit of media or if it was legitimate it is now a moot point, but what is undeniable is the record of 1-and-3. Clearly, Clemens needs more protection if he is going to have a fighting chance to make completions. The Ducks can not afford to see Derting or any of his teammates sprinting past linemen on their way to sacking Clemens. Playmakers must be found on the offensive line as well as the receivers, quarterback and defensive backs. Offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches must figure out a plan that incorporated the team's talent.

The game will not be televised and is scheduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff.

Notes:

Bellotti responded tersely regarding Ritchie Incognito. Incognito has already been granted an unconditional release from the Oregon program just one week after classes stared. Bellotti would not specify why Incognito is no longer a Duck -- if in fact he ever was one. Bellotti did indicate that Incognito's departure did not hurt the program and would handle the situation the same way if he had it to do over again.

While the head coach wanted receivers to make plays, Bellotti said that only Marcus Maxwell has been available for practice all year. Demetrius Williams is suffering from a turf toe and will have to play with that condition throughout the year. Bellotti expects freshman Cameron Colvin to see more playing time when Colvin commands and demands more time.

The listen to the entire oregonlive.com stream of the media conference click here

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