Fundamentally it was the Defense

The Oregon defense highlighted the scrimmage on Saturday afternoon and while the observers on sideline may have found the practice less than entertaining, Oregon's head coach Mike Bellotti thought the defense stepped up the effort. While both sides of the ball are adjusting to the new Duck offense, the defensive side showed their experience and solid fundamentals in the controlled scrimmage in Autzen Stadium.

"I was very, very impressed with our first team defense," said Bellotti of the practice. "I really thought they flew around. They made the offense think. They took away some of the aggressiveness. Then they made some key open field tackles to stop some plays."

The three-hour practice was conducted on Brooks Field and a set sequence was followed that allowed the first team offense led by senior quarterback Kellen Clemens to take on the first team defense. There were no big plays during the scrimmage although there were a number of good runs including one run of nearly 17 yards by senior Terrence Whitehead. Whitehead finished the day with eight carries for 30 yards. The passing game was not especially sharp for any of the quarterbacks although Bellotti was quick to point out that the defensive unit has had a couple of weeks to get used to what the offense will do. As was the case last year, the offensive line was tasked to provide protection and today the offensive line struggled.

"I thought our offensive line in terms of overall pass protection was the poorest we've been all year," remarked Bellotti. "Again I think the defense stepped it up a notch."

With senior defensive end Devan Long still held out of contact, the underclassmen showed that they are fitting into the scheme of things for the green defense. Only two touchdown passes were made. One was 3-yard toss from Clemens to tight end Dan Krause and the other was a 1-yard score from sophomore Brady Leaf to sophomore Garren Strong. The Duck defenders were able to put pressure on all three quarterbacks, Clemens, Dennis Dixon and Leaf. Clemens finished up the afternoon 9-of-18 for 27 yards, while Dixon was 4-for-6 and 25 yards. Leaf led the way with 4-of-7 for 41 yards. Even though Long was not present other defensive ends such as Darius Sanders and Victor Filipe and Thor Pili caught the head coaches attention.

"We got good play from our ends, they all showed up," said a pleased Bellotti. "Nobody seemed to be a liability today and that was good."

The leader of the defense, junior defensive tackle Haloti Ngata thought that on a scale of 1-to-10 the defensive unit is improving with some work yet to do.

"I'd say are probably a seven or eight, we still have things to work on as a group," said Ngata. "We need to get a little more power but we're doing good as a group."

Last season Bellotti had indicated that protecting the quarterback was problem for the Ducks and after today's performance by the offensive line was there cause for concern?

"It's not about the offense now it is about the execution," remarked the coach. "It's about pad level. It is about striking. It's about pride. It's about recognizing movement schemes. It wouldn't matter if we running our old offense, the biggest thing now is getting back to fundamental techniques."

The kicking game struggled all day as the various Duck kickers only managed to put the ball through the uprights twice. There were a number of blocked field goal attempts.

Bellotti indicated that next week the Ducks would practice four times, twice in shells and twice in pads. The squad will scrimmage again next Friday and the coach most likely will script more situations into the scrimmage.

The learning curve has been steep at times for the team but again the issue of fundamentals is the key ingredient in the progress of this team. The offensive line is rebuilding itself after graduating four seniors last season and while it is obvious that the Ducks have size and talent, the experience factor is being developed – along with the basics.

Notes:
Bellotti mentioned the following injuries:
Andiel Brown suffered a concussion early in the scrimmage.
J.D. Nelson hurt his shoulder in 7-on-7.
Ryan Keeling hurt his knee during the scrimmage. Bellotti was not sure of the severity.
Devlin Bayne and James Finley were held out of the scrimmage for undisclosed academic reasons. Finley did participate in practice but not scrimmage.

Terrell Jackson had seven carries for 32 yards; Dixon had eight carries for 21 yards. Niles Mittasch carried the ball five times for 29 yards. Demetrius Williams caught five passes for 12 yards while Kyle Weatherspoon caught four for 25 yards.

The most heated action broke out toward the end of the scrimmage when offensive lineman Palauni Ma Sun and Sanders exchanged haymakers and were promptly rewarded with stadium runs (going up and down the stadium steps) by Bellotti.

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