Offense progresses in scrimmage

Calling the scrimmage a bit ragged and sloppy, Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti saw an improvement on the offensive side of the ball after the team scrimmaged at Autzen Stadium on Friday afternoon. The defense playing with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata gave up six touchdowns to the offense, four by air and two by ground as the Ducks concluded the third week of spring drills.

"(The) offense is coming along," said Bellotti of the effort on the new offensive system. "It was crisper (but) still not where we want it to be, but shows some of the things that can happen with it and what it does to a defense."

While the coach recognized what a man of Ngata's talent can do in changing the complexion of a game, still the Duck offense is showing improvement and the results were noticeable. After starting off slowly at the beginning of the scrimmage the Ducks showed the ability to run the ball and open things up for the passing game. Senior Terrence Whitehead is back at full speed and led the rushers with 69 yards on just seven carries. Whitehead demonstrated his ability to pick his holes and make cuts that caused defenders to miss. While Whitehead showed his experience, red shirt freshman Terrell Jackson was impressive with his quick feet and gained 28 yards on five carries and scored a touchdown. Former Churchill High School star Niles Mittasch showed speed around the end and picked up the other rushing touchdown while gaining a total of 37 yards on five carries. Steady sophomore Andiel Brown picked up 28 yards on six rushes and quarterback Dennis Dixon continued to draw the attention of watchers from the sideline as he cut and slashed his way to 40 yards on eight carries.

"I thought we can and should run the ball even more but we want to maintain balance," observed Bellotti of the new system. "The running game can go a lot of places and keeps the defense honest."

While Ngata, who was held out of action may have made a difference today, it was clear that Ducks' offensive line is capable of creating holes for the running backs to take advantage. Once the Ducks were able to gain some momentum running the ball, the passing game loosened up. Dixon took advantage of his snaps and while the defense had to honor his ability to cut up the line of scrimmage, the 6-foot-4 quarterback found open receivers and threw two touchdowns. The first score was to Jaison Williams for a 20-yard score and then later in the scrimmage, Dixon spotted Garren Strong wide open for an easy touchdown. Senior Kellen Clemens threw one touchdown on a shovel pass to Kyle Weatherspoon but also had the biggest play of the day on a 43-yarder to Demetrius Williams. Sophomore Brady Leaf also had a touchdown pass. While Clemens showed his stronger arm particularly on the deep ball, Dixon continued to draw attention with his ability to keep the ball moving down field. Bellotti cautioned that there is still a lot of growth in store for Dixon, but still was impressed with the effort today.

"He's electric when he has the ball in his hands," said Bellotti of Dixon. "He can carry the ball with his feet he did a nice job with his pitches and keeping the ball alive."

Weatherspoon was the leading receiver of the day with four catches for 40 yards and the two scores. Strong had three grabs for 33 yards. One of the more impressive plays of the day was made by junior wide receiver James Finley. Finley maybe the most gifted athlete on the Ducks roster and demonstrated the presence of mind to snag an errant snap that went over Clemens' head. Grabbing the ball mid-air with one hand, Finley turned the play around from a disaster to gain a yard.

"Me and Kellen were supposed to run the option, but the snap was high so I went and got it," described the good-natured Finley of the play. "I saw Kellen try to get it but he couldn't so I did and tried to make something happen."

One area the Bellotti was not pleased was the kicking game. The kickers again struggle to kick the ball through the uprights on point after conversions (only making two) and Bellotti was not pleased with punt protection. Part of the problem was that place kicker Paul Martinez had a groin pull and that affected his kicking, but the headman was blunt in his assessment of today's effort by special teams.

"Our kicking game was not good enough," Bellotti remarked.

There were several penalties called during the scrimmage and while it may have been due to a more alert officiating crew that number of flags were more than had been previously thrown in earlier scrimmages. Bellotti indicated that he wanted more scrutiny by the officials so that correction can be made though he felt he would have review the films of the practice to get a better feel if there was an area of concern.

All-in-all, the Ducks showed improvement and while the offense was able to move the ball with more fluidity it must be noted that the Duck defenders were without Ngata and senior defensive end Devan Long. The good news is that Oregon's defense should be much-improved next fall and the offensive team is capable of scoring points. Walking out of the tunnel toward the locker room big offensive tackle Geoff Schwartz was pleased with the progress of an offense that scored six touchdowns.

"We're getting better," smiled Schwartz.

Schwartz's assessment was correct and it was apparent the team is learning the new system and the progress is steady and moving forward.

The Ducks will finish off the spring workouts with the annual spring game next Saturday, scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m.

Notes:
Ngata was held out but did not appear to be ailing and should be available for practice next week. Bellotti noted the following injuries but made no mention of any being serious.
Cameron Colvin: re-sprained his ankle
Brent Haberly: quad bruise
Finley: knee contusion
Jon Teague: rolled an ankle
Ian Reynoso: lower back strain

Stats:

Rushing
Terrence Whitehead, 7-69
Terrell Jackson, 5-23, one touchdown
Andiel Brown, 6-28
Dennis Dixon, 8-40
Niles Mittasch, 5-37, one touchdown

Passing
Kellen Clemens, 4-11-79, one touchdown
Dennis Dixon, 5-9-65, two touchdowns
Brady Leaf, 3-6-21, one touchdown
Kyle Bennett, 1-2-5

Receiving
Kyle Weatherspoon, 4-40, two touchdowns
Garren Strong, 3-33, one touchdown
Jaison Williams, 1-20, touchdown
Brian Paysinger, 2-14
Demetrius Williams, 1-43

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