Finally, It is Football!

Houston--The Oregon Ducks kick off the 2005 season on Thursday by meeting the Houston Cougars at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. The Ducks coming off a 5-6 season, the worst in Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti's 11 years at Oregon hope to turn things around with a road win.

The Ducks will display a new offensive scheme that is the brainchild of new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton. Oregon will spread the field and take advantage of senior quarterback Kellen Clemens' ability to scramble and throw on the run. At times, Clemens, 6-2, 218, may have up to five receivers in a pattern. His two primary receivers from last season, senior wide receiver Demetrius Williams, 6-2, 191 and senior tight end/H-Back Tim Day, 6-4, 245, are poised for a big year. Sophomore Cameron Colvin, 6-2, 199 and junior James Finley, 6-2, 206, are the other wide receivers. KEZI TV reported that Finley overcame eligibility questions and traveled with the team yesterday and is available for the game tonight. Junior Dante Rosario, 6-4, 243 is a converted fullback to tight end.

The rushing attack is headed by senior tailback Terrence Whitehead, 5-11, 220, is backed up by heralded incoming freshman Jonathan Stewart, 5-11, 228 and redshirt freshman Terrell Jackson, 5-9, 196.

The offensive line is a relatively new group from last year's frontline that featured four seniors. Junior center Enoka Lucas, 6-3, 296 and senior guard Ian Reynoso, 6-4, 305 are the elders of the line in terms of experience. Sophomore tackle Geoff Schwartz, 6-7, 351 and junior guard Paluni Ma Sun, 6-5, 365, (a transfer from Fresno College) are massive additions to the starting line up. Redshirt freshman Max Unger, 6-4, 291 is the other starting tackle.

Oregon's defense is anchored by junior co-captain defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, 6-5, 338 and defender senior cornerback Aaron Gipson, 5-9, 179, who is also a co-captain along with Clemens and Lucas. The Ducks defensive line may be the best ever in Oregon history. Along with Ngata, senior defensive end Devin Long, 6-5, 266, junior defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, 6-3, 279 and senior defensive end Darius Sanders, 6-5, 279 are expected to be starters for the contest. Oregon's secondary led by Gipson and fellow senior cornerback Justin Phinisee, 5-11, 200, is fast and athletic. Junior free safety J.D. Nelson, 5-11, 211 and redshirt rover Patrick Chung, 5-11, 197, round out the starting defensive backfield for tonight's game. The starting linebackers are senior Anthony Trucks, 6-1, 226, sophomore A.J. Tuitele, 5-11, 210 and junior Brent Haberly, 6-0, 220.

The punter is junior Matt Dragich, 6-1, 222 and junior Paul Martinez, 6-2, 215 is the place kicker. Back up sophomore quarterback Brady Leaf is the holder and sophomore Eric Steimer, 6-0, 225 is the long snapper.

The Ducks have won 18 of their last 21 season openers and are 8-2 in season openers under Bellotti having outscored its opponents, 310-209, in those 10 contests. Oregon is 1-0 all time against Houston. The Ducks beat the Cougars 15-13 at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 24, 1983.

Art Briles is the Houston head coach in his third year with a 10-14 overall record. Briles' Houston team is 2-1 versus non-conference opponents at home and this will be his first game against a Pac-10 opponent since taking over the Houston job.

Junior quarterback Kevin Kolb is a preseason Maxwell Award and Davey O'Brien nominee as the nation's top offensive player and top quarterback. Last year, Kolb paced Conference USA in total offense (256.1 ypg) and was second in passing (251.5 ypg). In his two-year career, he has completed 418-of-713 passes for 5,897 yards and 36 touchdowns, and has been intercepted only 12 times. Kolb was one of three Cougars named to the preseason squad and was a second-team choice, while senior wide receiver Vincent Marshall and sophomore offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers were first team picks. Sophomore wide out Donnie Avery, earned freshman all conference accolades. Senior running back Anthony Evans was a third-team all-conference selection two years ago, but was hampered by injuries in 2004. On defense, Houston will use a 3-4 scheme, and led up front by defensive end Kade Lane. The third-team all-conference choice last year has started all 36 of his career appearances. Junior Wade Koehl was a 2004 Butkus Award nominee will anchor the linebacking corps, while sophomores Brendan Pahulu and Rocky Schwartz were conference all-freshman first-team honorees last year at linebacker and strong safety. Junior Justin Laird is the punter.

Houston returns eight starters on both the offense and defense.

Thursday night's game marks the first time Oregon will play a game with an instant replay. Conference USA will experiment with an ‘NFL Model' for its instant replay, which differs from the Pac-10 procedure in that it allows the referee to make the final decision. The Pac-10 version says that a technical advisor in the booth will make the final call. The Conference USA procedure allows a technical advisor to call for the replay, but not make the final decision.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. (Central), 4 p.m. (Pacific) and will be carried live on ESPN2 with Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Mike Gottfried (color commentary) and Dave Ryan (sideline reporter). The game will also be broadcast on Oregon Sports Network radio starting with a pre-game show at 3 p.m. (PDT). Jerry Allen, Mike Jorgensen and Bobby DeBisschop are the radio crew for the game. A replay will be aired on Oregon Sports Network and YES Network, at 11:30 p.m. (PDT) with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman.

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