Ducks seek to win and go up a level

What do you do when you are an 8-point favorite on the road over a team that now struggles with the question of activating a player for the position that may hold the most responsibility on a team? If you are Mike Bellotti and your team is the Oregon Ducks (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) you continue to emphasis direction, focus, philosophy and motivate your team as the one expected to beat Arizona, (1-5, 0-3) on Saturday in Tucson.

"We know we are going to be in a bowl game," said Bellotti. "The only thing I talk about is the quality of the bowl game. Every time we win, it improves the quality of the game, the quality of the opponent we are going to see."

The Ducks have already secured a bowl birth with the 45-21 win over Washington last week, but Bellotti keeps reminding his charges that every win means a better bowl game for the post season. Does that mean he is taking Arizona lightly? No, it means that Bellotti continues to keep his team focused on the fact that in order to get the rewards of success -- a better bowl game, that his team must beat Arizona.

On the other side of the field this Saturday, Mike Stoops may make a decision to bring in freshman quarterback Willie Tuitama in order to give the Wildcats a chance at righting their season. The Wildcats lost to Stanford, 20-16 at home. The Stanford loss came on the heels of a competitive (at least in the first half) game with USC in Los Angeles the week before when the 'Cats were downed 42-21. While the Ducks can sympathize with the loss to USC, after all Oregon only managed 13 points in their loss to the Trojans (45-13), the next week the Ducks steam rolled Stanford, 44-20 in Palo Alto.

Tuitama was a player that committed to Arizona in June last year, very early in the process. The 6-2, 212-pound quarterback out of St. Mary's High School in Stockton, California, was evaluated by the Ducks, and Oregon would have offered him a scholarship but Tuitama found Arizona to be the place for him early on.

Stoops is considering the possibility because so far this season, his starting quarterback, Richard Kovalcheck has had some good moments and bad. Kovalcheck is 119-for-208, 1,304 yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. However, according to Stoops, there have been some poor decisions made by Kovalcheck and this has prompted the consideration of playing Tuitama.

"We've had some inconsistencies there," said Stoops of the Arizona quarterback situation. "At times we look really good and at other times not so good."

Tuitama is a strong-armed thrower, but he has not yet been put into a situation facing a Pac-10 defense, let alone one like the Oregon Ducks. Stoops thinks the problems his team is facing is overcoming turnovers, penalties and being consistent on offense.

"Turnovers is something we haven't been able to overcome," evaluated Stoops. "We're not good enough to overcome that."

Last week against Stanford, the Wildcats miscued five times, with three fumbles and two interceptions. The lost field position gave Stanford great opportunities but Bellotti is not so confident that the same thing will fall into place for his team next Saturday.

"They play hard on offense, defense and special teams," said Bellotti of Arizona. "They are going to run the football. They play a physical game. They do a great job on third down defense and limiting first downs. They held Stanford to under 200 yards but lost the turnover-take away battle. Their punter is the number one punter in the nation and a true weapon."

Arizona's running game consists of tailback Mike Bell, who had 88 yards on 21 carries last week and scored a touchdown. For the season Bell has 450 yards on 106 attempts or a 75.0-yard per game average. He has scored two rushing touchdowns. Gilbert Harris has 109 yards on 36 carries and three touchdowns.

The overall statistics for Arizona reveals them scoring 19.3 points per game and giving up 26.7 points. They have a total of 1,851 yards of offense or 308.5 yards per game, broken down by 85.8 yards of rushing (515 yards of total rushing) and 222.7 yards passing (1,336 yards total). They have given up an average of 391.5 yards to opposing offenses (199.2 yards rushing, 192.3 passing). The Ducks so far this season have racked up huge numbers on offense with 487.3 yards per game (147.1 rushing and 341.1 passing) and scoring 36.4 points per game.

Oregon's defense has allowed 25.0 points per game and has given up 352.4 yards per game (108.4 rushing, 244.0 passing) in the 2005 campaign. Bellotti has some reasons why the defense has been playing so well this season, particularly over the last three games.

"Playing with greater emotion, playing with greater intensity and running to the football," cited Bellotti of the defensive unit's improvement "Our defensive line has come of age."

Headed into the season, the Oregon coaching staff thought the defensive line would be the leader of the defense and Bellotti thinks having end Devan Long back from an early injury has made a significant difference. Tackle Haloti Ngata has pushed his game up a notch making the line a very formidable part of the team. Bellotti also mentioned linebacker Blair Phillips, Brent Haberly and Anthony Trucks in responding to questions during the Pac-10 media teleconference that was streamed live on

Oregon's offense has been spectacular led by senior quarterback Kellen Clemens. Clemens is averaging 317.0 yards of passing per game on 175-for-271, 2,219 yards, 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Maybe one of the biggest statistics of the year is that Oregon quarterbacks have only been sacked 8 times this year while the Oregon defense has recorded 20 sacks.

Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton has turned the Oregon offense into what Bellotti describes as a hybrid offense, taking things Crowton brought in from BYU and combining with the Oregon playbook. Wide receiver Demetrius Williams has benefited from the offense along with Clemens. Williams is the leading receiver with 772 yards on 41 catches (110.3 ypg) and running back Terrence Whitehead is the leading rusher with a 57.2-yard average. A significant point is that 17 receivers have a catch this season for the Ducks and six receivers have double figure catches.

"The skill level is there," observed Stoops of the Oregon spread offense. "The schemes are drastically different the way the spread the field and try to and throw the ball"

Stoops indicated he saw a lot of Texas Tech's and Utah's offense in the Oregon offense.

Bellotti feels he must continue to motivate his team, even though it might be easier to do so as the underdog. The Ducks are favored but keeping the team emotionally focused and prepared to play is Bellotti's task.

Oregon will need to maintain the same intensity it has shown in the last three games when they play Arizona. Interestingly, the Ducks have started slowly in each of the games against Stanford, Arizona State and Washington, and in fact the opponents all scored first. Last week Oregon started the game off with Washington by fumbling away the first two offensive possessions on the first play of each drive. However, the Duck offense settled quickly and took control of the last three games by halftime. This week, Oregon must do the same thing if they want to win and elevate one more level in bowl competition.

Bellotti indicated that linebacker A.J. Tuitele maybe available for Saturday's game. Bellotti also announced that Nate LiaBraaten has been forced to give up football because of concussions. LiaBraaten suffered a concussion during the USC game and did not respond the way team doctors felt would be safe for him to continue playing. LiaBraaten had walked on in 2001 and earned a scholarship for his play. He saw action as a tight end and a defensive end. Bellotti mentioned that LiaBraaten would stay on scholarship and finish school. LiaBraaten will still be involved with the team helping the staff in coaching younger players.

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