Civil War Week Closes Practices

Mike Bellotti looks at the annual Civil War as a week that requires extra effort because of the increase media and fan attention, the fact that it is the last game of the regular season and along with that more game films of the opponent to watch -- literally. The 10th ranked Oregon Ducks (9-1, 6-1), take on the Oregon State Beavers (5-5, 3-4) at Autzen Stadium this Saturday for the 109th edition of the Civil War with kickoff scheduled at 3:45 p.m. and to be aired on Fox Sports Net.

Bellotti has made this week's practices closed to the media, not so much that he is cooking up some secret strategy or game plan, but to protect his team from the attention associated with the game.

While the actual game preparation is not anything different at all from any other week, closing practice allows the players more focus on the task at hand, the upcoming game. Bellotti emphasized that media still has access to players for interviews, but the amount of attention the Civil War gets makes it necessary to add some layers of protection for the team. Attention, like fans that want to share what they've heard with others in Internet chat rooms. Bellotti made the point while responding to questions during the Pac-10 weekly media conference that was streamed on

"Even though it can be friendly fire so to speak, meaning people are talking about this player or that player, this athlete or that athlete in the chat rooms and the internet stuff," Bellotti said explaining some of the reasons to close practice. "It's just a way to stay focused and to make sure not too much information is given out."

His counterpart at Oregon State, Mike Riley isn't so different in his view of closing practices during the Civil War week. Riley acknowledges that Civil War week is special and everyone is excited about it. However, the Beavers' headman believes his players are very busy and that they have to maintain what they are doing outside of football. Consequently, while the team has been involved with some things, the Beavers coaching staff will try to protect the players by closing off practices to the public.

"We're going to give them accessibility to the media today," said Riley during the Pac-10 media conference steam live on "Then I'm going to close practices to the public and try to limit some of the outside distractions that come with a game like this, even though this game is tremendously exciting for everybody, but I've to make it right for our team."

Taking away the detractors then gives plenty of time for what the game might come down to. For Bellotti the thing that causes him stress is the quarterback situation for Oregon State. Riley announced that Matt Moore, Oregon States' starting quarterback would most likely miss the game this Saturday because of a strained knee ligament he suffered in last week's 20-17 loss to Stanford at Reiser Stadium in Corvallis. Sophomore Ryan Gunderson will make his first career start and it will be against the high-flying Ducks. While Mike Bellotti considers Gunderson the more strong-armed quarterback, the sophomore is not as mobile as Moore is. Bellotti views Gunderson as more of a pocket passer as was Derek Anderson, OSU's quarterback from last season. Whether Gunderson is as mobile as Moore may not be as big a question because OSU's star receiver Mike Haas will still be on the field and create a huge problem. Haas is a player that Bellotti respects and says he brings chemistry to the Beaver offense

"We tried every double-coverage known to man last year it didn't work very well," recalled Bellotti of Haas' performance against Oregon in 2004. "I've watched him do the same to other people."

The Beavers beat the Ducks in November of 2004, 50-21, in a game that Haas had 154 yards on nine catches and two touchdowns. This season Haas has 1,425 yards on 80 catches, six touchdowns and a 142.5-yard per game average.

Another part of the Beavers game that worries Bellotti is the defensive front line that has been brutal against opposing running games. OSU ranks 14th nationally in stopping the run and is giving up just 104.8 yards per game rushing. However, the pass defense is giving up 302.4 yards for a total of 407.2 yards per game. That compares to Oregon's 135.6 ypg against the run and 227.8 ypg against the pass for a total of 363.4. Offensively, OSU is averaging 122.9 yards rushing and 308.3 passing for a total of 431.2 yards offense. The Ducks are rushing 138.8 yards and passing for 314.9 or 453.7 yards total.

For the Ducks part though, they are playing very confidently and the BCS and poll rankings reflect just how well. Bellotti is enjoying this season and the Ducks turnaround from last year's disappointing 5-6 team that was shut out of post season play for the first time in 10 years. This team has found it's mark and is able to do the two things the previous team was unable to do -- focus and finish.

"It's been a great ride," observed Bellotti of the 2005 Ducks. "I thought these young men have certainly turned it around. I thought last year should have been better than it was. I thought we finished very poorly. This group has shown the ability to focus and finish. That has been our buzz words all year long and they've done a great job of it."

Oregon may seem to have a quarterback question of its own however, both Dennis Dixon, the starter and Brady Leaf the back up have had some shinning moments. Dixon was the quarterback that led the Ducks on the final five minute drive last Saturday against Washington State that ended up with a 19-yard field goal by Paul Martinez, giving the Ducks the 34-31 win. The week before, Leaf threw a touchdown pass to James Finley in overtime to secure a 27-20 win over California. Both both will see playing time again this week. However, Bellotti doesn't know if they will equally share series as they did last week in Pullman.

"Dennis is the starter and Brady is the back up, they'll play," stated Bellotti of this week's game. "I'm not exactly sure how we'll choreograph or orchestrate that at this point. It will become apparent over the course of the week of practice."

Riley is concerned and impressed with Oregon's defense.

"I really think their front four has overwhelmed a lot of people and done a great job," observed Riley of the Oregon defense. "Their defense is a big reason for their record this year. Statistically they are very high. They are very sound in the secondary. I think they are doing a great job back there and their linebackers play very smart so it's all parts. But that front is pretty impressive."

While many will speculate on what will happen in the game, for Bellotti's team, it will be focus on the game and for the coaching staff, 10 game films of this season's Beaver campaign to watch and dissect. Bellotti mentioned that the coaches are putting in about 100 hours a week now, and the big reward for all that effort is the 9-1 record and the smiles on the faces of his players.

Besides the bragging rights to the state, a victory will give the Beavers the sixth win that is needed for them to become bowl eligible. Oregon is already assured of a bowl game, but a win will keep the Ducks in contention for a BCS bowl. With a win Oregon could also be part of the Pac-10 championship depending on the outcome of the USC-UCLA game in two weeks. However, the revenge factor of making up for a humiliating loss in Corvallis last season is enough incentive for the Ducks to keep the Beavers in focus, finishing off the regular season and to keep smiling.

Kickoff for the contest on Saturday is scheduled for 3:45 p.m. The game will be carried on Fox Sports Net with Bill Macdonald, John Jackson and Larry Soto. The game will also be carried live on radio on the Oregon Sports Network with Jerry Allen, Mike Jorgensen and Bobby DeBisschop. OSN will also carry the game on a delay basis with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman. The replay on Saturday will be at 11 p.m. on Comcast 14 and 11:30 p.m. on KEZI (Eugene), KDRV (Medford) and KDKF (Klamath Falls). The game will also be rebroadcast on Sunday at 8 p.m. on Comcast 14. DirectTV will show the game on Channel 656, Sunday at 1 p.m. ESPNU and DirectTV (Channel 609) will show the game on Wednesday at 10 p.m.

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