Stewart Feeling Better

A healthy Jonathan Stewart makes a trip to a hot Bulldog Stadium at Fresno State University on Saturday a lot more appetizing for Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti. The Ducks top man hopes what Stewart, the team's trainers and doctors are telling him is true. Bellotti indicated on Tuesday that Stewart should be available when Oregon takes on Fresno State this Saturday night.

"He (Stewart) feels, along with our trainers and doctors that he'll be fine and totally ready to play," said Bellotti during the Pac-10 media conference. "That excites me obviously because he's a big factor in what we do offensively."

Stewart ran for nearly 170 yards and scored twice in just three-quarters of play last Saturday against Stanford.

Bellotti answered questions during his weekly media conference and the Pac-10 media conference and asserted that his star running back was making fast progress in healing a slightly sprained ankle suffered near the end of the third quarter in Oregon's 48-10 victory over Stanford at Autzen Stadium last weekend. Stewart, making his first start as a Duck ran for 168 yards on 22 carries and crossing the goal line twice in an impressive performance before a national television audience.

Oregon travels to Fresno State this weekend to take on the Bulldogs who are fresh off a 28-19 home win over Nevada last Friday night. This will be the fifth time Bellotti has faced Fresno State as head coach and has been victorious in all four of the previous meetings with the latest being a 37-34 thriller last year at Autzen. This week's game will be carried live on a regional basis by ESPN2, but Bellotti thinks the FSU-Oregon series is TV-worthy and he'd like to see rivalry continue. The Oregon head coach believes the weather will be hot and that there will be high emotions running through the Fresno State crowd when the Ducks take the field on Saturday night. Any thought that he is overlooking FSU and towards Oregon's showdown with Oklahoma the following week, was quickly dismissed.

"The Fresno series consumes me and concerns me the most," responded Bellotti to a question of how he is preparing his team for FSU and Oklahoma. "I don't talk about who we play next (after game coming up)."

While many of the Duck faithful may still be basking in the one-sided victory the Ducks enjoyed last Saturday, Bellotti has quickly moved on, as he is not entirely certain how good Stanford was in that opening game. A better test could well come this week as FSU presents an outstanding running game featuring a big back, Dwayne Wright, who racked up 158 yards against Nevada. Bellotti thinks that FSU fields a solid running game and that Wright will have a big, experienced offensive line anchored by center Kyle Young to operate behind. Wright was named WAC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Nevada.

"Their (FSU) offensive line returns 4 out of 5 starters led by Kyle Young, their 330-pound center," "He (Wright) might be the biggest center in the United States, he's also one of the most talented."

Bellotti went on to say how FSU is committed to the run and employ a 260-pound tight end (Bear Pascoe), a 220-pound tailback (Wright) that runs with a great deal of power. The Oregon head coach thinks FSU runs a lot of "downhill plays," meaning that the direction of the run is straightforward. The coach specifically noted how impressed he is with how the FSU line blocks.

"They are very aggressive," Bellotti said of the FSU line. "They utilize zone blocking schemes to the max and do a very good job."

The challenge that the Fresno State running game presents to the Oregon defense could be the best indication of how this season projects for the Ducks. Last week, Stanford was unable to establish a running game against Oregon and consequently one of the key factors that the Cardinal wanted to utilize -- play action, did not work. Last season, when the Ducks had one of the best run-defenses in school history, the Bulldogs were held to 112 yards of rushing but gave up 418 yards of passing. Gone from last year's FSU roster is Paul Pinegar as signal caller but Tom Brandstater is this year's quarterback, and he had a respectable 124 yards and a touchdown toss in his first start against Nevada.

The question then seems to be how well will the smaller but quick and physical Oregon defensive front fare against FSU?

During the Pac-10 media conference, Stanford's Walt Harris offered that the Oregon defensive front is better than last year's because it is faster. Harris should know as his quarterback, Trend Edwards is considered by many to be the best in the conference and was held to 20-of-34 for 234 yards and a solo touchdown. Only Edwards scrambling ability kept him from being sacked more than the three times that was recorded. Bellotti gave high marks to one of the new faces on the defensive line, Jeremy Gibbs, who recorded five tackles including a sack, plus a blocked field goal.

"Jeremy Gibbs responded with a great effort in his first outing as a Duck," praised Bellotti of Gibbs' efforts against Stanford. "He should have been player of the week."

Like Stanford, FSU boasts a stable of tall, fast receivers, particularly senior Paul Williams, 6-2, 210, a player many believe will be a 1st round NFL draft pick next year. Williams had two catches for 22 yards last week against Nevada but last year was better in Eugene when he enjoyed a big day with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.

However, the key question that still remains is whether Stewart will play on Saturday. By all indications according to Bellotti, things look good for Stewart to be on the field. Bellotti reported that the swelling in Stewart's right ankle is down and while there is some stiffness, Bellotti believes the stiffness can worked out. The coach anticipates Stewart will practice on Wednesday in some fashion and will be good to go for the game. Even if Stewart is not 100 percent by game time, the Ducks have another weapon in the form of Jeremiah Johnson, who had a very good day on Saturday picking up 79 yards on 10 carries with a long of 56 yards and scored one touchdown.

"Jeremiah may have to be the guy starting this week," Bellotti mentioned in the case Stewart is not totally ready. "I think he's (Johnson) prepared to do that."

Kickoff for the Fresno State game is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be carried regionally on ESPN2. OSN will also replay the game at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. The game will also be carried on OSN Radio, with the pre-game show starting at 6 p.m.

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