Excitement and Resolve Abound

For a team that is making its first appearance at Autzen Stadium, Oregon's Head Coach Mike Bellotti thinks it is almost like playing another conference game. That is because for the third year in a row, the 18th ranked Oregon Ducks are taking on the 15th ranked Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday starting at 12:30 p.m. Bellotti thinks his team's mentality is of excitement and resolve.

The Ducks and Sooners hooked up in 2004 in Norman and the Ducks came back disappointed after a 31-7 loss. Oregon had a second chance at Oklahoma in the 2005 Holiday Bowl on a neutral field in San Diego, but lost a 17-14 thriller that Bellotti feels the Ducks had a very good chance of winning. Now the Sooners travel to Eugene and to complete the home-and-home series in a game that many people have talked about for a long time.

"This being the third year in a row we're playing Oklahoma, it feel's like a league game almost," said Bellotti during the weekly Pac-10 media conference. "We've seen too much of them."

Bellotti thinks it is hard to tell what kind of team this current Oklahoma squad is compared to the team the Ducks face in last year's Holiday Bowl. The Sooners have a different quarterback (Paul Thompson) however there is still a "full-speed ahead, 100 percent Adrian Peterson" running the ball.

Peterson has rushed for 304 yards in Oklahoma's first two wins. The Sooners defeated the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) 24-17 and last week overwhelmed Washington 37-20 after a slow start in the game.

Oregon is coming off a 31-24 road win over a tough Fresno State in which the Bulldog's running back Dwayne Wright ripped off 154 yards and a touchdown. While both Wright and Peterson are powerful runners Bellotti believes that there are some differences between the two backs. Peterson is a taller and faster back than Wright although the Fresno State star maybe more patient. However, even though Peterson could be less patient his speed is scary for Bellotti as the Heisman hopeful can get to the corners and be gone to the end zone every time he touches the ball.

Bellotti believes Fresno State's offensive line, while different in size and athletic ability than the Sooners, are very good technicians of the position. In some ways Fresno State and Oklahoma are similar in that both operate a power running attack with one or two tight ends and a lead back in the formations.

"The same issues we had with Fresno State will become issues again if we don't take care of business against Oklahoma, especially with a running back like Adrian Peterson," Bellotti commented.

Bellotti said his defense "played poorly last week." The head coach pointed out that his defense played well in the Holiday Bowl when Halati Ngata was not in the game and that gives him reason to believe that the defense is capable of playing Oklahoma much better than they showed against Fresno State.

On the other side of the ball, Bellotti thinks his offense this season has improved because the team's physical condition is better. The offensive line has lost a combined total of 100 pounds or more making the linemen more athletic, which should help in the upcoming match up. There are a couple of other reasons too why the offense is better. One, Dennis Dixon is a more comfortable in his role this year.

"Dennis' athleticism matches up well with this team," remarked Bellotti of Dixon's abilities. "He was very nervous against Oklahoma and it took him a while to get untracked in the bowl game. He is a much better field general now. He's more comfortable in the offense itself...the game has slowed down for him."

There is another reason too. A running back, who didn't do much against Fresno State last week because of being sidelined with a sore ankle, but should be ready to go Saturday -- Jonathan Stewart.

"Jonathan's combination of speed, strength and power is unmatched on our team," said Bellotti of his star back. "When healthy he is a difference maker and is a guy we need in order to compete with the top teams in the nation."

Stewart had 168 yards and two touchdowns against Stanford in the opener on September 2nd. Last week Stewart touch the ball once, for 3-yards and a touchdown. In Stewart's place against Fresno State was fellow sophomore Jeremiah Johnson, who racked up 74 yards and two touchdowns. This week the two should see action against the Sooners.

"A healthy Jonathan Stewart combined with a healthy Jeremiah Johnson gives us a great 1-2 punch at running back," observed Bellotti. "I think you need that in this day and age,"

The Oregon headman believes his offense is better than the one that took the field in San Diego last December.

"We are a better team than the one that played in the Holiday Bowl especially on offense," Bellotti stated. "Because we understand the offense better."

Oklahoma's Bob Stoops believes the Ducks are going be very similar to what he saw in San Diego with a few modifications.

"They spread the ball around and give you all the shotgun formations there are and motion people back (and) run their options," described Stoops of Oregon's offense. "Very similar to what we saw in the Bowl game in the way they execute in what they like to do."

Oklahoma's Holiday Bowl team defense, which Bellotti called the best he's ever seen, is now a senior-laden group. Bellotti likened the Oklahoma defense in the Holiday Bowl to that of the 90-91 Washington Huskies only better. Bellotti concedes the Sooner secondary is a little bit young, but still the Oregon coach is highly complimentary toward a team he is about to face.

When the subject of how important this game will be in terms of future rankings, possible national championship aspirations and potential bowl games, both coaches had similar views while one was a bit more combative with the questions about the implications of the game.

"If you have aspirations to play for a national championship every game counts," reflected Bellotti on the importance of winning the upcoming game. "Certainly against other top-20 teams are the one's by which you gauge yourself."

When Stoops was asked about national perception and what people think about the upcoming game and the effect on the rankings, he was blunt in his response.

"I don't care about that," said Stoops. "I look at it (the upcoming game) as a chance to win and be 3-0."

Stoops went onto say that what is important it how teams finish and that at the end of the season those committees who make decisions on where teams will go tally up the losses and then slot teams in bowl games.

In a sense Stoops was more confrontational in his responses to questions about the perception of the polls and rankings. However, both coaches agreed in a game like the Oregon-Oklahoma match up, a win is all that matters to the pollsters while a loss means a team regardless of how good it is will be forgotten.

With all that then, what is the mentality of the Ducks for this Saturday? For Oregon, Bellotti used just two words to describe it, "excitement and resolve."

"A lot of people have talked about this game for several years when it was scheduled and now everybody can talk about it," Bellotti explained. "This team has done a great job of focusing on the task at hand and I give them great credit. In years past we may not have had this much focus for Stanford or Fresno State with the idea of Oklahoma coming to town. Now we are little more used to that, our players have played Oklahoma. Our fans have seen Oklahoma close and personal (but) they've never seen them in Autzen Stadium so it is an exciting thing for them but I think we can all focus on the opportunity at hand."

Kickoff for this Saturday is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (Pacific Time). The game will be carried live on ABC with Dan Fouts calling the play, Tim Brandt providing commentary and Jack Arute on the sidelines. OSN will also air the game on a delayed basis (11:30 p.m.) with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman. OSN radio will start its pre-game show at 11:30 a.m. with the normal crew of Jerry Allen, Mike Jorgensen and Jay Allen.

Subscribers to eDuck.com can join in the fun with fellow eDuckers online by joining Chat during the contest.

Stewart is available for the game on Saturday and practiced "full go" on Monday.

A decision will be made by Friday on who will start in place of the injured Jackie Bates. Bellotti indicated that it could be Jameel Dowling, Willie Glasper, Jairus Byrd or Patrick Chung. All capable of playing and Bellotti likes the Ducks' flexibility but conceded that the depth at the position has taken a hit.

Garren Strong will practice Wednesday.

Derrick Jones will not be available to play this week. Bellotti indicated that Jones has the potential of being a great player, his condition and the amount of time is not enough to allow him to play this weekend.

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