Improve and Validate

If there is one word that Mike Bellotti is using frequently lately it is validation. The Oregon Ducks Coach is talking about how his team needs to prove to any doubters that the Ducks deserve their No. 12 ranking. This Saturday the Ducks take on the ASU Sun Devils (3-1, 0-1) and Oregon (3-0, 1-0) will have a chance for validation starting at 12:30 p.m. and televised on ABC.

"If we falter it will give more credence for people to believe that the Oklahoma game was just a fluke." said Bellotti during the weekly Pac-10 media conference. "We have to validate in a sense and the way to validate is to go out and play good football the next time you get a chance."

After winning a controversial game against Oklahoma, 34-33 on September 16th, Oregon had a bye week in which the team rested up but while doing so a furor was swirling around because of some bad calls and some questioned just how good are the Ducks.

While the extra time off was good for healing up some bumps and bruises, Bellotti's preference would have been to play another game last week and continue the momentum the Ducks started in the last two drives of the Oklahoma game. Against Oklahoma, the Ducks trailed the Sooners by 13 points (33-20) with just over three minutes left in the game. What transpired in those last few minutes will become an important part of Duck football lore and while much has been publicized about a bad call by the officials on an on-side kick, what has been less reported is what the Ducks accomplished in the closing moments of the game.

"The questions surrounding the on-side kick, obviously it effected the outcome of the game," Bellotti said during his weekly media conference. "At the time we thought the officials were right and the re-play backed it up. We played and did some things that were truly amazing and it was a feel-good kind of a story. After the fact it is difficult because there were acknowledged errors that were made."

Last week, the Pac-10 publicly acknowledged that the game officials made errors and an apology was made to Oklahoma for those errors.

Bellotti mentioned that he has coached games in the past where official's errors were made and were not made public but it has always been something that is considered part of football -- that the officials can make errors that can effect the outcome of a game.

Still, the Oregon headman believes that the Ducks are now operating under a cloud of suspicion and the only way anyone is going to believe the Ducks are for real is by going out and playing well for the rest of the season. Lost in the debate is the fact that the Ducks scored two touchdowns in less than 30 seconds to finish off a very good Oklahoma team. Bellotti hopes that the team won't lose any of the momentum generated by his team's impressive efforts during the last two series on September 16th due to the extra time off. What did he do to keep the Ducks on track during the bye week?

Watch game films and learn from the mistakes that were made.

While the Ducks did some amazing things against Oklahoma, Oregon also committed four turnovers compared to the Sooner's zero miscues. Quarterback Dennis Dixon gave up two interceptions against the Sooners and both Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson coughed up the ball on fumbles. Bellotti also thinks that his team was "out-athleted on special teams" and gave up too many rushing yards. Heisman Trophy candidate Adrian Peterson rushed for 205 yards against Oregon, most of that coming in the 4th quarter as the Ducks tired.

"We are responsible for what we accomplish but (also) what we didn't accomplish," remarked Bellotti. "Our actions and our in-actions."

A point the head coach has been driving home to his charges is that if they want to continue to be successful then they have to improve each week. Nothing they have done so far will be of any benefit if progress fails to be made.

"I fully anticipate that we will face better offensive teams, better defensive teams and better special teams in some aspect throughout the rest of our season," Bellotti predicted. "Taking nothing away from Oklahoma or any team we've played. It is simply that we need to improve."

Validation is the key word.

The Arizona Sun Devils might wish the Ducks were validating on someone else this weekend as they have some things to prove also. First off, they are coming off a 49-21 drubbing by California. Bellotti thinks the game score isn't exactly indicative of how good the Sun Devils really are and believes that four or five plays during the ASU-Cal game were really what made the difference. The Oregon coach thinks that ASU's quarterback Rudy Carpenter is a very accurate passer and has good mobility. It will be no surprise that the Sun Devils, coached by former Duck offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will want to throw and to establish a running game in order to utilize the play-action pass. It is also expected that the Duck's young cornerbacks will be tested with some new wrinkles.

One possible remedy will be the return of a Terrell Ward who has been sidelined with an ankle sprain. Ward, had been competing for a starting position through the spring workouts and fall camp until his injury and will be able to help spell Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond. Both Byrd and Thurmond also have special teams' responsibilities and Ward's addition will provide valuable depth in the Arizona heat. The Ducks lost one of their starting cornerbacks Jackie Bates for the season with a broken leg suffered against Fresno State.

Another area that has been thinned by injuries is the defensive line. Defensive end Victor Filipe is back on the practice field, but whether he will be a factor against ASU is unknown.

"We're relatively healthy," Bellotti said of his team's current condition. "We've gained T.J. Ward back at the cornerback position. Victor Filipe is practicing at defensive end. His (Filipe) status will be a game time decision. I don't know if he'll be ready to play or not, but I appreciate what he is doing and he is attempting to get back out there."

Arizona State is also laboring under the injury bug. Wide receiver Rudy Burgess the Sun Devil's best receiver could be available for the game but key offensive lineman Andrew Carnahan will most likely be out for the Saturday contest.

The Ducks most likely will face some hot temperatures at game time, and Bellotti believes that his team's conditioning and depth will help in combating the heat issues. Both Stewart and Johnson will be available along with Chris Vincent to bolster the potent Oregon ground game. Bellotti mentioned in the media conference that he felt the Duck coaching staff now understands the Oregon offense better and having impact players like Stewart, Johnson and Dixon give the coaches added dimensions when implementing the spread offense.

A healthy combination of running backs, a playmaking quarterback plus the versatile receiving corps will most likely be as sharp as ever but if the Ducks truly want to validate themselves the play of the defense will be critical. Last week, ASU's Ryan Toran rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns and considering the yardage the Ducks gave up against Adrian Peterson (205 yards) and to Fresno State's Dwayne Wright (154 yards) it is pretty clear which area needs some work.

Bellotti has preached to his team that in order to progress the Ducks need to improve. Improvement then seems to be the best way for Oregon validate itself and that opportunity presents itself on Saturday at Arizona State.

For the fourth straight time the game will be carried live with Dan Fouts calling the play-by-play. This time Fouts, Tim Brant and Jack Arute will do the game on ABC. The Oregon Sports Network with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman will replay the game at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and OSN Radio with Jerry Allen, Mike Jorgensen and Jay Allen will start the pre-game show at 11:30 a.m.

Subscribers to eDuck.com can follow the game and join in with other Duck fans by logging onto Chat during the game.

Notes:
- Bellotti said that Micah Howeth did not meet entry requirements for enrollment at the University of Oregon and will therefore not be a factor in the 2006 season.
- Linebacker Jason Turner is out with a torn ACL.
- Defensive tackle Jeremy Gibbs is expected to practice on Tuesday and should be available for the ASU game.

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