Will Morphing Duck Defense Change Outcome?

A morphing Oregon defense could be the key to Saturday's Oregon-California game. The Ducks will be facing a great running back and three outstanding receivers, but Oregon's Mike Bellotti hopes the momentum started last week against Arizona State will carry over this week at California. The Ducks will get their chance when the ball is kicked off (5:00 p.m.) at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.

While Bellotti is quick to admit that the Ducks probably won't improve that much in stopping California's Marshawn Lynch, whom Bellotti characterizes as the "the best receiving-running back in the nation," the coach does think Oregon's defense played the best game of the season last week. He's hoping the trend will continue this week.

"Our defense in my mind played its best game of the season certainly one of the best games I can remember last week at Arizona State," Bellotti said of the defensive effort against ASU. "We need to continue to improve on that."

The Ducks, faced with a thinned defensive line made some adjustments against Arizona State by moving defensive end Matt Toeaina back to tackle against the Sun Devils and inserted the speedy sophomore Nick Reed into the line up at end. This week there will be more adjustments because starting defensive tackle Cole Linehan is out for an extended period because of a broken foot that will require surgery.

The Ducks's depth on the defensive line was further complicated last week because tackle Jeremy Gibbs stayed in Eugene nursing a sprained ankle. David Faaeteete will now be the starting tackle along side of Toeaina and Dexter Manley should see playing time again after recording three quarterback sacks against the Sun Devils. Bellotti mentioned that Gibbs is practicing along with defensive end Victor Filipe and the coach hopes both will be available for this Saturday's game.

On Saturday, Oregon went into Sun Devil Stadium and absolutely dismantled ASU 48-13 and only allowed 175 yards total offense. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter had been averaging 261.8 yards per game in total offense but could only generate 6-of-19 passing for 33 yards. Even though he was picked off four times and sacked five times by California the week before the Ducks arrived, Carpenter still threw for 177 yards and had two touchdowns against the Bears.

Prior to the ASU game Oregon's best defensive effort was against Stanford when the Ducks allowed 324 total yards and 10 points. Additionally the Ducks did not allow ASU's offense to score a touchdown.

Bellotti has spoke in the past about the great Washington defense of the early 90's that featured Steve Entman, a player Bellotti characterizes as one of the best athletes ever to play in the Pac-10. While those Husky defenses are remembered as being very fast, and excluding Entman were not particularly big, is anything similar to the current Duck defense?

The Huskies of that era played with speed and had good athletes. The Oregon defense that will take the field on Saturday may not have a player of Entman's stature on the field, but the Duck defense has speed and good athletes all along the front, at linebacker and in the secondary. Out of necessity is Oregon re-inventing itself?

"I think it is morphing," responded Bellotti to the question.

Bellotti went on to add that the Duck defense seeks to have the same building blocks as the Entman-era Huskies.

"Our defense is built along the same principles," said Bellotti of his defense. "One of the principles is that you maintain a good 4-man pass rush. If you do that you allow your linebackers and secondary in different forms of coverage."

This week against California, the Duck defenders will have to deal with Nate Longshore a quarterback that Bellotti believes operates very comfortably from the pocket and is able to get the ball to places a trio of speedy receivers can catch it. Longshore has 1,136 yards of passing this year on 77-of-111, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also has three receivers that are on the Ducks' radar. DeSean Jackson has 27 catches for 445 yards and seven touchdowns. Lavelle Hawkins has 21 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns while Robert Jordan has 18 catches for 254 yards and a touchdown.

Added into the mix is a player that the Ducks will need to know where his whereabouts at all times -- running back Marshawn Lynch, and the morphing Ducks have their hands full. Lynch has 11 catches for 123 yards and three receiving scores to go along with his 111-yard per game rushing average and four rushing touchdowns.

"We need to find ways to get to the quarterback to disrupt his rhythm," observed Bellotti of the Cal offense. "He (Longshore) has tremendous confidence in his receivers and has confidence that he can get the ball to where they can catch it. They also have the best receiving-running back in the nation in Marshawn Lynch coming out of the backfield. He's fast and he's tough."

One of the playmakers on defense that could make a huge impact for the Ducks is linebacker Blair Phillips. Phillips is the Pac-10's leading tackler with 10 tackles per game and has shown great development since coming to Oregon from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. Phillips, in his senior year has made the adjustment from playing at the junior college level and has not only shown improvement as a player but also as a leader of the defense. Playing with a greater sense of urgency and recognition, Bellotti believes Phillips is a key on the defense.

"Blair (Phillips) is playing well and certainly he has taken a greater load on his shoulders now that Brent (Haberly) is not there," indicated Bellotti of his star linebacker. "That is something that you don't always see. He's taken on a greater leadership role, greater play calling role for the defense. Still his numbers continue to be good."

The defensive test seems to be if the Ducks can put up enough pressure on Longshore and not allow him to pick out his targets at will. Will Phillips and the newly constructed defensive line be up to the task?

Last week most thought that ASU would be too much for the Ducks to handle and in fact the betting line suddenly shifted on Friday from favoring Oregon to making ASU a 1-point favorite over the Ducks. Perhaps the smart money thought that the hot temperatures would be a factor and maybe someone found out a head of time that Gibbs was not going to make the trip to Tempe. Whatever happened there maybe some betters that lost their shirts when the final whistle blew last Saturday. Oregon's dismantling of Arizona State was less about the great offensive play that everyone expected, but a great defensive effort that certainly wasn't indicative of an average defensive unit.

The morphing Oregon defense will have the chance to show if its effort against ASU was a one-time fluke or something more on Saturday starting at 5:00 p.m.

-While Filipe and Gibbs are practicing, Bellotti indicated in his media conference on Tuesday that he thought that it was more likely Gibbs would be available on for the Cal game.
-Saturday's contest will be the time the Ducks will not have Dan Fouts and Tim Brandt covering the game for either ABC or ESPN. This week, the game carried on ABC will have Brent Musburger, Bob Davie and Lisa Salters as the crew for the regional telecast.
- Oregon Sports Network with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman will re-broadcast the game at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night.
- OSN Radio with Jerry Allen, Mike Jorgensen and Jay Allen will start the pre-game show at 4 p.m.

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