Ducks Need Speed

If your team is bothered by an opponent's speed and gets stomped one week and then the following week you face a new foe that is just as fast or maybe even faster, what do you do? Mike Bellotti's solution is to practice with greater speed -- without getting more injuries. Oregon tries to bounce back after a disastrous loss and will face UCLA on Saturday in Autzen Stadium.

"We need to practice at better team speed in practice, run the offense against the defense as opposed to the scout teams," said Bellotti during his weekly media conference. "The problem with that is that you run the risk of more injuries."

The 18th ranked Ducks (4-1, 2-1) are back on the practice field after having been abused by the California Golden Bears last week 45-24. If it seemed that Cal's players were a step faster at all positions, then things won't get too much brighter for Oregon this week. The UCLA Bruins have an identical record to Oregon and the bad news for the Ducks is that the Bruins are currently the top defensive unit in the Pac-10.

The Bruins are the No. 1 team in the conference in scoring defense (14.4 ppg), tied with Cal for turnover margin (1.0), rushing defense (50.0 ypg) and total defense (221.6 ypg). Throw in the fact that UCLA's defense is the best against the pass, in 3rd down conversions and red zone defense and suddenly the upcoming home game for the Ducks might be something to get a little antsy about.

Worse news yet is that Bellotti thinks the Bruins might be speedier than the Bears. Ouch!

"UCLA has as much speed as Cal, they might even be faster," remarked Bellotti about next week's foe. "In fact they are faster because their defensive linemen run faster than Cal's. So we have to be prepared for that speed."

The Ducks will practice at a faster pace while also working to improve in a couple of areas. One, being offensive play selection and two, execution of primary blocking. What probably won't happen much is the No. 1 offense scrimmaging against the No. 1 defense. The Ducks already have too many losses on the defensive line, linebacker and defensive back to take too many chances on busting someone else up.

"We're at the point of crisis state with our defense now in terms of depth at all positions, so that (running offense against defense) won't happen now," cited the Head Coach.

Healing up and getting as many people as healthy as possible is at top priority. Back up strong safety Jerome Boyd is out 2-4 weeks with a torn ACL. Defensive end Victor Filipe is still listed as day-to-day. Free safety J.D. Nelson is probable for the game against the Bruins as is wide receiver Garren Strong Derrick Jones. While place kicker Paul Martinez, wide receivers Cameron Colvin also fall into the day-to-day category.

Bellotti believes Cal's defense operated very well against the Ducks and he admits the Ducks were definitely outplayed at the line of scrimmage, plus the Oregon receivers did not do a very good job in executing the perimeter blocking. The Ducks have faced fast defenses before such as Oklahoma, however the Bears may have played with greater purpose.

According to Bellotti the way to counter speed is by getting the defense to over-commit, use misdirection plays and run at the speed. Against Cal the Ducks were unable to establish the running game and were unable to match up well with the Bears going sideline to sideline.

Oregon will practice more misdirection this week and hope to lure UCLA into over committing on Saturday, thus using their speed against them.

There's another thing the Ducks did against Cal that needs some serious attention -- turnovers. Last week the Ducks gave up three interceptions and lost a fumble while only picking off one Nate Longshore-pass last Saturday. That has to change.

Bellotti calls the turnover-takeaway ratio the most important statistic in football and while the coach is not so worried about creating turnovers by the defense, he is very concerned that the Ducks don't cough up the ball by interceptions and fumbles.

Oddly enough the first play of the game has been a thorn in the Ducks side all year long. Bellotti indicated that his youngest son, Sean mentioned to him on the way back from Berkeley that the Ducks struggle with the initial snap. Last week against Cal, the ball was intercepted on Oregon's 9-yard line. Oklahoma nearly intercepted Dennis Dixon's first pass on the first play. Jordan Kent fumbled the ball on the first play against Fresno State and in the season opener against Stanford, the first play resulted in the ball being initially ruled a fumble. Part of the reason could be nerves but play selection could be the bigger culprit. Bellotti said that he and offensive coordinator Gary Crowton are reviewing what they are calling to avoid another disaster like what happened during the first play in Berkeley. Enough is enough.

Another area of concern for Bellotti is tipped balls. Against the Bears drops ended promising drives and in at least one case a bobbled reception resulted in a turnover. Catching and throwing are areas the Ducks are working to improve on. Losing the ball four times to a good team like Cal created too much of a hole for Oregon to dig itself out of last week, even though the Ducks had settled down in the second half.

The Bruins are coming off a 27-7 win over Arizona but it was costly because quarterback Ben Olson sprained his right knee in the first quarter against the Wildcats. There isn't much film on his replacement Pat Cowan, but what is known is that Cowan finished with 201 yards passing on 20-of-29 and two touchdowns. Chris Markey is the leading rusher for the Bruins with a 98.4-yard per game average and there are five receivers with double-figure catches. However, no one has more than a 36.4-yard per game average.

After five games the Bruins have seven passing touchdowns, three rushing scores, and three touchdowns by the defense.

Oregon has scored 13 rushing touchdowns, nine passes have resulted in scores and one defensive touchdown.

The big tasks for the Ducks this week is to get healthy, get faster and take better care of the football. The Ducks can not have any more injuries coming out of scrimmages particularly on defense. Last week was a shocking reminder to anyone that watches Oregon football that the success of the Ducks depends on team speed, desire and execution to win.

Are the Ducks really as good as they appeared in September?

Bellotti feels that each week his team is forced to prove something. This week will be no exception, as Oregon will have to prove that they can beat a fast defense and hold their own when the other team has the ball.

This Saturday's game will again be televised as an ABC regional broadcast with Dan Fouts, Tim Brandt and Jack Arute. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

Oregon Sports Network will rebroadcast the game on a delay basis at 11:30 p.m. with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman.

OSN Radio will start the pre-game show at 11:30. The game will also have a national radio broadcast with Kevin Kugler and Terry Bowden.

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