Back to Pullman for Third Time in a Row

It is back to Pullman, Washington for the third year straight year as the Oregon Ducks are on the road this week to take on the Washington State Cougars. The 16th ranked Ducks (5-1, 3-1) are also hoping to make it the third straight win over the Cougs (4-3, 2-2) and this year's contest is shaping up to be as competitive as the last two games have been.

"They are playing great defense," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti of Washington State. "As I've said many times I think they are a very dangerous football team."

Last year the Ducks limped into Pullman after losing starting quarterback Kellen Clemens and relied on a two-quarterback system of Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf, who ended up combining for 296 yards and two touchdowns passing against the Cougars. The Ducks had to battle back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game and then it took a 19-yard field goal by Paul Martinez with a second left on the game clock to give the Ducks a 34-31 win. In 2004 the Ducks again had to comeback in a wild shootout but prevailed 41-38.

If the Cougars duplicate their previous efforts at home against ranked opponents, then the Oregon offense may score less frequently and the final score could be close. Last week Washington State held California to 21 points but could only muster up a field goal in Martin Stadium and two weeks prior to that were within six of USC in a 28-22 loss. For the season the Cougars are allowing opponents 324.6 yards per game offense (214.6 passing, 110.0 rushing) while running for 151.9 yards and passing for 253.6 for a total of 405.4 yards per game total.

Oregon is coming into the game averaging 206.8 yards rushing (No. 1 in the Pac-10) 252.3 yards passing for a total of 459.2 yards offense, while only allowing 312.7 yards total defensive per contest. For the last five games the Ducks have had at least one receiver recording more than 100 yards receiving per game. Jaison Williams, 6-5, 243, had three straight 100-yard plus receiving games. Jordan Kent, 6-5, 210, had 113 yards against Cal two weeks ago and last week Brian Paysinger, 6-3, 216 had 105 yards against UCLA. All three players are tall and fast. In fact, all of the Duck scholarship receivers are at least 6-1. The obvious question is who will next to explode for a 100-yard receiving day?

"It's sort of exciting to see people step up," replied Bellotti to the question. "Obviously Jaison Williams handled that chore for several games then Jordan Kent and Brian Paysinger. I'm sure at some point James Finley will get that opportunity. We need that continual concept of people stepping up and seizing the moment. I think it is very good for our football team and certainly creates the need to cover all those people. You can't put double-coverage on them because if you do then the other guys have the opportunity to get open more often."

According the Pac-10 statistical count, Oregon is the No. 1 offense in the conference propelled by their No.1 running game. Sophomore Jonathan Stewart is averaging 100.5 yards per game and is the No. 3 rusher in the Pac-10 while his stable mate Jeremiah Johnson is chalking up 51.3 yards and is 10th on the list. Both have crossed the goal line five times. Add in quarterback Dennis Dixon's 38.0 yard per game average and it is easy to see why Oregon is the top rushing team in the conference. Stewart will likely draw the ire of a lot of Cougar fans because he selected Oregon over WSU during the recruiting process. Last year he scored a touchdown in Pullman in a back up role, but this year he is the feature back but Johnson will also see significant time on the field.

"He's added a dimension, from us rushing 135 yards per game to 250 yards per game, Bellotti said of Stewart in the Pac-10 media conference. "Certainly he and Jeremiah (Johnson) and Dennis Dixon are involved in our emergence or resurgence of our running game."

Washington State has the nation's leading sack specialist in defensive end Mkristo Bruce, who has racked up 10 sacks this season. Bruce's presence is going to cause Oregon's tackles to stay particularly alert to which end of the line he is launching from. So far this season, Dixon has only been caught behind the line of scrimmage four times.

Defensively, Duck fans who have worried all season long about opponents running the ball may breathe a little easier this week because WSU doesn't have a runner that is averaging over 50 yards a game. However Eugene native Alex Brink is averaging 223.0 yards passing with nine touchdowns so far this year. Brink and the Cougars like to throw long and while the Ducks have excelled in pass defense efficiency (101.1) so far this season, many fans hope that the Ducks' freshmen cornerbacks, Walter Thurmond and Jairus Byrd will continue their success.

Bellotti is concerned with Washington State's passing game because the Cougars will throw deep a lot. Brandon Gibson had a good game last week against Cal with eight catches for 130 yards. Jason Hill was held to 23 yards receiving but should be healthier this week against the Ducks.

"Brandon Gibson last game did some unbelievable things and showed great speed and that's sort of scary," Bellotti observed. "Jason Hill is probably a better version when healthy."

The question of Oregon's health continues to be asked. In some ways things look promising but when Chris Vincent was lost for the season last week the Ducks took another hit on special teams and in depth at running back. Bellotti indicated that defensive tackle Ra'Shon Harris is now practicing and is healing faster than anticipated. Harris though is not likely to play against WSU. Wide receiver Cameron Colvin is scheduled to start practicing today (Tuesday). Garren Strong is as healthy has he has been in a month which will add depth at receiver. Offensive guard Josh Tschirgi should start practicing by Wednesday and Bellotti believes Tschirgi will play against the Cougars. Likewise wide receiver Derrick Jones will also be on the practice field tomorrow.

"We will probably begin practicing Andre Crenshaw as the fourth string tailback," Bellotti announced regarding the injury situation. "If necessary bring him out of his red shirt year. We don't want to do that but certainly will if injuries occur."

Bellotti also mentioned that defensive end Victor Filipe's status with his injured elbow has not changed. Filipe was lost prior to the start of the season and it had been hoped he would be able to play again during the year.

There will be no live television coverage for the Oregon-Washington State game and this is the first time this season that the Ducks have not had national or regional coverage. Bellotti indicated that having that type of television exposure has been very good for recruiting. During the media conference Bellotti also made the point that Oregon is only recruiting one quarterback this year. According to's recruiting database, Kellen Kiilsgaard, 6-2, 210, Auburn (Wash.) Auburn HS, has a scholarship offer from Oregon and is most likely the quarterback that Bellotti referred to.

Oregon Sports Network with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman will televise the game on a delayed basis at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. OSN Radio with Jerry Allen calling the game, Mike Jorgensen providing analysis and Jay Allen on the sidelines will commence coverage starting at 1 p.m. subscribers can follow the Ducks on the message boards and in premium chat (9 p.m. Pacific Time nightly) and during the game.

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