Ducks to take on Wildcats

The Oregon Ducks (7-3, 4-3) head into the last home game of the season against the Arizona Wildcats (5-5, 3-4). The Ducks are coming off a disappointing loss to USC last weekend and the Wildcats are jubilant with an upset over California. The loss to USC knocked the Ducks out of the top-25 and Oregon is hoping to regain some national status by winning at home on senior day.

Arizona, despite losing a one-sided affair to LSU in the second week of the season has played tough all year long and has been competitive in its games. Last season, the Ducks barely escaped with a 28-21 win that cost Oregon the services of quarterback Kellen Clemens. Dennis Dixon was also knocked out the game after making a brief appearance and it took Brady Leaf's calm play and a fortuitous fumble recovery by Brent Haberly to give the Ducks a win. This year the Wildcats have been very good defensively and are outstanding in special teams play. Punt return specialist Syndric Steptoe might be comparable to California's DeSean Jackson and quarterback Willie Tuitama should be healthy for the Oregon game.

Oregon has not lost to Arizona at Autzen Stadium in 20 years with the last loss occurring on September 20, 1986. The Ducks hold a 19-12 all-time win advantage over the Wildcats.

Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti looks at the senior class with some parental admiration as he and his staff have spent five years with many of the players that will be taking the home field for the last time on Saturday. Oregon will be sending off 19 seniors that will appear in their third bowl game at the end of the 2006 season.

Among those include Enoka Lucas, Dante Rosario, Matt Toeaina, Blair Phillips, Brent Haberly and J.D. Nelson. Lucas and Toeanina have been the stalwarts of the offensive and defensive lines. Phillips has been a major factor at linebacker and Nelson has starred in the defensive backfield as a safety.

Toeaina originally came to Oregon as a 212-pound fullback, but once he was put on a protein rich diet he grew to the 301 pounds he presently plays at. Another senior that will be on the field on Saturday is defensive end Darius Sanders. Sanders was a partial qualifier, meaning that in order for him to qualify to stay on scholarship for five years, he had to be able to be on track to graduate, which he will do so with a degree in Political Science.

Haberly, who broke his arm against Arizona State will return to the field this weekend and likely split time with A.J. Tuitele at middle and inside linebacker spot. Haberly will play with a protective cast with a foam cover.

Rosario has been one of the most dependable tight ends ever at the University of Oregon. He has a 83 career receptions for 908 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last week he was the Ducks leading receiver for the game with seven catches for 69 yards.

Phillips leads the team in tackles this season with 90 (51 solo) with nine tackles for loss including two sacks. He has also intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble, had two quarterback hurries, had two pass deflections and a break up plus one of the most dramatic plays in Oregon history. It was Phillips that blocked the last field goal attempt against Oklahoma ensuring Oregon's 34-33 win over the Sooners in September.

J.D. Nelson is the team's third leading tackler with 67 tackles (33 solo) this year giving him a total 212 career tackles.

Other seniors include wide receivers James Finley and Jordan Kent. Finley has been hampered by injuries this season but last year was the team's second leading receiver. Kent just started playing football last season and this is tied with Rosario as the second leading receiver with 31 catches and has three touchdowns. Senior tight end Dan Kause was knocked out of action against Washington delivering a block for a Jonathan Stewart touchdown. Paris Moore has been a part of special teams in his time at Oregon. Place kicker Paul Martinez is 33-of-43 in field goal kicking. Running back Chris Vincent (out with an injury) punter Matt Dragich, linebacker Chris Mulvanny, safety Jon Pope and wide receiver Drew Larson will also mark Saturday as their last Duck home game.

As is the case every season, this year's class of seniors will leave holes in the roster and hopefully next year's recruiting class will help create depth in filling for the departures. Some have wondered if last week's loss to USC on national television would hurt Oregon's recruiting efforts. Southern California is the primary region Duck football players come from. Could last week's loss to the Trojans have a dramatic effect on Oregon's recruiting? Not necessarily according to Bellotti.

"For those that have defined what they want, it doesn't change things," said Bellotti of the impact a loss would have on the recruiting effort. "We've talked to our committed recruits afterwards and they are as committed as ever and talking about next year at Autzen Stadium."

So far this season, Bellotti indicates the Ducks have 14 verbal commitments. Of those, six are from Southern California. While there might be coaches that would try persuade a recruit to commit to a program based on the results of one game, Bellotti thinks that the overall decision should take several factors into account.

"A life choice decision about where you go to school, play football, the type of education shouldn't probably come down to one game or one weekend," Bellotti explained of the recruiting process. " It should probably should be a well-thought out process that involves your family and your coaches and the right fit for you."

While it might be the case from some prospective student-athletes that are sitting on the fence about where they are going to go to school, maybe head-to-head competition makes a difference. Certainly it is frustrating for the Ducks as in many ways the USC game was very competitive, despite the final score. Oregon moved the ball and had opportunities to score and make the game much closer. There were some mistakes made in the contest in the red zones that kept Oregon from producing points and allowed USC a short field to score points of their own. For that the Ducks are working hard this week to take better care of the ball and score when they have the opportunity.

Several questions have been asked of Bellotti about one player in particular that had some rough moments last Saturday night -- quarterback Dennis Dixon. Bellotti indicated that while Dixon had two very bad plays, an interception on a pass intended for Jaison Williams and a bad pitch to Jonathan Stewart, that overall Dixon played a good game. Bellotti is standing by his junior quarterback and maintains that Dixon is Oregon's starting quarterback.

While the team felt hurt by losing last week, Bellotti is confident that they will come back next week and play well in front of the home crowd. The head coach thinks there is a Limited window for tears or anger and his team is moving on to the task at hand -- Arizona.

The Oregon Sports Network will televise this week's game live in the state of Oregon with Joe Giansante and Anthony Newman. OSN TV will also rebroadcast the game at 11:30 p.m. OSN Radio with Jerry Allen, Mike Jorgensen and Jay Allen will begin coverage at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning along the OSN Radio Network.

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Notes:
Bellotti mentioned that Ed Dickson would probably see time on the field this week at tight end. Dickson has played earlier this season on special teams and on defense as a defensive end.

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