Ducks may see much of the same on Saturday

Eugene -- Mike Bellotti held his first weekly media conference for the 2007 season today and believes the Ducks will see a similar team in Houston on Saturday in Autzen Stadium. Bellotti left no doubt who the Ducks' starting quarterback will be, but indicated that a rotating defensive line will be necessary to accomplish the goals Oregon has set for itself this season.

Houston is coming into the game with some question marks, primarily who will be the replacement for all-everything quarterback Kevin Kolb. Kolb, now with the Philadelphia Eagles, had 312 yards of passing against Oregon the last time the two teams met, in the season opener on Sept. 1st, 2005 at Houston. This season the Cougars will select either sophomore Blake Joseph or redshirt freshman Case Keenum to lead them in front of the hostile Autzen crowd. No matter who the starting signal caller is, Duck fans can expect to see a fair amount of speedster Anthony Alridge, an all-purpose back that led the nation in yards per carry at 10.1.

"They have a great surrounding cast, regardless of who is going to be the quarterback," commented Bellotti on Houston. "They have been exceptional offensively because of Kevin Kolb, and I'm glad he's gone."

Bellotti felt that Kolb brought accuracy, quickness, and great delivery to the Cougars, and if they have that type of athlete at quarterback this year then Houston can be very dangerous. Bellotti also mentioned that Alridge is a great back and running plays are cleverly disguised for him.

"He's a very dangerous back, an all-purpose back that can catch and run the ball," Bellotti said of Alridge. "He's got power and quickness."

Defensively, Bellotti thinks it is a matter of conjecture as to what Oregon will see from Houston. In the past the Cougars have used a "stand-up linebacker" that acted like a down lineman, but until the teams take the field the Ducks will just have to be prepared for anything.

As far as his own team goes, he made one thing very clear – Dennis Dixon is the starting quarterback. While many have stewed and worried about Dixon's situation, particularly after the senior took the summer off to play professional baseball, Bellotti is less concerned. Dixon had a "certain amount of rust" coming into fall camp but clearly did some good studying this summer. Dixon has had a very good fall camp and the head coach was straightforward on the subject.

"He's the quarterback," Bellotti said of Dixon, who will be the starter.

Defensively, Oregon has to overcome inexperience and shake the injury bug. The Ducks are finally healthy going into the Houston game but they must remain so for the rest of the season too.

"Defending Houston with a healthy, experienced team is a challenge," commented Bellotti on his team's defense. "With an unhealthy, inexperienced team (and) to a degree is what we are, at least going into this week, is a greater challenge."

One of the other concerns about the Ducks during fall camp was the state of the defensive line. The Ducks lost two players before camp even started when true freshmen Simi Fili and Myles Wade were unable to enroll. Some nagging injuries have slowed the progress of two seniors, David Faaeteete and Cole Linehan. Consequently, the Ducks must rely on help from Ra'Shon Harris, Michael Speed, plus newcomer Tonio Celotto. Plus the Ducks need healthy defensive ends in Nick Reed, Will Tukuafu, Brandon Bair, Jeremy Gibbs and Kenny Rowe.

"We lost a couple of recruits that might have made a difference up front," observed Bellotti. "We need all eight of those defensive linemen up front ready to go."

Oregon plans on rotating the defensive tackles and Bellotti believes the Ducks can accomplish what they want with the rotation. While the linebacker position is in a bit of flux, starters A.J. Tuitele, John Bacon and Jerome Boyd should get help from freshman Casey Matthews along with veterans Kevin Garrett and Kwame Agyeman. The Duck secondary is very solid and the most experienced part of the defense with Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmond, Jairus Byrd and Matthew Harper.

Bellotti also indicated that eleven true freshmen are expect to play this year including, Celotto, Eddie Pleasant, Matthews, Jeffrey Maehl, Anthony Gildon, Talmadge Jackson, Malachi Lewis, Rowe, Aaron Pflugrad, Drew Davis and Daniel Padilla with Terrance Pritchett on the bubble.

Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

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