Task Is Clear, Stop The Run

Mike Bellotti doesn't think that Michigan's loss to Appalachian State is necessarily a good thing for the Oregon Ducks. First of all, the Wolverines will now be facing the second straight team that runs the spread offense and secondly there's that little matter of one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football.

Michigan's loss doesn't really change things for the Ducks though, there is still something Oregon has to do against Michigan -- stop the run.

"Appalachian State put Michigan on high alert," said Bellotti in his weekly media conference.

Translation: any surprises that the Ducks may have been working on in fall camp due to the spread offense are effectively neutralized. Michigan, the most storied program in all of college football was shocked last Saturday when Appalachian State knocked off the Wolverines, 34-32 at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, the Oregon had its way with the Houston Cougars, 48-27 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.

Bellotti's team in some ways can sympathize with Michigan in terms of dealing with the spread offense. While the Division IAA (or what used to be Division 1AA) Mountaineers have some great athletes and ran their offense with near perfection last week, the Ducks of Oregon also faced a team that ran an effective spread. Houston was in the game with the Ducks up until the mid-third quarter. With the game tied at 20 all, Houston was driving for what looked like the go ahead touchdown when Oregon's Patrick Chung picked off a pass in the endzone. That play was the turning point because from then on, Oregon scored 28 points while Houston was held to one more touchdown.

This week though, things could be a bit different according to Bellotti. The Duck headman is talking pretty respectfully of the Wolverines and certainly doesn't want to add any bulletin board material to an already seething group that no doubt wants some revenge for the first game upset.

"Michigan is bigger, stronger and faster," summed up Bellotti in his assessment of Michigan compared to Houston.

Bellotti wasn't belittling Houston either, but it's hard to talk down a program like Michigan, with the long tradition and the obvious recruiting advantages it has. After all, at the end of last season, the Wolverines were in the hunt for a Big Ten championship and a possible appearance in the BCS Championship game. However, after the loss the Appalachian State, Michigan is in the midst of a 3-game losing streak, losing 42-39 to arch-rival Ohio State on Nov. 18, 2006, then getting thumped 32-18 by USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2007.

But that was then and this is now for the Ducks.

What the Ducks can expect to face on Saturday is a fired up Michigan team that wants to come out and run the ball. There won't be any surprises according Bellotti. The Wolverines are going to go right, left and up the middle, with runs that look like running plays with no disguises, tricks or gimmicks.

"A power running game," described Bellotti of the expect Michigan attack.

Mike Hart, 5-9, 202, senior running back who might be a Heisman Trophy candidate will be the focal point of the Michigan running attack. Bellotti describes him as powerful back that has amazing second effort and takes two or three tacklers to bring down. This might be very unsettling news to Duck fans that were already in tizzy over how Oregon gave up 205 yards to Houston's Anthony Alridge. The Duck coaching staff is also concerned. Concerned enough to give a strong, hard look at who will be the starting defensive line.

Calling the situation up front as being in "a state of flux," Bellotti indicated that Cole Linehan, 6-4, 295 is making a serious challenge for the starting spot ahead of Michael Speed, 6-4, 270. A couple of faces that could also see a lot more action this week are Tonio Celotto and Simi Toeaina.

During the media conference, Bellotti made a slip of the tongue when he first said that Tonio Celotto and Simi Fili would see increased playing time. He meant to say Simi Toeaina. Fili was one of the two U.S. Army All-American defensive tackles that signed letters of intent to go to Oregon but was unable to enroll. After realizing his error, Bellotti corrected himself but one has to wonder if that was some sort Freudian slip. Fili, standing 6-5 and weighing in at over 330 pounds could have eased a lot of concerns about the Duck defensive front with his near 500-pound bench press. However, Fili is not on the Duck roster nor is Myles Wade, the other defensive lineman that was unable to enroll, so the Ducks have to play with who they have.

Celotto was impressive during the Houston game and it was very apparent that his bench press of 440 pounds helped in developing his upper body strength. Last week, Celotto was one of eight true freshmen to see playing time and while Bellotti said that Celotto would see increased action, the other freshmen probably won't see any more time than they did against Houston. Barring injury of course.

During fall camp there were times that Toeaina made some on the sideline forget all about Fili not making it into school. Toeaina passes the infamous eyeball test with his physical presence standing 6-4 and weight 305 pounds. However, he is a player that lagged behind in defending against the spread offense that the Duck practice everyday. Perhaps against a more conventional running offense, Toeaina's bulk and strength will be more than adequate in making up for some of his technical deficiencies. If there is a big pile where a hole should be, the running back has to run someplace else.

Some other things that the Ducks are working on this week in correcting mistakes from last week are in the proper alignment and better tackling technique. Bellotti thinks a lot of the mistakes were a result of the Houston game being the season opener and the team was at times a bit tentative in nature. This week though the Ducks will have to regain the aggressiveness they had in fall camp if they want to be successful in Ann Arbor.

Size, stature, physical explosiveness at the line of scrimmage is how Bellotti described what was necessary for the Ducks up front defensively. Starting Linehan and bringing in Celotto and Toeaina will help the Ducks effort, provided the rest of the defense is disciplined and uses their considerable athletic ability in helping the big guys up front stop the Michigan attack at the line of scrimmage. Bellotti went on to describe the task a mental-physical challenge and that may be as big an understatement as the Appalachian State win being an upset.

"We have to stop it," Bellotti said simply of what the Ducks' have to do against the Michigan running game.

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