Ducks Need to Take Care of Here and Now

The 8th ranked Ducks of the University of Oregon are ready to go. After all, they didn't do anything last week but practice and jumped in the polls from 14th all the way to No. 8 without taking a snap. This week against Washington State, the Ducks have the opportunity to validate that lofty position and on Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium, everyone will know if Oregon deserves the attention.

For the last two weeks the Ducks have been resting and recovering after five weeks of some very impressive football. Oregon is 4-1 for the season and 1-1 in Pac-10 competition after dropping a 31-24 nail-biter two weeks ago to California. While the loss to the Bears dampened the Ducks' spirit, the exciting game coupled with how Oregon has been playing all season obviously caught the eye of the voters of the Coaches and AP polls. Oregon is ranked 9th in the AP poll.

On paper it might seem that this game is a mismatch. After all, it will be the first time in three years that the game is at Autzen, the Ducks are a top-10 team and fresh off a bye week. A win over WSU might even propel the Ducks higher than they already are. Is that an incentive for Oregon? Not according to Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti..

"The reality is that it's the midway point of the season," said Bellotti of the national rankings. "We got where we are at by not playing a football game so I think we have to validate our own existence (in the rankings)."

Bellotti is happy that the Ducks are ranked, as it is a form of a reward for the hard work that has already taken place. However, there is a lot of football to be played and so many things can happen. Bellotti pointed out the many upsets this season while also providing a stinging reference to Oregon's failure last year as why it's important to keep the task at hand – well, at hand.

"The final rankings are the ones we always talk about and this team has learned from last year that when you start looking too far ahead, start dreaming about things, is when you come crashing down to reality," admitted Bellotti. "The reality is we are playing Washington State."

Now fully refreshed, Oregon is preparing for Washington State (2-4, 0-3) and the homecoming of Alex Brink, formerly of Sheldon High School, now the Pac-10's leading passer. Brink has been lighting up the statistics columns with his 304.7-yard per game passing average. He is 160-for-247 (64.8 percent) with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. Brink is also the total offense leader for the Pac-10 at 316.2 yards in 276 plays. When Brink was a senior in high school at Eugene's Sheldon High, he led the Irish to the state championship that year but Oregon was recruiting a trio of quarterbacks including this year's starter Dennis Dixon, back up Brady Leaf and Johnny DuRocher. Oregon wanted Brink to walk on, but when WSU offered a scholarship, Brink was off to the Palouse.

The quarterback that did accept Oregon's scholarship offer and is now the starter for the Ducks, Dixon is second in total offense to Brink at 309.2 yards, and is 5th in the Pac-10 in passing at 249 yards per game.

WSU leads the league in passing but Oregon leads in the most important category, scoring. The Ducks are averaging 43.6 points per game and rank third in scoring defense at 23.8. WSU scores at a 27.5-point per game average (tied for 7th in the league) and gives up 25.2 points. Oregon is the conference's best rushing team at 276.6 yards with WSU 8th at 116.2 yards.

"I think we have our hands full," commented Bellotti on the upcoming game. "I have great respect for Alex Brink and the Washington State coaching staff and their entire football team. We need to make sure we are taking care of our own business and not worrying about rankings or anything else beyond playing well enough to defeat Washington State."

Defensively, Oregon is down one important cog as senior A.J. Tuitele is out with a broken foot. Tuitele's loss is somewhat lessened because senior Kwame Agyeman is ready to go. Agyeman was a starter last season and is a very mature young man who didn't drop his head or slow down when he lost his starting job. Instead, Kwame has continued to play hard and may have even logged more minutes than some of the starters have. Agyeman can play all three linebacker positions, but with Tuitele's absence Bellotti thinks that Kevin Garrett, Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger will all see more playing time. However, Agyeman may be the first to move over to the other positions in the playing rotation.

"Those are high-energy positions and we want to keep them fresh also," explained Bellotti of the linebacker corps. "I think Kevin Garrett has improved his level of play this year and certainly we can have him in there at times with Kwame playing Mike or Sam to rest John (Bacon) or Jerome (Boyd).

Oregon has an opportunity to move up in the polls, but more importantly, the team can continue to erase the comparisons that have been made between the 2007 and 2006 Oregon Ducks. Last year, the Ducks downfall seemed to begin when they were drubbed by the Bears in Memorial Stadium, followed by a trip to Pullman where the results weren't much better. Oregon lost to Washington State 34-23. This year, Oregon wants to prove things are different but they must keep in mind what has happened to teams like USC, who lost its No. 1 ranking with a 24-23 stunner to Stanford last Saturday. Bellotti believes the lesson is clear.

"If you look at what has happened this year there is a good lesson to be learned about people looking ahead and reading about where they should or shouldn't be and then those things don't happen," observed Bellotti. "You'd better take care of the here and now."

Kickoff for Saturday's contest is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and there is no live television coverage.

For Mike Bellotti's Tuesday media conference click: .


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