Time to Move On

Last week's loss to Arizona and the loss of quarterback Dennis Dixon was tough to take for the Oregon Ducks (8-2, 5-2) but now a road trip to UCLA (5-5, 4-3) is the task at hand. Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti knows there is still much his 9th ranked Ducks can accomplish including a second trip to the Rose Bowl in just over a month.

While others might be rehashing what happened in Tucson last week, the Ducks are looking forward and the spirit of the team is good according to the headman.

"Mood of the team is awesome," said Bellotti of his squad. "They are obviously very dedicated to the remainder of this season."

While there is no dodging the impact of losing Dixon, the front-runner in the Heisman Trophy race and the team's best player, the reality is that injuries are part of football and the team must continue on. Brady Leaf will start in place of Dixon this week and he is a tested veteran. Bellotti has a lot of faith in Leaf, who started several games in the past and has been responsible for some big plays.

Anyone remember the Leaf to James Finley pass against California two years ago in the over-time win?

When Dixon took the summer off to play baseball last June, it was Leaf who stayed in Eugene and worked with the receivers. So it isn't as if the Ducks are dealing with an unknown commodity.

"He was the quarterback this summer that threw to receivers while Dennis was not here," commented Bellotti on Leaf. "Brady is not your average, everyday second-team quarterback."

Some folks are grumbling about how the Ducks took a nosedive last week against Arizona after Dixon left the game. True, losing a player of the magnitude of Dennis Dixon is shocking but for some to suggest that there was no back up plan is a stretch. Leaf is very familiar with the spread offense but unfortunately twisted his ankle during the first series of the second half. That too is part of football.

Leaf ran the option in the past and while he doesn't possess the breakaway speed or scramble the way Dixon can, Leaf still has the ability to run for yards and manage the game in the spread offense. Yesterday, Leaf didn't practice in order to help heal the ankle twist but he is expected to start Saturday against the Bruins.

What problems does UCLA present for the Ducks?

"UCLA is one of the most athletic teams in the conference." Bellotti said of the next opponent. "Probably second only to USC in terms of their athleticism."

Defensively, Bellotti believes the Bruins have one of the best groups of secondary personnel and an athletic front. The coach indicated defensive end Bruce Davis is extremely difficult coming off the edge and safety Chris Horton is one of the best football players in the nation. With players like Trey Brown, Alterraun Verner, Rodney Van and Dennis Keyes in their secondary it allows UCLA to a lot of things coverage-wise. Bellotti expects the Bruins to play man-cover and anticipates seeing more man-coverage in this game than Oregon has seen all year. For the season, the Bruins are fifth in the conference in points allowed at 24.9 points per contest (compared to the Ducks' 23.2) and are 250.1 yards passing which is seventh in the Pac-10. Oregon is ninth at 269.5 yards. The Bruins give up 111.1 yards on the ground to Oregon's 126.8 yards.

"That will open up certain opportunities, but it is also going to come down to being able to get rid of the football and move the football versus pressure," said Bellotti of UCLA's defensive effort.

Offensively, the apparent quarterback Osaar Rasshan has great mobility according to Bellotti. Rasshan was a receiver at one time this year. Rasshan started at quarterback in the Bruins' last game against Arizona State in a 24-20 loss, where he was 14-for-27, 181 yards and one interception. He also rushed for 41 net yards. While he was sacked twice by ASU, Bellotti thinks the converted pass catcher can move and now has a couple of weeks of practice under his belt.

The Bruin offense is sixth in the conference in rushing at 163.3 yards while the Ducks lead the Pac-10 in rushing at 268.1 yards a game.

One significant statistic is that UCLA is -4 in the turnover to takeaway ratio. Oregon has a +6 in that category.

UCLA will focus primarily on running the ball and play-action according the Bellotti. He thinks the Burin offense is balanced and experienced but obviously has been up and down all season. Which team shows up on Saturday remains to be seen but there still plenty of incentive on UCLA's part.

"They have a lot at stake in this," observed Bellotti. "They can compete for the conference championship. They can compete for a bowl bid. There's a tremendous amount riding on this game and I would anticipate their best football game."

Oregon also has a lot riding on this game. The Duck players and coaches came so close to something Oregon fans have never even imagined that in the past -- a chance at the national championship. That championship may be out reach now, even though the way teams have risen and fallen out of the top two spots in the BCS standings, who knows? Still, this has been an astonishingly great year for Oregon. Now it is a matter of finishing the year off with two wins in the regular season and a trip to a good bowl. It is no time for the Ducks or their fans to give up hope and fall into nega-thinking that goes on when those who don't have to make decisions start second guessing those who do.

Kickoff from the Rose Bowl is at 12:30 p.m. and the game will be carried on ABC.

Notes:

Bellotti mentioned in his weekly media conference that Terence Scott practiced yesterday and while Aaron Plugrad may not practice on Tuesday he should be available for the UCLA game. Jeffery Maehl has been taking repetitions as a wide receiver and working at his normal safety position. Maehl and will play both ways this week and finally, Derrick Jones was sick yesterday so he didn't practice.


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