The Speed Issue is the Thing

Speed may be the deciding factor when Oregon takes on Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday with kickoff at 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time. The high flying Ducks are ranked 16th in the latest AP polls and are 2-0 on the season while Purdue is 1-0 at this point in the early season.

"I can't because we've never played against each other," replied Oregon's Mike Bellotti to the question of comparing team speed with Purdue. "Watching one game or even watching last year's games doesn't quite give you a sense of what you are going to see when you play face to face. I think we could be a faster team. Hopefully we play faster, that's our goal."

Earlier in the day Purdue Head Coach Joe Tiller commented in his weekly media conference that he was concerned with Oregon's overall team speed. Tiller felt that Oregon might be the fastest team on Purdue's schedule this year. During Bellotti's media conference, beat writers covering Purdue honed in on Oregon defensive backfield and Bellotti obliged by giving a brief run down on cornerbacks Walter Thurmond III and Jairus Byrd plus talked about rover Patrick Chung and free safety T.J. Ward. Bellotti mentioned that each possessed great speed and had the ability to utilize that speed in defensive coverage and on special teams.

Typically, Purdue is a high scoring team. The offense varies, but the Boilermakers will spread teams out and have a big play receiver in Greg Orton while Curtis Painter is a very accurate passer.

Oregon isn't worried that it will be facing another Jake Locker this weekend, but Bellotti says that Painter has the ability to see the field well and is pinpoint when he throws the ball. If necessary Painter can run his way out of trouble, so this will be the biggest test the Ducks have faced in this very young season.

Last week the Boilermakers downed Northern Colorado 42-10. In that game Painter was 15-for-28, 286 yards and two touchdowns. Orton was the second leading receiver last week catching four passes for 89 yards and touchdown. Desmond Tandy had three grabs for 112 yards while Keith Smith had six receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown.

The leading rusher is Kory Sheets, who had 81 yards on 16 carries and two scores against Northern Colorado.

One of the things Bellotti wants to see improved on his 16th ranked Ducks is the turnover to takeaway ratio. Granted his team creamed Washington 44-10 and then followed up by dismantling Utah State 66-24, but the Oregon headman wants to see some interceptions by his defense.

"Last year we were in the plus column, we actually led our conference (in turnover-to-takeaway ratio)."

Last week the Ducks dropped the ball in the endzone to give Utah State a free touchdown, plus Justin Roper has thrown two interceptions. It would be a safe bet to say that Bellotti is putting out a challenge to his defense to get an interception or two.

Health wise, the Ducks are recovering nicely from last week. Jeremiah Johnson has returned to the practice field after missing most of the Utah State game. Johnson started the season off by rushing for 124 yards and two scores. After Johnson left the Utah State game due to a shoulder problem, LeGarrette Blount recorded his first 100-yard rushing effort by going for 132 yards on 18 carries and like Johnson the week before, scored two rushing touchdowns.

Quarterback Justin Roper is fully recovered for the Purdue game and should see the bulk of the snaps against Purdue. So far this season Roper has thrown for a total of 287 yards on 20-of-29 and two touchdowns but he has only played slightly more than two quarters. Terence Scott is the leading receiver with 161 yards from 10 catches and took the ball into the endzone twice on pass plays and once on a 51-yard fly-sweep.

Bellotti and Tiller have been personal friends for several years and have spent time with each other's families on Nike tours and while both are football coaches, Bellotti claims that when the two talk it's about less competitive things like fishing or food.

Notes:
The series between Oregon was put together because of the relationship Tiller has with former Oregon Athletic Director Bill Moos.

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