Hold onto the Ball and Get it Back

Eugene – Mike Bellotti wants to see his Oregon Ducks take better care of the football this weekend when Oregon travel to Pullman to meet the Washington State Cougars. The 3-1 Ducks are "hungry, embarrassed, anxious and angry" after dropping a 36-32 loss to Boise State last week at Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks lost another quarterback last week but WSU is in the same situation – having to rely on young quarterbacks to carry the day.

Against Portland State, the Cougars lost their starting quarterback Kevin Lopina and back up Gary Rogers. Red shirt freshman Marshal Lobbestael came in to lead the Cougars to a 48-9 thrashing of the Vikings. Rogers is now lost for the year and Lapina is day-to-day. Lobbestael finished the game 9-for-12, 149 yards and two touchdowns.

"Marshall Lobbestael the young freshman looked very good against Portland State," observed Bellotti. "He threw the ball very well."

Bellotti expects the Cougars to throw that ball plus have a pair great receivers in Brandon Gibson and Jeshua Anderson whom are as dangerous and fast as any Oregon will see. Gibson had three catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Anderson had three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown. The leading receiver was Devin Frischknecht who went over the 100 yard receiving mark with 110 yards on five receptions and a touchdown.

While the Cougars are 1-3 for the season Bellotti feels WSU has improved and played well against PSU. The Oregon coach is concerned about his team and wants to see improvement in protecting the ball and getting takeaways. Bellotti has long held that the turnover-to-takeaway ratio is the single biggest factor in winning or losing a game. So far this season, the Ducks are in the negative column. The Ducks have lost four fumbles while taking three fumbles away. Duck passers have thrown seven interceptions while the Duck defense has picked off three. Why is that coach?

"The reasons are we've dropped a couple of interceptions we've turned the ball over by fumbling and throwing interceptions," replied Bellotti to the question. "It's pretty simple, we're not playing as well as we need to. Possession of the football is the most important aspect between winning and losing."

In the first three games the Ducks overcame the turnover to takeway ratio but against Boise State it caught up with Oregon by turning the ball over four times and only creating two turnovers. Last week Chris Harper and Darron Thomas each threw an interception and Jeremiah Johnson fumbled.

A question some have raised is that whether Johnson's shoulder injury has been a contributing factor to him fumbling in both the Boise State and Purdue games. Bellotti discounts that though as the headman feels it was a matter of poor ball security.

"It's a point of emphasis everyday in practice in terms of protection of the football and on the other side of the ball, ripping and stripping and coming up plays to take the ball away.

The coach is very disappointed with the turnover problem and isn't exactly thrilled with the number of takeaways either. Calling it a "team thing" in creating turnovers, Bellotti feels a healthy Walter Thurmond III could help the takeaway category.

Thurmond has been missing from the line up due to pain in his groin. Bellotti said that Thurmond had an injection to relieve the pain last week and the coach hopes the cornerback will be able to practice this week. Thurmond was missed last week in one important area, communications.

"Our secondary must communicate," emphasized Bellotti. "That communication has to be instantaneous and visual because of the noise in Autzen. Certainly the greater experience (Thurmond's) could have help us."

Another area where Thurmond's presence would help would be in recognizing keys. Last week the Duck defensive backs were fooled and confused by the play-action. The coaching staff is working hard to correct that as Bellotti believes it something the Ducks "can get a lot better at."

Bellotti knows the upcoming Cougar game is not the gimme many thought it would be a week ago. He describes the trip to the Palouse as a tough place to play and that no team is going to rollover and play dead for the Ducks. Holding onto the ball and exploiting the opportunities to capture the ball is something and his staff is emphasizing to cure the hunger and embarrassment of last week's loss. The results of their efforts will be seen Saturday at 3:15 p.m. in a game televised by FSN Northwest from Martin Stadium.

Notes:
Jeremiah Masoli, the quarterback Oregon lost last week due to a concussion should be cleared to practice today.

Bellotti Media Conference:

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