Ducks Want to Run Against Sun Devils

Eugene – The question was simple for Mike Bellotti and the Oregon Ducks (5-2, 3-1) as they prepare for Arizona State (2-4, 1-2) this weekend in Tempe. What will the Ducks have to do to beat the Sun Devils?

"Run the football," replied Bellotti to the question. "It's pretty simple, the team that runs it the best or most efficiently, you tend to have an advantage."

The Ducks come into the game with a 275.1-yard per game rushing average. LeGarrette Blount is Oregon's leading runner averaging 84.6 yards per game with a total of 592 yards net. He's scored 10 touchdowns and his longest run was for 72 yards. Jeremiah Johnson has run the ball for an average of 73.6-yards per contest, scoring seven touchdowns with a long run of 45 yards. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is the Ducks third leading rusher with 242 yards of net rushing on 48 carries with one score and a long run of 30 yards. Against UCLA, Masoli ran for a game leading 170 yards.

Bellotti feels his team has to find ways to pressure Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter; keep him out of rhythm. Carpenter has struggled at times this season due to a bad ankle, but the bye week gave him a chance to heal and now the Ducks must contend with a quarterback who has 23 wins as a starter, the fourth most in school history. Carpenter has 9,472 career yards passing and is fifth on the ASU list in thrown touchdowns as 74. So far this season Carpenter is averaging 245.7 yards per game in passing with eight touchdowns. Carpenter's top receiver is Michael   Jones with 30 catches for 427 yards and a touchdown. Chris McGaha has 19 grabs for 265 yards and a touchdown. Kerry Taylor has 16 receptions for 275 yards and two scores as does Kyle Williams on 14 catches for 252 yards.

As strong a passing game though, the Sun Devils are a bit anemic running the ball. Dimitri Nance is the top rusher averaging 52 yards a game on 84 carries and three touchdowns. His longest run of the season is for 17 yards. Keegan Herring is a dangerous back but so far this season has appeared in three games and his numbers reflect the hamstring injury. Herring has 131 yards net on 34 carries and two touchdowns.

This is all great except Bellotti isn't sure how good of a team Arizona State really is. Coming into the season the Sun Devils were ranked in the Top-25 and were projected to be the No. 2 team in the conference behind USC. The Sun Devils have tripped along the way losing to a powerhouse in Georgia but also dropping one to UNLV. ASU has knocked off Stanford in Pac-10 play but lost their third straight game this season to California just before the bye week break. Carpenter is a heady player that can get really hot and the Ducks don't want to get scorched by him with big plays.

"We can not give up big explosion plays," continued Bellotti in answering what Oregon must do to win. "We have to win the turnover/takeaway battle."

Right now the Ducks are dead even in the turnover/takeaway ratio at 13. Meanwhile ASU is plus 3 in losing the ball. Bellotti often comments on the turnover/takeaway ration as being the single most important factor in winning or losing a football game. At one point in this season, the Ducks were plus 5 in the ratio but strong emphasis in ball security in practice. Oregon has continued work on the stripping the ball away in practice has paid off as the Ducks enter the second half of their schedule at zero in the ratio. Special teams has contributed to the evening out the ratio by ball-hawking on kickoffs and punts and Bellotti is hopeful that Special Teams Coach Tom Osborne's bunch will help Oregon get good field position, field goals and extra points.

"Special teams has to be something to our benefit," added Bellotti to what Oregon must do to win. "When you go on the road you can't play just as good as the home team, you have to play better."

Both Oregon and Arizona State were off last week and that allowed lingering injuries to heal up and allow the players to catch up on a little sleep.

"From a hunger standpoint, a have to prove standpoint I don't think there is an advantage either way," concluded Bellotti in responding to what Oregon must do to win. "We both come off byes, so there is no advantage there. You just have to play the best on Saturday."

The Oregon head coach expects his defense will continue to work on different looks and ways of getting to Carpenter and keeping the pressure on. Oregon leads the Pac-10 in sacks at 3.6 per contest. Defensive end Nick Reed has eight while fellow DE Will Tukuafu has six and rank one-two, respectively in the conference.

Bellotti mentioned that Remene Alston broke his foot in practice yesterday and will be out six to 12 weeks. Alston had been starting on special teams as well as backing up the running back position. Bellotti could not answer how this may affect LaMichael James who is in a redshirt status. Alston injured his foot on a kickoff drill when he rolled his ankle after stepping on another player's foot. Initially trainers were concerned about the ankle until the fracture was discovered when the foot was x-rayed. The amount of time Alston will lose depends whether a pin is necessary to be placed in the fracture.

At this point Bellotti thought it may not have any effect but "could eventually."

The question of who will be quarterback is not answered. As it stands now, Masoli and Justin Roper could share snaps against Arizona State. While Masoli is clearly the much better runner of the two, Roper is a very accurate passer and has more experience with the offense. Roper injured his left knee against Purdue and then was sidelined with a viral tonsillitis. Bellotti reports that Roper is now 100 percent healthy. The decision as to who will be the starter could be as late as game time though Bellotti did mention in his weekly media conference that the coaches might decide on Thursday.

Bellotti also mentioned that he'd like to get more productivity from the receivers and if they need to substitute to get that names like Drew Davis, Jamere Holland, Aaron Pflugrad, Garrett Embry and Chris Harper could be called. Harper has been learning the receiver position after switching from quarterback. Bellotti feels now that the team is much healthier, the Ducks have more options.

"The no huddle can wear down the (opponent) defense but it can also wear down (Oregon) offense especially the receivers that are running 20, 30 or 40 yards a play," said Bellotti. "So we need to be a little more liberal in our substitution and I assume given that, we will have great productivity."

Tuesday is normally an open practice day, however this week the practice is closed to the public. There was no indication from Athletic Department officials if that will be the case for the rest of the season.

This game will not be televised live however it will be replayed on delay on Comcast 37 at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night. The game will be carried live on OSN Radio with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. (Pacific).

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