Oregon 101

AT THE BEGINNING of this season, Oregon was the dark horse pick of many pundits to battle for a trip to the Rose Bowl; primarily because they didn't have to face favored USC. Now, they are a long shot to make any bowl game, with a 1-3 record and a very anxious fan base. If the Ducks hope to turn their season around, it will have to happen on the road, and it starts with a trip to Martin Stadium this Saturday.

When: Saturday, October 9, 2:00 p.m.
Where: Martin Stadium (37,600 capacity)
TV: No live coverage
Last Meeting: 2003, WSU won 55-16
Line: WSU by 3.5
Forecast: Showers in the morning, partly cloudy in the afternoon, highs in the upper 50's.

THE DUCKS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Kellen Clemens, QB: No longer splitting time with Jason Fife, this is Clemen's team and he is very much aware of it. He has matured a lot in the past year, but still has a fiery competitive side that refuses to give up, even on broken plays. He has completed 59 percent of his passes this year for 830 yards and eight touchdowns against just three interceptions. His low 6.4 yards per attempt is his weakest passing statistic, and perhaps his most telling. He remains a capable field general, but has struggled with his accuracy on longer throws.

Terrence Whitehead, RB: The 210 pound junior is slippery, but he isn't the home run threat the Ducks have featured in years past. He has 326 rushing yards this year and respectable 5.2 average per carry, but his longest run is only 22 yards. Whitehead is also a solid receiver, catching 14 balls this year for 120 yards and two scores. Expect him to see plenty of touches against the Cougs.

Demetrius Williams, WR: Already ailing from turf toe, the Ducks leading receiver suffered a severe shoulder bruise against the Sun Devils but remains probable for this week's game. The Ducks are thin at receiver so if Williams is unable to be a factor, it puts added pressure on Whitehead, fullback Dante Rosario, and tight end Tim Day, who have been the only other consistent targets. Williams has a team best 15 catches for 212 yards this year.

Overview: This offense has lost a lot of its ingenuity since Jeff Tedford left for Berkeley, but the basic formula hasn't changed much. The Ducks operate through efficiency and balance. Their run/pass ratio is always very even, with passes that are usually low-risk and run plays that rarely get caught up behind the line. On paper they look pretty good and when they get into a rhythm it's still an effective attack, but Ducks continue to struggle making big plays. Their long pass plays have been too slow in developing and have led to more sacks than completions. Additionally, they lack potency in the red zone, where defenses seem to creep up on them. The bottom line is, remove the Idaho game and the Ducks are averaging just 15 points per game this year. Whether the offensive problems are a result of bad coaching or the fact that Joey Harrington and Onterrio Smith are no longer in the backfield is unclear. But it's pretty irrelevant this deep into the season, the Ducks need to find a way to score points in spite of their problems.

Strategy: The Duck offense is a very efficient, but often fragile system. If you allow them to play their game, they will pick you apart, but if you attack them they seem to get out of sync fast. Where the Ducks kill you is when they are successful on first downs. If they are able to beat you with dink and dunk passes or gain six yards on a run play right off the bat, their offense is well equipped to keep the momentum going. Alternatively, they completely unravel when facing third and long. Excluding the Idaho game, Oregon is 14 of 41 on third downs (31percent) this year. They haven't proven that they can pass effectively when defenses see it coming, mostly because they lack a strong corps of receivers. So the keys are to stuff the run and to pressure Clemens, without getting beat by throws to the runningbacks. The Oregon offensive line has done a poor job of protecting Clemons but they will be hesitant to leave the backs in as blockers because of their need for them as receivers.

THE DUCKS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Devan Long, DE: Rien's "little" brother has been Oregon's best pass rushing threat the last two years. So far in 2004 he has three sacks and 21 tackles, 8.5 of which came for a loss in yards. At 258 pounds, he is a great mix of size and speed.

Haloti Ngata, DT: The Ducks have a couple of mountains in the middle with Ngata and Robby Valenzuela. Given WSU's rushing problems, the Ducks are fully expecting to control the center of the line of scrimmage.

Justin Phinisee, CB/S: The Duck's secondary was hurt when senior safety Marley Tucker went down with an elbow injury. The veteran corner Phinisee is being asked to take Tucker's slot at the safety position. He has played this position before, but is a definite step down from Tucker. He'll likely go head to head against WSU's new starting slot receiver Michael Bumpus.

Overview: Much like the offense, this group is statistically solid but seems to break down under pressure. They allow only 4.5 yards per play but have had trouble in the red zone, where they rank ninth in the conference in red zone defense. Additionally, they haven't generated a lot of turnovers; only three interceptions and two fumble recoveries through the first four games. This partly because the Ducks have transitioned to a less aggressive 4-3 scheme that focus' more on containment. Oregon managed to contain QB Andrew Walter last week but couldn't stop the Sun Devils when it counted. ASU's only four trips inside the Oregon 30 yard line all resulted in touchdowns. Pass defense has been a struggle with Oregon the last few years and it is unclear how well the problem has been fixed. Oregon ranks third in the conference in pass defense, but ranks ninth in passing efficiency defense. Demonstrating their unfortunate ‘break but don't bend' tendencies.

Strategy: Coach Mike Bellotti likes to stuff the run and put pressure the quarterback. Given that WSU's offense ranks dead last in the Pac-10 for yards per rush attempt and sacks allowed, the Ducks might be able to implement this defensive strategy. The question is whether this puts too much pressure on their pass defense. Big plays and turnovers will be key so the Ducks will likely leave their safeties in zone looking to pick off QB Josh Swogger. If WSU starts fumbling or throwing errant passes, Oregon will have a strong advantage. But if the Cougars play smart football, their pressure defense and rowdy home crowd should give them plenty of scoring opportunities as the game wears on.

THE DUCKS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Jared Siegel is normally a fine kicker, but he has struggled in his senior campaign, converting just three of five FG attempts, none of which were attempted beyond 35 yards. He also missed an extra point last week, the first in 98 career attempts. Still, he should be expected to be a solid weapon. Punter David Dittman has been fairly weak with a 39-yard average and a 33.5 net. He also has developed a tendency to shank balls under pressure. Expect both teams to aggressively try to block punts. Oregon is a weak kick returning team, ranking ninth in the conference in both punt and kickoff returns.

INJURY REPORT
WSU: DT Steve Cook will start, but his cohort Ropati Pitoitua (high ankle sprain) is out. Reserve DE Matt Mullennix is out (knee). WR Marty Martin and TE Cody Boyd are out, but TE Troy Bienemann is expected see limited playing time.

Oregon: Right tackle Robin Knebel is out with an ankle sprain. Rover Marley Tucker is out with a dislocated elbow. Receiver Demetrius Williams is probable with a sprained shoulder and turf toe. Backups Keith Allen (WR, knee) and Kenny Washington (RB, leg) have missed practices this week, but are expected to play Saturday.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Oregon is a statistical anomaly. Their numbers suggest that they should be winning ball games, but they simply aren't. The underlying reason could be a lack of playmakers. There are very few players on this team that demand respect from their opponent. As result, teams feel free to remain in attack mode on both sides of the ball.

This will be a very emotional game for Oregon. Their backs are against the wall and they are facing a team that humiliated them last year. If they lose this one, a bowl game is almost out of the question, so expect maximum effort out of their players. WSU is fortunate that this being played in Martin Stadium, as their fans should be ready to scream their brains out. The Cougs will need support too, especially if the offense struggles coming off a bye week.


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