Oregon 101: Punching Holes in the O-Zone

THE FIRST HALF of the season was a wild ride for the Ducks. There were fake kicks, controversial officiating, blowout wins, and a humiliating loss. But no matter how they got here, the Ducks are 5-1 and ranked No. 16 in the country. Hopes for a conference title have taken a hit, but the Ducks are still eager to prove they are an upper echelon team.

THE DUCKS ON OFFENSE
Players to Know
Dennis Dixon, QB: Dixon is fleet of foot and improving rapidly as a passer. He has completed over 63 percent of his throws for 1439 yards and 10 touchdowns and has thrown just five picks. He also contributes around 40 rushing yards per game, though he may be slowed by a minor knee injury suffered last week.

Jonathan Stewart, RB: Stewart has lived up to most of the hype so far at Oregon, with the ability to stay healthy one thing he has yet to prove. He averages 6.3 yards per rush and has 869 all purpose yards this year. In five of his six starts, he's run for 100-plus yards. A powerful, fast runner with great balance.

Jaison Williams, WR: Williams is Oregon's best receiver, with 546 receiving yards and five touchdowns this year. At 6'5 and 245 pounds, he is a huge target and has outstanding speed. He is well complemented by deep threat Brian Paysinger and converted round-baller Jordan Kent, who got behind the Cougar secondary last year for a 68-yard TD.

Dante Rosario, TE: The Ducks utilize the tight end as well as any team in the conference. Rosario isn't putting up gaudy numbers but is a key third down option for Dixon. He also featured a flying ninja kick reminiscent of Bobby of the Cobra Kai against Cal earlier this year.

Cougars (4-3) vs Ducks (5-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION:
None

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Oregon by 3.5

LAST MEETING:
2005, Oregon won 34-31 on a last second field goal.

THE SERIES:
Oregon leads the series 39-37-7

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 27, Ducks 24

Overview
The ducks have gone through several offensive coordinators during the Bellotti regime, but have always focused their offense on balance and efficiency. Play calling remains equal between the run and pass. Passing plays are high percentage and fast in development, especially on first downs. The coaches do not force the quarterback to check through a complex progression. Much like Cal, Oregon is an excellent red zone offense. They've scored on 94 percent of their trips inside the twenty, 70 percent for touchdowns. In the Pac-10, Oregon ranks No. 1 in rushing offense (206 ypg) and total offense (458 ypg).

Strategy
Cal provided a great game tape on how to beat Oregon. Focus on containing the run, while constantly giving Dixon different coverage schemes. Oregon passes the ball well, but they look uncomfortable trying to operate exclusively with it. Cal fared well by keeping the receivers in front didn't give up the deep ball. On third and long, Dixon's primary options is almost always Williams. The Cougs could find success in baiting Dixon and trying to setup the interception, and a bend but don't break scheme they've utilized successfully this year. The Ducks don't have a lot of faith in their kicking game, so WSU would be well served to defend the goal line.

THE DUCKS ON DEFENSE
Players to Know
JD Nelson, FS: Nelson has played in every game at UO since 2003. A second team All Pac-10 selection last season, he brings veteran leadership and stability to the group and is tied for second on the team with 43 tackles, with two sacks.

Patrick Chung, SS: Chung was the league's defensive freshman of the year last season. He's little undersized but plays with a lot of speed.

Overview
Oregon runs a base 4-3 and uses a lot of man coverage schemes. They don't take a lot of chances, and don't get burned much as a result. They also don't generate a lot of big momentum changing plays either, with five interceptions and 14 sacks. The defense has been banged up but has held together pretty well, considering. While opponents are averaging a robust 4.4 yards per rush against the Ducks, it's their pass defense that has stood out. Opposing quarterbacks have barely completed 50 percent of their passes against them and have nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. In the red zone, the Ducks surrender touchdowns only 40 percent of the time so the Cougs may have their work cut out for them.

Strategy
The key is finding a respectable ground game that can loosen things up in the red zone. The Ducks are banged up on the interior line so the Cougs may have better success running the ball between the tackles than the last two weeks. Overall talent and speed for Oregon is a step below what WSU faced against Auburn, USC and Cal. Oklahoma, Fresno State, and Cal were all able to run against the Ducks for 200-plus yards. lending reason for crimson optimism.

THE DUCKS ON SPECIAL TEAM
Special teams have been nothing special for Oregon. They have a 28 yard net punting average, versus 36 for their opponents. Veteran kicker Paul Martinez has a strained quad and is questionable. Backup Matt Evenson is filling in, but poorly. The most noteworthy item is that Oregon has converted a pair of fake field goal attempts and has converted 2-of-3 (cough) onside kicks this year. Bellotti isn't against rolling the dice to seize momentum. If he is without Martinez, he may be even more apt to try some trickery.

INJURY REPORT

WSU
Out – A'i Ahmu (DT, foot), Chris Jordan (WR, knee surgery), Ben Woodard (TE, MCL sprain)
Doubtful – Cody Boyd (TE, ankle), Mike Graise (DE, hamstring strain), Gary Rogers (QB, shoulder)
Probable - Charles Harris (RT, ankle), Jason Hill (WR, shoulder), Aaron Johnson (DT, low back disc bulge)

UO
Out – Ra'Shon Harris (DT, triceps), Jackie Bates (CB, broken leg), Brent Haberly (DB, broken arm), Cole Linehan (DT, broken foot)
Doubtful – Josh Tschirgi (OG, ankle), Paul Martinez (K, quad)
Probable –Jonathan Stewart (RB, ankle), Dennis Dixon (QB, knee), Ryan Keeling (TE, quad), Chris Vincent (RB, ankle)

FINAL THOUGHTS
In the ‘something's gotta give' department, WSU still leads the nation with 28 sacks, while Oregon has surrendered just four all year, largely because the Ducks have enjoyed remarkable health on their offensive line. The Ducks faced a pretty strong pass rush against ASU a few weeks ago and held together nicely. If guard Josh Tschirigi is unable to go this week, it will mark the first time in 14 games dating back to last season that the Ducks will have a different group of starting linemen.

WSU has enjoyed home field advantage six of the last seven games vs. Oregon, but has won only one of those games, in 2002. At Autzen Stadium in Eugene in 2003, the Cougs beat the Ducks 55-16.


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