Keith Gilbertson Press Conference - 10/25
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti: "I'm excited about the way we've been playing," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti Monday. "We've had two Pac-10 road wins and three in a row."
Like Washington, the Ducks got off to a slow start. Unlike UW, Oregon has turned things around with big wins over Washington State, Arizona, and Stanford to be at 3-1 in the conference and 4-3 overall.
"Kellen Clemens and Terrance Whitehead have been leading the way for us," said Bellotti. "Our defensive line is getting better, contributing to 10 sacks against Stanford. It was the difference in the game."
Clemens saw unsuccessful action against Washington the past two years as a red-shirt freshman and sophomore while splitting time with the since-graduated Jason Fife. Whitehead, who Bellotti calls "the most efficient running back we've had," is a back that is not in the same mold as former Ducks Ruben Droughns, Maurice Morris, or Onterrio Smith, but Bellotti raved about how complete of a player Whitehead is.
Oregon boasts a quartet of talented defensive linemen in Devan Long, Robby Valenzuela, Haloti Ngata, and Chris Solomona. Long, a junior from Anacortes, Washington, is second in the conference with 7 sacks. Ngata has recovered nicely from an injury last season to create havoc in the middle alongside Solomona, a former Washington signee.
"I have a lot of respect for Washington," said Bellotti about the past history of the two schools. "During the last couple of games against them, we really didn't play to our potential, so that is what we want to do. We want to play to our potential." What Bellotti is referring to is the 42-14 Washington win in Eugene two years ago, and the 42-10 sequel the Huskies put on just last season at Husky Stadium.
"The scores don't bother me too much," he said. "It's still a loss. It really doesn't matter what the score is. The thing was we were tied or had the lead going into halftime at both of those games and didn't come back out and finish the job. There's a lot of hype before and after the game, but I'm just concerned about what happens during the game."
As for the Huskies, Bellotti knows all too well that just because they are having a rough stretch, it doesn't mean that they can't come out and really take it to the Ducks.
"I look at their defense and I see that they're playing hard. I don't really put a lot of stock into what's happened to them so far," he said. "I'm going in expecting Washington's best game of the season."
While the defense has occasionally shown promise, the biggest concern throughout the season has been Washington's offense. With the QB position resembling a merry-go-round every week, there is growing concern about their ability to put any points on the board.
"Well I think obviously after the way we've struggled we're more confident on defense than offense," said Huskies coach Keith Gilbertson. "On offense we're struggling for some leadership, cohesion, and consistent play in some spots and we probably lost more people starter-wise offensively than defensively, so I think for the most part (the psyche) is good, but I can't speak to the confidence of our offensive people, particularly after last Saturday's performance. But I thought our defensive kids played very well."
As for this week's installment of "Who's at QB," Gilbertson did mention after the USC game that Isaiah Stanback will be the starter, but decided on waiting until at least Tuesday before officially declaring either Stanback, Casey Paus, or Carl Bonnell the starter against Oregon.
"I haven't seen them yet today," he said. "We've got to sit down with the three guys and I'm not going to say anything about the quarterback position until we see them. We may not change and we may change.
"I'm frustrated obviously with the turnover at that position and that no one has really taken over the job. I'm frustrated that when we did feel like we had a guy that could start, he gets injured and you go back to the rotation and I don't think all those things have helped. What's going on with receivers has not helped and losing your left tackle (Khalif Barnes) hasn't helped. We got to generate something for our defense because I think those people have turned in some pretty good efforts."
Also, there were some moves along the trenches with another minor injury coming on the defensive side.
"Wilson Afoa sprained his foot, but the x-rays were negative so I think Wilson is going to be fine," said Gilbertson. "We're going to move Jordan Reffett back to defensive tackle. We're getting so thin in there so we'll move Jordan back in there. Tusi Sa'au will now play both guards. He'll get reps at both guards. I think he can handle that. I'm worried about the injuries on the defensive line. We're getting so thin that we don't want to get in a position that we aren't two-deep."
With Mike Mapuolesega coming back from his knee injury, it gave Manase Hopoi, the Pac-10's leader in sacks (eight) and tackles-for-loss (19) a chance to move back inside to defensive tackle. All he did Saturday was tie a school record for tackles-for-loss in a game with six - all recorded in the first half against the Trojans.
"I've always thought that Manase is a better inside player with his quickness and hands than an outside player where a lot of that is foot speed," said Gilbertson. "I think he's played well in there and he certainly is having a nice career in terms of his tackles-for-loss and sacks and the things he brings to the defense. He's experienced. He's played a couple years.
"Mike Mapuolesega likes to play. He hustles around and gets in some plays. I think there are times because of all the weeks that he's missed that he's not going to look like he's in great shape."
Even though there have been overtures from all points of the map that lead to Washington regarding his job, Gilbertson has always been optimistic about the team when nobody else has.
"I'm going to enjoy coaching this team because it's a great bunch of kids," he said. "It's a great bunch of young people and I mean it. And to their credit, they have not come in with a long face or their chin hanging down one time, and they've got every reason to do that. I've enjoyed coaching them and they know that, and I go at it that way with these guys. We've obviously not enjoyed what has happened to us and it's still the best part of my day."
"Even though your record is bad, I get to do every morning what I want to do. I get to coach football. I don't get to coach as much football as I used to as when I was an assistant or coordinator, but I still get to go drive across the bridge every morning and see Husky Stadium and go work at the University of Washington so I'm going to enjoy that as long as I get to enjoy that.
"Win some games," he said with a smile when asked if there are goals for the final stretch of games. "You bet there are some goals for the last four games.
"Somehow, someway, somewhere we have got to find some offense. Last week was very discouraging and I was really disappointed. I thought Joe Toledo gave a really good effort. I thought Ryan Brooks blocked very well. We couldn't muster any run on offense. We had people open and couldn't get them the ball. I thought other than maybe our pass protection where we gave up one sack was outstanding. We just can not seem to find any offense. We are struggling at a record pace."
All year long, Gilbertson, a known offensive guru, has seen his offense struggle like they have never before and the frustration can be heard in his voice when addressing these concerns.
"We have no ability to be balanced," he said. "We have no ability right now to threaten deep. And when did have people open, we didn't find them. It was really a frustrating day. You all know my background on offense and pass offense. It's just frustrating. I'm very frustrated.
"I'm not going to take anything away from USC's talent on defense. But we left some offense out there is what I'm saying. Everybody knows when you go play those guys that if you play well on defense and you do the things that you need to do, offensively, you can't fumble the ball, and you cant miss a couple of field goals. And those things are happening all the time and it's frustrating. And we are still searching for answers.
"Everybody is just grinding. I don't know any other word to use other than everybody is just grinding. Staff wise, it's insane how hard we're going at this thing. A week ago, our QB was able to make some plays running around the field. On Saturday? None. We haven't progressed yet. We're frustrated and looking for anything to give us a spark."
With the lack of production from the scoring units, Gilbertson said that there will be some changes including the possibility of having a player play both ways.
"We're going to visit with Cody Ellis about splitting time offensively and defensively," he said. "He's played receiver in high school and obviously he's got really good vertical speed in that he's a state sprint champion in 4A. We were talking about it earlier but we had depth problems at corner so we're going to talk to him about that and he would still be a part of our nickel and dime packages defensively."
Also, with three straight missed field goals, the placekicking duties will also be up for grabs. Even since Michael Braunstein took over for Evan Knudson, he has made only 3 of 7 field goal attempts.
"That job is in competition this week, and like we do, we'll try out all the kids," said Gilbertson. "Evan is healthier now and kicking the ball better and we'll put it back in competition. We've missed three in a row now so we've got to address the issue again."
Charles Frederick is still listed as questionable for this Saturday and Gilbertson said that there is a "chance" that he will see action this week.
Even though the Ducks have found ways to bring the best out of the Huskies recently, Gilbertson knows that history doesn't always repeat itself, especially if Oregon's defense plays as well as it has recently.
"If you're talking about our offense, I look at their defense (third in the conference)," he said. "They really have improved a lot over the year defensively. I think having a healthy Haloti Ngata is a big factor for them. Their secondary is much more experienced now. Chris Solomona and Robby Valenzuela have really picked up the tempo for their front so I don't now if you're going to get a boost. Will we be excited playing them? Yeah you bet. It's always an interesting game.
"The (defensive) front has really done a lot of things for them. If you watch the Stanford game, they're just all over the QB. They pressure the QB on every snap. Against Stanford - who I think is a really talented offense - they hold them to 13, which is really hard to do. In the last couple of weeks, they have really made a good move.
"One of the advantages Devan Long has is that he has those two big defensive tackles (Ngata and Valenzuela) collapsing the middle. Ngata was one the two best linemen out of high school. He's a big, big, man. (6-4 345-pounds)"
Offensively, the Ducks have settled into a rhythm after their slow start.
"I think schematically they have the ability to do a nice job of protecting the QB and to launch some pretty deep (throws). They can really throw the ball deep. They've also been an excellent screen team. They've always been a hard team to defend the screen and now the emergence of their tailback being a threat is a plus.
"The QB (Clemens) is really starting to take over the games. His experience is starting to show. Whitehead has given them some offense to give them balance to the pass."
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