December 28, 2008

Scouting the Ducks: Offense just as potent

SAN DIEGO - Oklahoma State and Oregon have never met on a football field.

That will change in just a couple of days, as the Cowboys and Ducks will line up to decide the winner of the 2008 Holiday Bowl. The Ducks come into this game on a hot streak, winning their last three regular season games, including a blitzing of in-state rival Oregon State in the Civil War.

If the Ducks are to keep their winning ways alive, they'll have to figure out a way to outscore the Cowboys, who have an offense just as potent. Will the Ducks be able to stop OSU's posse? The defense that steps up first in this game could influence the outcome in a big way.

So what the Duck is Oregon about? Let's take a look.

Eugene, Ore.
Game time: Tuesday, 7 p.m. Central Time at Qualcomm Stadium (ESPN)
Current record: 9-3 (7-2 Pac-10)
Last game: 65-38 win over Oregon State
Current ranking: No. 15 in the AP
Fact of the week: Yes, Donald Duck is actually Oregon's mascot. That's been the case since 1947, when Walt Disney and then-Athletics Director Leo Harris exchanged a handshake on the matter. After Disney's death in 1966, the Walt Disney Production company and the school realized there was no official contract in place granting UO the right to Donald's likeness. That legal issue was solved in 1973, when the school and the company came to an agreement. From then on, it was official. So for over 60 years, Donald Duck has represented Oregon athletics. Pretty cool.

… the Duck offense:
As reported on OSI yesterday, Oregon's offense is similar to Oklahoma State's in a lot of ways - statistically, at least. UO is eighth in total offense (478 yards per game), fourth running the ball (277 ypg) and seventh in scoring (41.9 points per game). The Ducks have a flock of weapons on this side of the ball, led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who has passed for 1,486 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. He has a 57 percent completion percentage and only four interceptions on the season. Coming into the starter's role after a couple of injuries to other players, Masoli has improved as the season has gone along. Even so, he never had a 300-yard passing game in 2008. He has a batch of receiving options, however. While the Ducks have no go-to Dez Bryant type, they do have four wideouts who have been reliable catchers. Leading them is Scott Terence, who has 628 yards and five touchdowns. Ed Dickson (479 yards, three scores), Jaison Williams (421, 3) and Jeffrey Maehl (420, 5) all have 30 receptions or more on the year. In the running game, Jeremiah Johnson (1,082 yards, 16 TDs) and LeGarrette Blount (928 yards, 16 scores) are the one-two punch, with Masoli running for 612 yards and seven scores of his own to help diversify the ground attack.
… the Duck defense: The unit itself is nothing spectacular, coming in 80th in total offense (383 ypg) and 78th in scoring defense (28 ppg). However, they have a great strength and that is getting to the quarterback. As a team, they have 36 sacks, with 13 of those coming from defensive lineman Nick Reed. He ranks second in the nation in this category. Fellow lineman Will Tukuafu has seven. Defensive back T.J. Ward leads the team in tackles with 93, putting him in the top 100 nationally. The unit has 14 interceptions, with Jarius Byrd and Walter Thurmond III with four apiece.
… the coach: Picking up where one-time coach Rich Brooks left off, Mike Bellotti has elevated the Ducks into a force in the Pac-10. Only missing bowl games in two of his 14 seasons as head coach, Bellotti has a 115-55 record in Eugene. (In bowl games, however, UO is only 5-6.) He has two conference titles (2000, 2001) and has finished third or better in the Pac-10 eight times. That run has landed Bellotti in a position to coach at UO until he wants no more, at which time he will become the school's athletic director, with current offensive coordinator Chip Kelly replacing Bellotti.

This game is a tough one to call. Both teams have crazy-good stats on offense and iffy defenses, so the conventional wisdom says this should be a high-scoring affair. Both teams have a combined six losses and none of them were to bad teams. It looks to be a very even matchup. It's a big reason this game is so attractive to ESPN and college fans all over the country. It's a BCS-worthy matchup in a regular bowl. With both defenses being relatively weak, both teams should move the ball. But expect OSU to move the ball more, winning 45-38 in another fun Holiday Bowl contest.

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