...or Oregon will have successfully added
one more brick into its preseason foundation that is expected to yield them
dividends down the road as they slug it out for the Pac-10 Conference
championship and possibly more.
There is no question that Fresno State is not the same team they were early
last year. Not only is their quarterback from last year, David Carr, gone
to the Pros, but their starting quarterback this year, Jeff Grady (sore
hip), is not currently slated to play against Oregon due to an injury
sustained in the team's season opening loss at Wisconsin. Further
exacerbating Fresno State's offensive woes is the loss of the team's most
productive receiver and punt returner, Bernard Berrian (strained knee), who
was also injured at the Wisconsin game and not expected to play against
Oregon. The fact is, the Bulldogs needed a blocked kick with two seconds
remaining to avoid a devastating loss to the San Diego State Aztecs at home
last weekend or they would have headed into the Oregon game with a 0-2
record. After two games, Fresno State ranks 100th, 80th and 85th nationally
for rushing offense, total offense, and scoring offense respectively.
Fresno State's second-string quarterback, redshirt freshman Paul Pinegar who
is expected to start against Oregon, did a respectable job against San Diego
State completing 21 of 35 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown while not
throwing an interception. And, the Bulldogs are ranked 36th in the nation
in passing offense after two games.
On the defensive side of the ball, Fresno State retains much of its old
swagger from last year. It was the Bulldog's defense that held San Diego
State to only 14 points last week and gave Wisconsin fits in a game decided
by only a field goal the week before.
"They have great personnel," said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti speaking of
Fresno State's defense during Wednesday's media conference call. "Nick
Burley upfront is a very active defensive end. He's as good a football
player as I've seen. Sam Williams is a very active linebacker and their two
safeties, Bryce McGill and Cameron Worrell are hitters.with those safeties,
the flexibility of the safeties allows them to blitz or come from just about
anywhere and cover people. They present some new problems that I'd like to
have more than one week to prepare for."
According to Bellotti, the Bulldogs play a somewhat unconventional defense,
which includes the use of a zone blitzing scheme currently prevalent in the
NFL and safeties that play the left and right side of the field rather than
the more traditional rover and free positions. They are also noted for
their excellent team speed and athleticism.
"My initial impression is that they are very fast," said Bellotti. "They're
aggressive. They pursue very well and when they come after you they bring
it. I've been very impressed watching them on film."
Despite all of the challenge that Fresno State represents to Oregon, it
might be that Oregon's biggest opponent this week may actually be itself.
Although the Ducks clearly out manned Mississippi State last week winning
36-13 at home, there were some areas of weakness exposed that will need to
be corrected if the Ducks are to realize their lofty goals. Against
Mississippi State, Oregon was slapped with 13 penalties for 105 yards. The
Ducks also seemed to lose some intensity in the second half of the game and
at times didn't appear to mount much of a pass rush.
"We've talked (with his team) about the penalties," said Bellotti. "It was
a combination - (some) of (it) exuberance, some of it youthful and
inexperience, some of it being somewhat over aggressive, some of it
retaliatory to certain things that occurred in the game and some of it was
excessive celebration. None was correct and none was acceptable. We have
to make differences. We have to play basically penalty free.
"I think that finishing the game (is important). The first half last week
was a great dominant first half but our second half was not that way and
whether it was a relaxation on the part of our team or playing second and
third team guys, I don't want our level of play to drop off and I've got to
impress that upon our players that when they get their opportunity it's
important that we play at a certain level and not let that level drop."
There are many Oregon players getting the opportunity to play or start for
the first time this year. Getting their first start on offense last week
included junior Jason Fife at quarterback, junior Matt Floberg at fullback, junior George Wrighster at tight
end, and sophomores Nick Steitz and
Mike Delagrange on the offensive line. This amazingly represents the team's
entire offensive backfield as well as one significant skill positions and
two line positions and although some of these players have played in games
in the past, they have not been part of the first team offensive unit until
this year. On defense, Oregon started for the first time, senior Kai
Smalley and sophomore Igor Olshansky at tackle, senior Garret Graham at
outside linebacker, and junior Steven Moore and freshman Aaron Gipson at
cornerback. The Ducks also played for the first time true freshmen Marques
Binns at cornerback, and Terrence Whitehead at tailback in addition to
Gipson. Junior transfer Junior Siavii also played at defensive tackle.
"I was pleased overall with the performance of our young inexperienced
players and first-time starters," said Bellotti. "We're working very hard
on getting better at little things, some of the technique issues. I think
we are improving. It's (the Fresno State game) a whole new challenge and a
whole new ball game. We know that Fresno State is a very good football
program that has proven they can play and beat anybody in the nation. It's
about Oregon football playing well."
Certainly Oregon is trying to establish its core starters, find its team
identity and hone the abilities of its players to the fine edge necessary to
slice through the brutal portion of its schedule beginning in October with
Pac-10 play. I think the game against Fresno State represents an excellent
opportunity for the Ducks to continue their continuous improvement exercise.
The Bulldogs don't appear to be too formidable on offense and will field a
strong defense that will test the character and strength of the Oregon
offense. After this game the Ducks have two weeks of near smooth sailing as
they face Idaho and Portland State at home before embarking on the road to
After having tendonitis in his knee and missing most of fall camp and then
only playing sparingly last week, senior wide receiver Keenan Howry is
expected to start against Fresno State.
The last two times Oregon has played Fresno State, in 1996 and 1997, the
games have been decided in favor of the Ducks in overtime.
Oregon's Mike Bellotti has hired two former Fresno State offensive
coordinators, Jeff Tedford in 1998 (present head coach at California) and
Andy Ludwig in 2002 (Ducks' present offensive coordinator and quarterbacks
coach.) Bellotti also hired a former Fresno State defensive coordinator,
Robin Ross in 1997 (Ducks' present special teams coordinator and tight ends