"I do think we are capable of playing better," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti. "I need to stay on this group of kids, they have a chance of being something special, but we're not where we need to be yet."
Miscues and turnovers were extremely costly for Idaho. The Vandals fumbled five times and lost the ball twice on fumbles. Idaho turned the ball over twice as the result of poor snaps from the center to the punter. The Vandals gave the ball up to the Ducks on the Idaho 3-yard line in the first quarter that led to Onterrio Smith's first rushing touchdown of the day. Bad luck struck Idaho again in the fourth quarter when the long snap sailed over Idaho punter Ryan Downes' head and Oregon took over the ball on Idaho's own 9-yard line. The Ducks managed to convert the mistake into a field goal by Jarred Siegel. Oregon's sophomore defensive lineman Igor Olshansky intercepted a pass in the second quarter and rumbled to the end zone only to have the touchdown called off due to an illegal block in the back by Oregon on the interception return. Instead of the defensive lineman's dream of an interception-for-a-touchdown, Oregon took over on the Idaho 27-yard line and then eventually scored on a Siegel field goal. The Vandals' Cedric Thompson muffed a kickoff return in the fourth quarter and gave the ball to the Ducks on the Idaho 37-yard line. The turnover led to a touchdown by Oregon sophomore running back Kenny Washington. Oregon's final score was keyed by a fumble recovery by redshirt freshman Ian Reynoso on Idaho's 15-yard line. In all there were five Idaho turnovers that led to 33 points for Oregon. Oregon was able to play with the advantage of tremendous field position and considering the difference in talent level between the two squads, that was not surprising.
"We were the beneficiary of a lot of turnovers and short field position and as such you don't run all your offense," said Bellotti. "We played spectacularly at times but not as consistently as I would like."
Between the Idaho mistakes, Oregon did manage to look like the team that finished number two in the country last season on some plays. Oregon's junior quarterback Jason Fife hit junior wide receiver Samie Parker on an 80-yard bomb in the second quarter. Fife also hooked up with junior fullback Matt Floberg for a 23-yard screen pass and run for a touchdown in the third quarter. Fife finished the day completing ten of 22 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Parker finished the day with two catches for 84 yards. Senior wide receiver Keenan Howry had three catches for 62 yards and senior Jason Willis had two catches for 42 yards. Howry's longest catch was for 32 yards and Willis' longest was 37 yards. Yet there were a number of passes that were dropped, and Bellotti noticed.
"Jason Fife was victimized by at least six dropped passes that hit ht people right in the chest," said Bellotti. "That was very frustrating."
Between the spectacular plays, the Ducks at times simply looked like they ran out of gas. They were never able to dominate the game on the ground working the clock to their advantage. In fact, time of possession was in Idaho's favor 38:10 to 21:10. Oregon's Smith did finish with 104 yards rushing with three touchdowns on 18 carries. And, although this represented his lowest total in net yards rushing this year he did improve his yards per carry statistic to 5.8 from 3.5 gained against Fresno State and 4.4 gained against Mississippi State. The Idaho game also marked Smith's third straight 100-yard game. Oregon senior running back Alan Amundson ran the ball 10 times for 61 yards and one touchdown. Washington carried the ball just three times for 10 yards and one touchdown. Statistically, Oregon was only able to gain 165 total net yards rushing against Idaho in a game the Ducks should have been able to run the ball at will.
"I would love to average at least 100 (yards per game) throughout the season," said Smith. "It's going to take good play from the offensive line, the fullback and from us (the tailbacks) to keep on hitting those home runs (the big pass plays) through the air."
Defensively, the Ducks showed some glimpses of the team that could dominate an offense, yet the Vandals managed to rush for 124 yards. The Vandals had more passing yardage than the Ducks. Oregon had a total of 238 yards passing while Idaho had 280 yards passing. Idaho was also able to convert 6-of-16 third down conversions compared to Oregon's 3-of-12 third down conversions. Idaho had 28 first downs and Oregon had 16. The most embarrassing moment for the Ducks' defense came in the second quarter when Idaho's Malfred Shaw broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown run. The longest run by any Oregon back was for 19 yards.
"Stats and time of possession obviously don't mean a lot," said Bellotti. "It's points and victories."
The Ducks were able to play all eligible players on their roster in the Idaho game. Defensively that meant the Ducks rotated nine players onto the defensive line. Redshirt freshman defensive end Roderkus Wright saw his first playing action and recorded two tackles including a sack. Freshman defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was given credit for seven tackles, four solo and three assists. Junior Siavii was at times paired with Ngata on the defensive line had one memorable tackle when he stuck out his arm and grabbed Idaho's Zach Gerstner by the shoulder pad and unceremoniously dumped the running back to the turf. Sophomore Robby Valenzuela also recorded a sack.
"Everybody had to play throughout the game," remarked Olshansky about the rotation of the defensive line. "We're real happy about that."
Bellotti was pleased with the special teams' play. Place kicker Siegel kicked three field goals. Senior punter Jose Arroyo had six punts averaging 45.5 yards per punt.
"We created field position," said Bellotti of the special teams. "Jarred Siegel and Jose Arroyo kicked the ball very well, we covered well, we created some turnovers."
One area that Bellotti was not happy with was penalties. The Ducks had nine penalties for 109 yards. One penalty cost Olshansky his touchdown. When Bellotti was asked if Olshansky, 6-6, 304, spoke to junior safety Keith Lewis, 6-1, 200, about a push in the back penalty that negated the big defensive lineman's touchdown run, Belloti didn't think so.
"He (Olshansky) didn't," said Bellotti, "but I did."
Oregon' record improved to 3-0 while Idaho dropped to 0-3 for the season. Next week the Ducks take on Portland State, a Division 1-AA team from the Big Sky Conference. Bellotti will face the same challenge this week as he did last week in practice to keep his team motivated and on track. It would appear that much work is still to be done by this team before going into the Pac-10 season if there is any hope of winning the Pac-10 crown for the third year.
"It is essential that the players recognize the need to improve," said Bellotti.
Yes, Oregon probably does need to continue to improve, or Ducks fans may be in for a bigger surprise than they bargained for come the meat grinder of the Pac-10 Conference schedule beginning in October.
Kickoff for the Portland State game is at 12:30 p.m. at Autzen Stadium.