Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti is feeling the anguish of losses to Arizona State, USC, Washington State and Washington and his cure for his team is finding a way to win in Corvallis. The Ducks started the season off ranked in the Top-10 and now find themselves out of the Top-25 for the first time since the 2000 season. Past accomplishments aside, the Ducks must do three things to notch their eighth win for the season and break even their Pac-10 record at 4-4. The first thing they must do in order to beat the Beavers is controlling the line of scrimmage on both the offensive and defensive lines. The Oregon offensive line has given up 24 sacks this year - compared to only 11 sacks last season. Last year the Ducks sacked opposing quarterbacks 24 times but this year the Ducks have 30 sacks so far. Onterrio Smith will not suit up for the Civil War and he finishes the regular season with 1,079 yards. Last season Smith had 1.058 yards but Maurice Morris also had 1,049 yards. Oregon's offensive line must find ways to open up holes for Terrance Whitehead and Ryan Shaw - the latest version of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. This is a tall order as the Beaver defensive front is deep, experienced and fast.
"This game will be won or lost at the line of scrimmage," said Bellotti.
The second key for an Oregon win is playing penalty and turnover free. The Ducks have been uncharacteristic for a Bellotti team so far this season in term of penalties. The Ducks have been called 95 times for 811 yards. Last season the Ducks were call 78 times for 711 yards. Bellotti has been concerned and said, " I'm not pleased with our penalty situation this year." Turnovers have not been a huge problem this year for the Ducks though Keenan Howry's fumble last week against Washington was a very tough turnover and a crucial time in the game. The Ducks have mostly held onto the ball this year and they have only lost six fumbles and have only been intercepted eight times. Oregon has 18 interceptions and recovered six fumbles from opponents.
"We know we have to make plays," observed the head coach.
The third key to a win for the Ducks over OSU is that special teams have to make a difference. Place kicker and Groza finalist Jared Siegel is 18 for 21 in field goals with a long of 59 yards. Siegel also is 44 of 45 in point after attempts. Punter Jose Arroyo has a 41.4 yard per punt average without a block. No Duck has returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season but Howry has one punt return of 79 yards for a touchdown.
Bellotti describes the OSU's defense as the best in the Pac-10, citing the defensive line in particular. "Their defensive front seven are excellent," said Bellotti. Offensively the Ducks know what to expect - Steven Jackson. Jackson is averaging 136 yards per game and has 13 touchdowns. Quarterback Derek Anderson has had a rough sophomore season but is capable of having a big game. He has 2,624 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Last week he was 17 for 41 and 289 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"He (Jackson) has put the Oregon State Beavers on his back and carried them down the field," said Bellotti. "We have to contain Steven Jackson."
Oregon's offense must find ways to open holes and also protect Jason Fife. Fife has been an efficient quarterback all season with 2,566 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The last half of the season has been a trial for Fife and his coach thinks the junior quarterback has gone through a transition. Bellotti expects Fife to perform well against the Beavers.
"He's going to do a great job this week," remarked Bellotti in confirming his confidence in Fife.
Civil War week preparations includes closed sessions, guest speakers such as former players who will come back to the University sharing their experiences of what it means to play Oregon State.
Oregon must have a complete team effort in order to have a chance at winning on the road at Oregon State. Obviously they must play better in all aspects, not just as well as the Beavers. What ever was lost in October must be found during this week of practice. Bellotti seemed upbeat when he answered questions from the media, so there is reason to believe the Ducks will be inspired to play the Beavers. The Ducks are not use to losing and the last five weeks have been grading on the team, the coaching staff and the fans.
"They (the team) are tired of losing," said Bellotti. "They are not tired of playing football."
A win means a shot at a more prestigious bowl, bragging rights and a positive end to the season. The game as described by the Duck headman is "a great challenge." Are the Ducks up to that challenge? Fans will find out on Saturday.