We continue our vacation hiatus and bring you another preview in place of Pac Ten Alley.
In 2006, the Oregon Ducks were beaten by BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl 38-8 after finishing tied for a disappointing 5th in the conference. The Ducks got off to a very good start last season, only to lose their last three regular season games. Inconsistency really plagued this team. This was an Oregon team that got worse as the year went on, and that is never a good sign for a football program. Oregon rebounded over the Winter bringing in it's best ever recruiting class on paper. Obviously kids up and down the coast saw opportunity rather than program on the start of a down swing.
Chip Kelly starts his first season as Oregon's offensive coordinator. He'll bring a more balanced attack, taking some of the big play pressure off of QB Dennis Dixon (61.2% COMP, 2,143 YDs, 12 TDs, 14 INTs). Dixon started throwing too many interceptions late last fall and lost his job to Brady Leaf. Dixon is likely to start this year and the implementation of a spread offense along with more running should help. Dixon signed with the Atlanta Braves this past Spring and has been concentrating on baseball rather than football this Summer. Bellotti is steamed up about it, and don't be surprised if there is a quick hook early in Eugene.
The receiving corps is fast, talented and deep, but they dropped the ball too much last season. Junior WR Jaison Williams (68 REC, 984 YDs, 6 TDs) and company must hold onto that ball. Junior RBs Jonathan Stewart (183 CAR, 981 YDs, 10 TDs) and Jeremiah Johnson can be a great one-two punch on the ground. IF Stewart is healthy, Oregon can ride him all season like UW did with Corey Dillon. The question is will Bellotti be willing to keep it on the ground more?
The line looks in good shape, and the Duck's have good size up front.
While the offense was averaging 29.5 PPG, the Duck defense was allowing the opposition to score 26.5 PPG. The secondary performed well, being rated 20th in the nation, but the front seven struggled as they allowed 148.6 running yards per game. Rover Patrick Chung (84 tackles, 49 solo), now a junior, was effective in a line-backing unit that played solid but unspectacular "D." As a freshman, corner Jarius Byrd was amazing, pulling down 5 INTs. Expect even more from this talent and the rest of the secondary. Line play must be more aggressive and tougher.
Oregon needs its QB to come through and its defensive line to make big plays. If that happens the team could garner eight or more wins. Swing contests include those versus Arizona State, Arizona and Oregon State. Those three games take place in the final four weeks of the season.
The Consensus on Oregon
We are all beginning to see some cracks in the machine that Bellotti built. A porous defense, and a QB who won't arrive till August to work under a new OC spells early trouble for the Duck's. An early gauge of where this team is will happen early on the road against Michigan. I don't expect the Duck's to fare well in Ann Arbor. Chemistry was way off with this team last year, and the major goal going into the season is going to be rekindling some excitement from within the team.
The Duck's had a great recruiting class last year. When Washington started to point downward after it's last Rose Bowl they didn't have the advantage of great recruiting classes, just turmoil, and coaching changes. Bellotti's longevity is a big part of the Oregon success story, and it also can get them through the semi lean times.
I think for Oregon to have a great season they need to rush the ball for over 2000 yards. If that happens it means things are clicking for Stewart, Johnson, and Dixon. It also means the Duck's won't be as prone to turning the ball over through the air. Oregon out gained conference opponents by an average of 136 yards per game last season, the highest in the Pac-10. That was undone, however, by a minus-10 turnover ratio. If the turnover numbers get a little better and that with a senior QB and a fairly veteran offense overall, then Oregon could shoot right back to the top of the conference.
Defensively the Duck's need to improve big time. Giving up over 26 points per game just kills you in this league. Once again improving the turnover ratio to give your defense a break would lead to improvement this season.
Washington can play with the Duck's, and it is going to be a big game since this is the first time in awhile that the Mallards have had to play in the hostile confines of Husky Stadium. UW has been outplayed in the last two meetings, and it is time for the Huskies to show up. The UW should be competitive with these guys, and be in a position to win in the 4th quarter. To do that the Husky D has to be as good as advertised, and Jake Locker will have to be steady in the saddle running the UW offense.
Most experts are going to pick the Duck's to finish in the upper division of the conference and finish the season in a bowl game. That will happen if they can turn up the defense and turn down the turnovers.