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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Ducks to stay grounded with heavy running game

    There’s no guesswork involved when trying to figure out how Oregon wins football games. The Ducks smash teams into submission by grinding out yard after yard with their potent running attack.

    Oregon ranks fifth nationally in rushing yards per game (274.3) and 12th in average points per game (38.3), thanks in large part to their terrific twosome of running backs Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount.

    The dynamic duo combines to average 156.6 yards on the ground and 2.5 touchdowns per contest. Johnson – a 5-foot-11, 200 pound senior – leads the team in yards with 825 on the season, but Blount – a 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior college transfer – has racked up the most touchdowns, as he’s found the end zone 14 times.

    “”Jeremiah, I’m thinking, is playing as well as any tailback in this conference, and he’s splitting time,”” Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti said during his weekly telephone conference. “”He can catch the ball very well out of the backfield, he’s a solid blocker and he’s a great cut-back runner who can make people miss.

    “”LeGarrette is a more physical runner,”” Bellotti added. “”He’s more of a power runner and yet he has the ability to make people miss and he has the ability to finish long runs.””

    Another weapon for Oregon is formerly little-known quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The junior college transfer is third on the team in rushing (52.2 yards per game) and has found the end zone three times. And despite his low completion percentage (52.4), Masoli has proven he can get it done through the air if necessary. The sophomore has tossed seven touchdowns, compared to just four interceptions in the nine games he’s played in this year.

    Masoli also keys Oregon’s option rushing attack. The multi-faceted option game can be troublesome to stop, as the Ducks’ lofty rushing stats suggest, but Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said containing the option comes down to “”responsibility football”” because it puts so much stress on opposing defenses.

    “”We feel fairly comfortable defending them, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a big challenge, but it’s one we seem to embrace,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”Our guys know when you play a team like this it kind of gets your attention. I think that may be one of the keys as to why we play them well, because I think you have to be disciplined and you have to be sound, otherwise they can make you look pretty stupid.””

    The Ducks’ defense can make opponents look stupid, too. Junior cornerback Jairus Byrd leads the Pacific 10 Conference in interceptions with four and senior defensive end Nick Reed has tallied nine sacks so far this year – good enough for a tie for 13th nationally.

    The rest of Oregon’s defense – although statistically middle-of-the-road as far as yards and points allowed – relentlessly hassles the opponent into mistakes. The squad averages two forced turnovers (tied for 20th in the country), 2.8 sacks (15th) and 7.65 tackles for loss (13th) per game. And while he might not be stealing the headlines like in previous years, senior Patrick Chung anchors the unit.

    “”He’s a physical player, good tackler, good athlete, got some good size. He’s just an overall good player,”” UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said of the preseason All-America selection at safety. “”Against (the Ducks’ defense) you’ve got to be patient. They’re going to try and outnumber you and you’ve got to stay with it because they’re going try and attack the box, get guys in there and get their safeties down to play the run.””

    In yet another game this season, Arizona’s opponent poses a formidable challenge on both sides of the ball and the game should be a close contest going into the final minutes. With the bowl implications this game carries, and the added pressure that goes along with that, coaches and players on each team think whichever squad imposes its will, but still maintains its composure, will likely come out on top.

    “”Every year we play them it’s just a great game and there’s a lot of competition; it’s going to be a great test for our team and for our defense,”” said senior UA linebacker Ronnie Palmer. “”We want to win out, and we know each game is only gonna get bigger and bigger. Right now, they’re in our way and we need to play our best game and they’re gonna do the exact same.””

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