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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Oregon offense led by running QB and two-headed running back attatck

    Oregon made a successful transition to the spread offense last season, putting up the second-best scoring and passing totals in school history.

    According to Ducks senior center Enoka Lucas, players struggled from start to finish.

    “”It was a big question mark for us,”” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “”With the second year under our belt, it’s given us a better understanding of what we need to accomplish.””

    If any flaw could be found in Oregon’s 2005 attack, which put up 34.5 points and 304.5 passing yards per game, it was that the team’s running game failed to develop around senior running back Terrence Whitehead and highly touted freshman Jonathan Stewart.

    The duo combined for 76 rushing yards per game and a total of 63 in Oregon’s only two losses, and the team decided to commit to the run in tweaking the spread for this year.

    Now, Stewart and sophomore running back Jeremiah Johnson drive the Pacific 10 Conference’s top rushing offense (195.9 yards per game), which has kept the Ducks potent despite inconsistency from starting quarterback Dennis Dixon.

    “”For us, having Stew and Johnson is just a big aspect in our offense,”” Lucas said. “”If Stew gets tired, then J.J. will be there running just as hard as Stew. It helps the O-line. It helps the whole offense.””

    The Ducks, who rank second in the Pac-10 at 33.4 points per game, have exploited the physicality of Stewart (5-foot-11, 234 pounds) and the shiftiness of Johnson (5-foot-9, 213 pounds) in manifold fashions.

    In the team’s 34-14 victory over Washington on Nov. 4, Oregon amassed 330 rushing yards while frequently incorporating the option, which also suits Dixon’s quickness and agility as a rusher.

    Stewart led the charge with 159 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, and Johnson added another score.

    Wildcats head coach Mike Stoops said the team will prepare for everything Oregon has shown on the ground this season, but Stewart, the Ducks’ leading rusher with 840 yards, will likely play a lead role.

    He led the Pac-10 in kickoff return average last year, but Stoops said he wouldn’t compare Stewart in his versatility to California wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who scored touchdowns on a 95-yard punt return and a 62-yard reception in Arizona’s 24-20 win Saturday over the then-No. 8 Golden Bears.

    “”When you look at him, he’s a very physical player, so he plays a different game – obviously, a different position,”” Stoops said. “”The common denominator is that they’re both great players.””

    Last season, then-new offensive coordinator Gary Crowton introduced the spread offense – characterized by the quarterback lining up in the shotgun formation with three to five wide receivers on every play – to take advantage of the Ducks’ speedy, athletic playmakers.

    The scheme allows a mobile signal-caller, as Oregon possessed last year with Kellen Clemens and Dixon, to threaten the run or the pass either alone or through versatile running backs.

    With Clemens’ eligibility up, Dixon has started every game this season, thanks to having better quickness and agility than his more pocket-oriented backup Brady Leaf, brother of former NFL quarterback and Washington State standout Ryan Leaf.

    Yet while Dixon’s nifty footwork remained unquestioned by coaches, his at-times spotty decision-making has cost Oregon victories.

    In the Ducks’ three losses, to California, Washington State and No. 4 USC, Dixon threw seven interceptions against two touchdowns.

    He went 15-of-23 for 130 yards and a pick in a 35-10 defeat to the Trojans on Saturday before being benched for Leaf, who completed 13-of-22 attempts for 104 yards and a touchdown pass to Stewart.

    Although Leaf outperformed Dixon in the team’s last two losses, Oregon head coach Mike Beliotti said in a teleconference Tuesday there would be no change in starter tomorrow against Arizona.

    The Wildcats will likely see both quarterbacks, as each has played in every contest.

    “”Dennis, he’s more of a guy, if he thinks he can run, he’ll run,”” Lucas said. “”Brady, he wants to run, but sometimes, he doesn’t have the ability to run as good as Dennis. But I think Brady’s decision-making and what he can do, as well, with this offense, he maybe has a better understanding of when to pitch and pull.””

    Who plays under center for the Ducks is less a concern for Arizona than dealing with what happens after the snap, Stoops said.

    In addition to its proficiency on the ground, Oregon is third in the Pac-10 in passing at 251 yards per game.

    “”They have probably more balance in their offense than they ever have,”” he said. “”They’re giving you a lot of different looks and throwing the ball. They threw 50 times against USC, which is probably a little uncharacteristic, but they throw the ball around well.””

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