UCLA win bolsters hopes and a desire to merely 'run the table'
Oregon may have entered the Bowl Championship Series standings at 14th, but if the Ducks remain in third place in the Pac-10 all season, will it really matter?
Coming off Saturday's bounce-back 30-20 victory over UCLA, the Ducks already are comparing their situation to last year, when they won out after a 45-13 home loss to USC.
If the 5-1 Ducks don't win their six remaining games this season - including next month's visit to USC - and move up in the conference standings, they probably would wind up in El Paso, Texas, for the Sun Bowl, or drop further in the bowl picture.
Winning out, though, could lift the Ducks into a return trip to the Holiday Bowl -and give them an outside shot at the Rose Bowl.
So the mission is pretty simple.
'We've got to run the table,' says defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, 'just like last year.'
Oregon is alone in third place in the conference with a 3-1 record after putting up 404 total yards on a Bruin team that entered the game leading the Pac-10 in four defensive categories. The Ducks ran for 256 yards, showing that their 70-yard performance in a 45-24 loss to California the week before probably was an aberration.
With the Golden Bears confrontation in the rearview mirror, and with USC looking downright vulnerable, it might seem tempting for the Ducks to put a gold star next to Nov. 11, when they play the Trojans in Los Angeles.
Cue the clichés about one game at a time. The Ducks face 4-3 Washington State in the Palouse on Saturday in what could be a trap game. Just ask the Trojans, who barely escaped Pullman, Wash., with their lives in a 28-22 win Sept. 30.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti dismisses any notion of looking ahead, but he also rambles off a laundry list of banged-up players. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti revealed after the UCLA game that the Ducks had dressed only three cornerbacks, all freshmen: starters Walter Thurmond and Jairus Byrd, and Willie Glasper.
The Ducks fully expect Washington State to test their secondary, and respect for Cougar QB Alex Brink from Sheldon High runs through the UO locker room.
'I think their strength is really passing the ball right now,' says Oregon senior safety J.D. Nelson. 'They've got two good receivers in (Michael) Bumpus and (Jason) Hill, and a quarterback (Brink) who has really established himself as a good quarterback in the Pac-10. And when you're a good quarterback in the Pac-10, you're really a good quarterback anywhere.'
But beating WSU would merely keep the Ducks in the Rose Bowl conversation, while a loss could change the complexion of the season.
Even though Oregon has just passed the midpoint of its season, those are the facts of life for the third-place team in the Pac-10.
'We've just got to win out,' Oregon rover Patrick Chung says. 'No excuses. No more losses.'