As Arizona comes looking for revenge, Oregon needs to guard its record

Are the Oregon Ducks playing their best football? No.

Are they expected to go undefeated in the Pacific-10 Conference? Definitely not.

Are they ready to play Arizona? Yes.

Something about 63 points scored and 607 yards offense last year at Tucson, Ariz., can make anybody feel confident. The Ducks, after a competitive start, destroyed the Wildcats on an evening in which two backs topped 100 yards, speedster Samie Parker had his bust-out game with 160 yards receiving and Oregon could have scored 80 with the first-team offense.

'Even I got in there for a while,' Ducks QB Jason Fife says.

You think Arizona remembers the embarrassment?

'They're going to be thinking about it and wanting revenge,' Fife says. 'I'm not expecting a blowout by any means.'

The Wildcats, who lost 31-10 to Wisconsin last week, get their shot at the No. 8 Ducks on Oct. 5, but they first have to play North Texas on Saturday. The Ducks have the weekend off, giving them 12 days of preparation.

Playing in the Pac-10 assuredly will be like running the rapids on the Deschutes River, navigating Interstate 5 North at 5 p.m. or sky diving over the Willamette Valley: treacherous, aggravating and exhilarating. Ten teams have combined to go 26-8, including unbeaten Oregon (4-0) and Oregon State (4-0).

The Ducks have not performed to their potential Ñ potential based on their dream of going 13-0 and winning the national title. But the defense and kicking game have been solid and offense good enough to average 40 points.

A much-improved defensive line controls the line of scrimmage, allowing Oregon's excellent set of tacklers Ñ David Moretti, Kevin Mitchell, Garret Graham, Keith Lewis Ñ to reach ball carriers unimpeded and blitz relentlessly. So far, the new defensive backs Ñ Steven Moore, Aaron Gipson Ñ have not given up big plays.

'We pitched a shutout and we can honestly say we can get better at things,' Lewis says, after Saturday's 41-0 win over Portland State. 'This should scare a lot of teams in the Pac-10. Our defense has the potential to be the best in Oregon history.'

Moore and Gipson haven't been tested, as they will be in the Pac-10. 'We're concerned about our DBs,' Lewis says, 'but as we go through practice, they get better. We haven't seen too much height or speed, but our DBs are playing with great confidence.'

Running back Onterrio Smith has been targeted and contained, and two weeks off will help him get healthy. He has 467 yards and seven TDs, averaging 4.7 yards per carry Ñ decent numbers, but not what people expected, what with Idaho and Portland State on the schedule.

The Ducks want to use speedy Allan Amundson but haven't given him meaningful time other than split out to catch passes. Parker has emerged as one of the Pac-10's best receivers, while Keenan Howry has been conspicuous without his own breakout game.

Fife hasn't been consistent, sailing throws at times, fumbling two balls and still not getting in sync with Howry. Fife has 880 yards, eight TDs and only one pick, but his 54-percent completion rate must improve. What he does well is make plays with his arm and legs.

'I am doing enough to help the team win,' he says. 'At the same time, I'm a little greedy. I want to make plays, and don't want doubt in anybody's mind we're going to score when we get in the red zone.'

Bellotti sums up the Ducks after four games: 'We haven't suffered any major injuries to starters. We have a degree of confidence. There's a degree of hunger we need to regain or capture.'

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