Trojans have a tough defense and a hot QB
EUGENE Ñ Confidence aside, Onterrio Smith had something stuck in his mind when he entered Autzen Stadium on Saturday: doubt.
'When I came out of my hotel room, I looked at the sky and it was a little bit overcast, same as last year,' the Oregon running back says, remembering the setting surrounding the Ducks' seventh game of 2001. 'Me and Rasuli (Webster) looked at each other like, 'Ohhh.' '
Last year, Stanford stunned Oregon with a fourth quarter that included an onside kick, an interception and two blocked punts.
Last Saturday, Arizona State stunned then No. 6 Oregon with an offensive barrage never seen in the Pacific-10 Conference. Sun Devil quarterback Andrew Walter threw for a Pac-10-record 536 yards and led ASU from 21 points behind to win 45-42.
'Really scary the parallels,' Oregon quarterback Jason Fife says.
'It's easier to let this one go. We got beat,' coach Mike Bellotti says.
What the Ducks want to remember today, tomorrow, Thursday and especially Saturday against USC at Autzen Stadium is how hard they practiced and played in the eighth game last year after losing the seventh. Bent on dominating Washington State with their running game, the Ducks drilled all week to run the ball, with Smith the star of the practice sessions.
Many of the Ducks point to Smith's contribution last year against WSU as the key to the Fiesta Bowl season. With Maurice Morris injured, Smith broke loose for a school-record 285 yards. Oregon seized the momentum and did not lose again.
The same thing may not happen Saturday against USC, which has the Pac-10's best defense, but the Ducks intend to take their situation very seriously. Fife and others are not giving up on their national championship hopes, and the rebuilding job starts now.
'It was really quiet last year Ñ nobody made any comments, total focus all week,' says Smith, who is coming off a 172-yard game against ASU.
Oregon had the toughest remaining schedule of any unbeaten team heading into Saturday's game. So, a run of five consecutive wins might put them back into the Bowl Championship Series picture. But the national title picture? Hard to imagine, especially because last year Duck Luck came out in full force Ñ except for Miami, every team above Oregon in the polls lost after UO's lone loss.
'Based on looks I saw in the locker room, we'll be back,' Bellotti says.
The Ducks better concentrate on USC, though. The Trojans bring in speed galore, a rejuvenated quarterback in Carson Palmer and a defense that has not missed a beat despite losing a starting cornerback in training camp and defensive end Shaun Cody two weeks ago.
'Carson Palmer's capable of throwing the ball in the same manner' as Walter, Bellotti says.
• Let's see, three Pac-10 games, three torch jobs by opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers. If Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State can average 412 yards passing against the Ducks, what can USC, Jason Gesser and WSU, and Cody Pickett and Washington do against them?
Blitzes, pass rush and multi-defensive back sets worked in the first half against ASU, and the Ducks got two picks. Then the Sun Devils went into cocoon protection of Walter and relied on their talented receivers to beat the backs and find the holes in Oregon's secondary. You gotta believe the rest of the Pac-10 took notes.
nÊOregon's Aaron Gipson, a true freshman cornerback, may have been burned three times with long, second-half passes by Walter, but he proved to be a standup guy after the game. 'Can't say it'll be my last bad game,' he says. 'I'm only a freshman É got a lot more games to come.'
Teammates told him 'they love me and I'm a helluva player,' he says.
NOTES: Bellotti says he could put free safety Keith Lewis on 6-5 freshman Mike Williams, who had nine catches against Washington last week and will be the tallest wide receiver that Oregon has faced this season. É Bellotti says Arizona State had an ineligible receiver on the fake punt that led to a field goal Saturday. 'It was a very obvious miss' by the officials, he says. Mike Talbott, who caught the pass, was lined up as a tackle with a player outside him on the line, making him ineligible, Bellotti says. 'We were trying to figure out why (the defense) didn't notice him. It was because he was ineligible, that's why they didn't cover him.'