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Ducks have plenty of things to tackle

LSU game shows reasons why UO was overrated
by: JAIME VALDEZ LSU’s Tharold Simon (right) heckles Oregon running back LaMichael James after the Tigers tackled him in the fourth quarter of last week’s game in Arlington, Texas.

Now the college football world sees what I meant when I said the Oregon Ducks were overrated to begin the season. Outmanned defensive line. New offensive linemen. No go-to receiver. Character players departed. A small senior class. Youth. Lack of depth. Too many things work-in-progress. And, it’s difficult to perpetuate high-level success because of college football parity, especially when a team has so many question marks. No shame in losing to LSU, although the Ducks got outplayed in all phases. After all, as coach Chip Kelly likes to say, a lot of potential teachable moments came out of the 40-27 loss last week. Poll voters got it right this week, as the Associated Press ranked the Ducks No. 13 and USA Today (coaches) had them No. 14. It’s time for the Ducks to start over and prepare for the Sept. 24 game at Arizona, and the eight other Pac-12 games. As Kelly’s team showed in 2009, improvement can happen, and until somebody knocks them off in league play (it’s happened once in the past two seasons), the Ducks can still dream about the distant goal of making the Rose Bowl. Maybe Oregon’s mojo will return against Nevada, 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium, and at home versus Missouri State on Sept. 17. • One statistic that should be pointed out in evaluating defensive line play: tackles for loss. The Duck D-linemen had 1.5 as a unit, one by Isaac Remington, a half by Dion Jordan. Just consider: The six returning players — Jordan, Terrell Turner, Wade Keliikipi, Taylor Hart, Brandon Hanna and Ricky Heimuli, all part of UO’s 2010 rotation — combined for 17 TFLs last season, a smidgen more than the departed Kenny Rowe (16.5) and Brandon Bair (16) each had himself. A third departed senior, Zac Clark, had 9.5 TFLs and four sacks last season, more than any of UO’s 2011 returning players. Kelly indicated that the Ducks lack the athletes to be elite, pointing specifically to defensive linemen. The thing is, Oregon has signed plenty of D-linemen in recent years, but many of them have not worked out. Nine signed D-linemen could be seniors today if they had played or excelled as Ducks. In 2007, the Ducks signed Dominic Glover, Simi Fili, Myles Wade and Tonio Celotto; in ’08, it was Justin Thompson; in ’09, it was Keaton Arden, Justin Brown, Andrew Iupati and Terrance Montgomery. Celotto and Montgomery briefly played for the Ducks, but they didn’t finish their careers in Eugene. No wonder the Ducks plucked players from other positions to fill out the D-line — Jordan was a tight end, Hanna and Turner were linebackers. One would expect the D-line to improve. After all, how many games will potential star Heimuli be in on only one tackle? • Attrition happens with college football programs. But the Ducks sport only 10 scholarship seniors. Kelly points this out to explain the team’s youth — while also saying youth shouldn’t be an excuse. Since 2007, about 23 recruits who could have been seniors are no longer with the Ducks, for various reasons. The Ducks will see one of those players on Saturday —Nevada receiver Rishard Matthews, who had academic issues. Could the Ducks use him now? Ex-Duck receiver Aaron Pflugrad visits with Arizona State on Oct. 15. Could the Ducks use him now? Pflugrad left after Kelly wasn’t going to include his father, former receivers coach Robin Pflugrad, on his first staff. And, one wonders how much receivers Tyrece Gaines and Diante Jackson, who both departed before last season for academic reasons, would have helped the Ducks. Or, what about Chris Harper, a 2008 signee, who departed after his switch to receiver? Then again, those are hypotheticals, and dealing in them is tough. nYou watch the Ducks lose battles on the line of scrimmage against good teams — Boise State, Stanford and Ohio State in 2009, Auburn in 2010 and LSU last weekend — and you wonder, why? Well, part of the reason could be how the Ducks train, although with older players — Bair turned 26 during last season, as one of 23 seniors — Oregon did its share of pushing and running around because of its fitness during the 12-0 regular season. And, strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe's work has helped the Ducks achieve much success during UO's rise into national prominence the past 22 years. But the Ducks have rushed for 170 combined yards (2.8 per carry) against Auburn and LSU, and really only found ground success against Stanford in their five losses under Kelly while losing running battles on the defensive side. The well-respected Radcliffe has his philosophy about developing “power.” He told the Portland Tribune last October: “I’ve never been quite as traditional as other programs with the football weight training. For a lot of years, people thought that was a bad thing about us. But with this coaching staff and the way we do things here (with uptempo style), it’s turned out to be, ‘Oh, this is a good fit for us.’ ... The ultimate is to have power. Strength, speed and agility — that's force times distance over time. You’re trying to create a powerful athlete.”