Calm, cool Ñ its all Clemens
Duck QB looks ahead to Sun Bowl, still dreams of lofty title
EUGENE Ñ Rewind to January 2002, and Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens sits in the stands before the Fiesta Bowl with other redshirting players. Biding his time, watching Joey Harrington in all his glory. Clemens has high hopes.
'Before we get out of here,' Clemens says, 'we'd like to win a national championship. Or two. Or three. However many we can get.'
Fast forward to December 2003, and after playing in his first full season, the sophomore quarterback from Burns goes contemplative on us.
'The more I know, the more I find out what I don't know, really,' says Clemens, who started all 12 games and undoubtedly will start a 13th, the Sun Bowl, on Dec. 31. 'The more I think I improve, the more I find out where I have to improve in other parts.'
Does he still dream of national titles, like maybe next year and 2005, when UO's young players will be in their prime?
'Yes, I do,' Clemens says.
If all goes well, Clemens will be the quarterback É but who knows? Clemens, a year after backing up Jason Fife, played most of the games ahead of the senior this season. Could the same happen with him?
Johnny DuRocher lies in wait. Brady Leaf wants his chance. Dennis Dixon plans to enter school in January. And the Ducks, along with four other schools, have been courting Hillsboro prep star Erik Ainge.
The stats add up
There's no question that Clemens' sophomore season has been successful: 4-0 start, 3-0 finish. The middle? Well, everybody on offense struggled. 'I'm happy, considering the youth we've had playing and injuries we've had to fight through,' he says. 'It's something we can be satisfied with.'
Clemens ranks third in the Pacific-10 Conference among starters in passing efficiency (135.3). He and Fife rank in the top seven overall. Clemens has completed 150 of 262 passes (57.3 percent) for 2,037 yards, 15 TDs and eight interceptions.
Four picks came against Washington State, and two on his first two passes against Arizona State in the most forgettable games. He and Fife completed 63 percent of passes in wins.
Fife lamented the departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who recruited him before leaving for Cal: 'He knew how to coach quarterbacks, because he was one.' Clemens, also recruited by Tedford, seems to have adjusted to Tedford's successor, Andy Ludwig.
Ludwig said Clemens' success depended on his decision-making ability. Clemens says he has improved and now feels comfortable about when to scramble, throw the pass from the pocket, 'and should I force the ball, tuck it, throw it away, when I should take a sack, when I should make a play. There are about 15 things I need to think of in about two seconds.'
All along, Clemens has remained steady Eddie with Oregon's ups and downs Ñ never negative about teammates, learning how to play with emotion and calm and staying positive about the two-QB situation through 10 games. Of Fife being frustrated after not playing the past two games, Clemens says: 'Let's just ride this out.'
Counsel sought under QB code
Interestingly, Clemens has taken on relationships with fellow Pac-10 quarterbacks, calling OSU's Derek Anderson and WSU's Matt Kegel on a regular basis, and occasionally UW's Cody Pickett. All four come from small towns. He and Kegel, cousin of Brady Leaf, have 'exchanged hunting stories.' Before playing Michigan, Clemens sought counsel from Harrington, now with the NFL's Detroit Lions.
'I don't know if you call it a quarterback code or what,' Clemens says of his chats with fellow quarterbacks. 'But we're in a unique position, and we can talk about opposing teams' defenses and how to handle the pressures of the position.
'No way you can grasp what goes along with starting in Division 1 without playing. Adjusting to the pressure and hype É it doesn't affect me as much as I thought it would. Can't say I look forward to it.'
As a junior at Burns High, Clemens watched then-sophomore Harrington take over as UO starting quarterback and lead the Ducks to the Sun Bowl in 1999. After practicing beside him in 2001-02, Clemens came to appreciate how Harrington handled hype, practice and motivating teammates.
Last summer, Clemens watched every play of every game where Harrington led Oregon's offense, from the sixth game in 1999 to the Fiesta Bowl win. 'I've tried to evaluate, and emulate, the things he did,' he says.
Says coach Mike Bellotti: 'I would compare Kellen Clemens at this point in his career to Joey Harrington.'
This weekend, the Ducks will play host to Ainge, the 6-5 quarterback from Glencoe High, who has visited UCLA, Tennessee and Arizona State and plans to visit OSU next weekend. They will also court Aaron Klovas, a 6-6, 300-pound offensive lineman and former Bethel High (Wash.) teammate of DuRocher. É
The Ducks have verbal commitments from 10 recruits, the latest being cornerback Jackie Bates of De La Salle High in Concord, Calif., a purported four-star prospect, according to TheInsiders.com recruiting service.
Oregon has wanted to load up on offensive linemen, and have four commits: Jacob Hucko, 6-7, 280, Cerritos, Calif.; Jeff Kendall, 6-4, 285, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Mark Lewis, 6-5, 270, Arroyo Grande, Calif.; Max Unger, 6-5, 280, Kamuela, Hawaii.
The Ducks have two in-state recruits, so far: tight end Ryan Keeling, 6-5, 200, Springfield, and defensive lineman David Faaeteete, 6-3, 270, North Medford. Others to say yes verbally: WR Jaison Williams, 6-4, 215, Culver City, Calif.; LB Ryan Phipps, -6-0, 210, Corona, Calif.; and James Harris, 6-1, 190, Roseville, Calif. É
Oregon Athletic Director Bill Moos says Bellotti has done his 'best coaching job in nine years' as coach and shook his head over how he -hasn't been named Pac-10 coach of the year once in nine years. 'That should be voted on by the A.D.'s,' he says. É
The Ducks will practice Friday through Sunday, Dec. 12-15 and Dec. 19-21, and gather for bowl preparation Dec. 26 in El Paso. É Sun Bowl reps said the 1999 Minnesota-UO matchup had the highest television ratings of any games involving the Pac-10 and Big 10. É Oregon has a guaranteed payout of $1.425 million and must buy 8,000 tickets. É Bellotti, on comparing the 1999 Sun Bowl team to this year's: 'The '99 team was possibly more talented than this, because it went on to win a lot of games and put guys in the NFL É but I like the emerging spirit of this group.'