DUCKS NOTES: Not Harris' day, but Bennett performs, defense does the job, Rice and Thomas stand out
BOULDER, Colo. - Saturday's game at Colorado started poorly and ended just as poorly for Cliff Harris.
The Oregon Ducks were penalized before the opening kickoff - unsportsmanlike conduct by Harris.
Head coach Chip Kelly claimed, in a post-game interview, that he didn't know the reason for the penalty.
Then, late in the third quarter, Harris set his sights on fielding a punt, and he caught the ball at about the UO 2, but his momentum took him into the end zone. Colorado's Terrell Smith tackled him there for the Buffaloes' only points in the 45-2 UO win.
Kelly said the Ducks' punt returners are not supposed to field punts inside the 10-yard line.
At least the ball-hawking Harris didn't give up any TD passes as cornerback.
Harris has been in the doghouse since his summer encounter with police after being stopped driving 118 mph on Interstate 5, at which time, police video later revealed, he offered the following quote when the attending police officer asked him about the odor of marijuana coming from the car: "We smoked it all."
Harris has just been a backup secondary player and punt returner in 2011, despite entering the season as an All-American candidate and potential first-round NFL draft pick. Kelly has indicated that Harris doesn't show enough in practice to warrant more playing time.
Said defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, of Harris: "He lives on the edge. We love him sometimes when the edge goes our way."
Harris hasn't spoken to the media all season. He again refused interview requests Saturday.
And, just a question to ponder: How much have the happenings since last season cost Harris in potential NFL money? He was pegged as a potential first-round draft pick. But now he has a high-profile traffic violation, a suspension, a prolonged exit from the doghouse and somewhat poor play through seven games of his junior season.
• QB Bryan Bennett, who led the Ducks to victory Saturday, expects Darron Thomas to get his job back.
Thomas sat out the game after injuring his knee last week.
Like always, Kelly will likely not reveal the quarterback's playing status before the Oct. 29 home game against Washington State.
It'll be tough for Bennett to return to the sideline, but "I'm here to do what the team wants me to do."
Bennett completed the Arizona State win, and then engineered the Colorado rout. In four games this year, Bennett has hit on 20 of 38 passes for 273 yards and four TDs, with no interceptions. He's also rushed 17 times for 165 yards.
Critiquing himself, Bennett said he probably could have not misfired on some passes, which he attributed to nerves, adrenaline and maybe poor mechanics.
"It's also getting in touch with receivers," he said. "I haven't been working with (starters) as much as Darron has."
Said Kelly: "He swings the ball a little bit (on carries), but we'll take care of that. Overall, I thought Bryan played very well."
Bennett had a couple of nifty early screen passes, to Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas (for a touchdown), and then put nice touch on a 31-yard TD pass to David Paulson.
It also helps a young quarterback to have such a strong run game to lean on.
Said Barner: "Great guy, great leader. Calm, cool, very demanding, telling us what to do. He got the job done. He's a great kid with a great head on his shoulders."
• The UO defense held Colorado to 231 yards offense - 98 rushing on 39 carries, and QBs Tyler Hansen and Nick Hirschman combined to go 15 of 33 for 133 yards, while being sacked five times. And, linebacker Michael Clay had a pick-six.
But, did the UO defense improve? The Buffs simply didn't challenge the Ducks.
"We definitely made them drive the ball," Clay said.
"Everyone improves," defensive end Terrell Turner said. "They had a great offensive line, I played against a lot of great people. They were big and physical.
"We felt pretty good about it. We executed what our coaches prepared, just had fun out there. It's all about doing our job, and all we do is get stronger every week."
The Ducks lost the official shutout with the Harris' safety. Oregon last shut out a league opponent in 2003 (Stanford) and last posted a league shutout on the road in 1992 (Oregon State).
"They're hard to get," Aliotti said. "But the bottom line is winning or losing."
• Jackson Rice, the star UO punter who also serves as holder on place kicks, scored his first career points Saturday. He made the call to take the snap on the first extra-point attempt, and ran the ball in for two points.
It seems like a game doesn't go by without the Ducks either trying for two points, or faking an attempt. It has happened a lot after the first score in recent years.
"We take a look at (the opponent's) look, and if we have certain numbers in a certain area, it's up to me to make the call whether to run or not," Rice said. "It's just another thing to get the (opposing) defense to practice against. If we get points out of it, great."
Rice, meanwhile, had another outstanding day punting in the high altitude of Boulder: four punts, 54-yard average. He entered the game leading the Pac-12 in net punting, at 44 yards per punt. He tied a career-long with a 61-yarder Saturday.
• De'Anthony Thomas continued to produce, with four carries for 50 yards, including some on a newly implemented fly sweep, and two catches for 18 yards and a score on a screen pass.
He has nine touchdowns in his true freshman season.
"It's fun to get into the end zone, to chill with your team," he said. "I just came (here) to do my job. Our offense is very effective. And, we're still getting ready; we're not healthy right now."
As for the fly sweep, "it's very effective," he said. "Basically, it just opens up our offense."
He feels more confident running in traffic, not afraid to get hit. Thomas is 5-9, about 170 pounds.
"I'm feeling more confident," he said. "I'm getting a lot of experience and loving it."
Derek Loville holds the true freshman TD record of 10, set in 1986.
• This and that: Said Kelly, of coming off the big ASU win: "Since I've been here, I don't think we've had a letdown. Because these guys love playing football, love practicing football." ... With true freshmen Rodney Hardrick and Colt Lyerla not on the trip, and safety Eddie Pleasant suited up but not playing, the Ducks broke true freshman linebacker Anthony Wallace's redshirt. "All hands on deck," Kelly says. "We're competing for championships." Seven true freshmen have played for Oregon this season. ... Barner had an 84-yard TD run, and he slowed up as he neared the end zone. A Colorado defender got called for a penalty for hitting him in the end zone. Barner was tired, he said. "I looked on the (big) screen and didn't see anybody behind me," Barner said. "So I was definitely surprised when I got hit." ... Barner said he felt the effects of playing at altitude. "You've got to overcome it and get your second wind," he said. ... Standout linebacker Josh Kaddu had two sacks, 10 solo tackles and three tackles for loss. ... Oregon has 16 sacks in four Pac-12 games, after notching only four in three non-league games. ... The Ducks are 26-1 when scoring 30 or more points in Kelly's tenure as head coach.