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Saturday, November 05, 2005
Oregonian: Clemens' absence might alter defensive presence
EUGENE -- Most of the focus of the post-Kellen Clemens edition of the Oregon Ducks has been on the offense and how it might change. But how might the change in Oregon's offense affect the Ducks' defense? For all of the success Clemens had in the spread-option, the defense has carried the No. 15 Ducks to their 7-1 record and sparked hopes of a bid to a Bowl Championship Series game. But if Oregon slips on offense -- a possibility despite the considerable talents of quarterback Dennis Dixon -- that would add stress to the defense. Take today's opponent, No. 23 California, as an example. "Cal runs the ball very well, and I think that's helped make their defense what it is," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said of the Bears, who lead the Pacific-10 Conference in scoring defense (20.1 points per game) and are second to USC in rushing offense (247.0 yards). "You run the ball a lot and run it effectively, you take a lot of time off the clock, so the defense isn't on the field as much." Oregon has struggled to incorporate the run into its new offense most of this season, but that hasn't been a big problem. The passing game has allowed the Ducks not only to rack up yards and points, but also to control the ball. Three-and-outs have been rare. "With the exception of about three or four quarters, we've done a great job of controlling the football. That has kept our defense fresh," Bellotti said. The Ducks rank third in the Pac-10 in total defense and scoring defense, but nobody in the conference is playing better defense than Oregon right now. Conditioning and a ball-control offense have allowed Haloti Ngata, Anthony Trucks, Justin Phinisee and the rest of the defense to play with great intensity. Since USC put 45 points on the Autzen Stadium scoreboard, the Ducks have given up an average of 19.8 points in four games. For some Pac-10 perspective, only one conference team in the past two weeks has held its opponent to fewer than 20 points: USC, in a 55-13 win last Saturday over WashingtonState. But things might change in the final three weeks for the Ducks -- and not so much because of who's on their schedule (Cal, WashingtonState and OregonState). Can Oregon control the ball -- and, in turn, the opponent? "Our defense is facing a tough stretch right now," Bellotti said.