The Ducks lose their leading receiver but have Jaison Williams and others ready to go
A couple of weeks ago, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti called this the healthiest football team he has ever coached early in the season, "knock on wood." He didn't knock hard enough, as the 11th-ranked Ducks (4-0, 1-0 Pacific-10 Conference) will play the entire conference schedule and a probable bowl game without receiver Brian Paysinger, the all-around good guy who was the team's leader in receiving yards before suffering a right knee injury in practice last week. "It's a horrible loss," tackle Geoff Schwartz said. "He's a great player, great guy, always works hard and does the right thing." But as good a receiver as Paysinger was, the Ducks have proved he is replaceable -- at least against Stanford -- as they prepare to take on No. 6 California (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Cameron Colvin, a senior who had been the forgotten man in the offense, reminded many of his talents Saturday at Stanford, catching eight passes for 136 yards in the 55-31 win, including a 71-yard touchdown catch on the first play from scrimmage. "Cameron's just as explosive as Brian was," said receiver Garren Strong, who returned but never could recover from an ankle injury suffered in the second game of last season. "He's a leader, too; he was a senior and all that. Cameron has to get on board and just really focus on what's going on." Paysinger was not at practice Monday, and there has been a secrecy surrounding the injury since it happened Thursday, when he got his right foot caught in the grass as he was being tackled. Bellotti declined to comment on specifics of the injury, only that it would mean a recovery time of nine to 12 months. Team doctor Robert Crist also wouldn't discuss specifics, citing HIPAA laws. The injury means that the focal point of Oregon's passing game could again become Jaison Williams, who was among the nation's receiving leaders last year before suffering a back injury in the USC game. And Williams has been something of a good luck charm -- the Ducks are 5-1 when he has 100 or more receiving yards.
"Ironically, it's happened in most of our big games," Williams said. Williams had five catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns in the second half at Stanford as Oregon outscored the Cardinal 31-0 and quarterback Dennis Dixon -- 12 of 12 in the third quarter -- seemed in one of the most comfortable passing zones he has been in all season. Although Cal ranks sixth in the Pac-10 in pass defense and is allowing a league-worst 66 percent completion percentage, the Golden Bears are regarded as having a better pass defense than Stanford, which was unable to cool off one of the nation's hottest passers. Dixon, selected Monday the Pac-10 offensive player of the week for the second time in three weeks, still hasn't thrown an interception this season (he had three last year at Cal). There are only three other quarterbacks in the nation who are interception-free four games into the season (and throwing at least 15 passes a game): Kentucky's Andre Woodson, Cullen Harper of Clemson and West Virginia's Patrick White. A new target for Dixon is freshman Aaron Pflugrad, who was told last Tuesday that he would be redshirting, only to find out two days later that he was added to the travel squad. He caught one pass for four yards against Stanford. Dixon won't have a chance to throw to Jamere Holland, though. The former USC receiver, who transferred to Oregon and plans to play in the 2008 season, attended class Monday but did not finish his physical examinations in time to practice. Safety Ryan DePalo, who returned in five months from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, thanks in large part to a tireless work ethic, said although Paysinger's Oregon career is finished, he could recover in less than nine months. "It just depends on how much work he puts in," DePalo said. "And knowing Brian, he'll put a whole lot of work in." Paysinger is not eligible for a medical redshirt because he redshirted in 2003.