Friday, September 28, 2007

Oregon Daily Emerald: Slow start doesn't change Jackson's potent abilities

The junior wideout is still a threat to break the big one on any play

By: Doug Bonham

"DeSean Jackson, when healthy, is the best offensive weapon in the world."  Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti's strong statement this week is warranted given the permanent threat that Jackson - California's 6-foot, 172-pound junior wide receiver from Los Angeles - poses opponents, both on offense and as a returner on special teams. Even with relatively modest statistics, the preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Jackson still is the game-changer for Cal.  Jackson has, in a backward way, helped out the rest of the Bears' offense by taking a lot of the focus. This has allowed senior wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins to lead the team in receiving (Jackson is second), and, combined with Cal's strong offensive line, made senior running back Justin Forsett the Pacific-10 Conference's second-leading rusher behind Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. "I'm sure that people are aware of where he (Jackson) is and try to keep help to that side, to a degree," Bellotti said.

That goes double for special teams. Jackson is an electrifying punt and kickoff returner, with six career punt returns for touchdowns. His return for a touchdown in the opening day 45-31 victory over Tennessee is still one of the best highlights of the season and looks like something straight out of NCAA 08.  Jackson's decline in production hasn't hurt the Bears too much, though - California is still averaging 41.5 points per game, third in the Pac-10 behind the Ducks and USC, and winning by an average margin of 17 points per game. For that, Forsett can be thanked - he is second in total yards and average yards per game this season, and leads the conference in rushing touchdowns. Hawkins and Forsett are third and fourth in all-purpose yards in the conference as well.  "You have to stop the running game," Bellotti said. "To my mind, Justin Forsett is the thing that makes that thing go. He's the cog that is always there - you always have to guard against him because he's a tough runner that is small enough to hide behind things, so you don't see him." The Ducks couldn't stop Forsett last year. In their matchup in Berkeley, Calif., last season, Forsett ran for 163 yards and one touchdown in the then-No. 16 Bears' blowout 45-24 win over the then-No. 11 Ducks. He is vital to the Bears; when he was rested in Cal's game last week against Arizona, a 25-point early lead evaporated down to a gap of just nine points. Forsett returned to the game to score a touchdown, and finished with 117 rushing yards.

Keeping all of those options in check is going to be a large task for the Ducks and Bellotti. "Their offensive line forces you to stop the run, and that opens up the throwing lanes," Bellotti said. "So I think we have to be very careful in how we approach this, about making sure we don't commit too much and create too many islands." "We're just trying to slow them down," said cornerback Walter Thurmond III, "and try to get a hand on them." That sort of attitude may seem defeatist to Oregon fans, but considering the size and skills of Cal's receivers, slowing them down for at least one drive may prove decisive. In a matchup between two high-powered offenses that may prove to be a basketball-style race to 50 points, one stop could prove to be the difference between a win and a loss - for either side.

And with all of the offensive talent on hand between both teams - three of the conference's best rushers in Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson and Forsett, two of the conference's more poised passers in Dennis Dixon and Nate Longshore, and a bundle of the best receivers - those lucky enough to get tickets to Autzen Stadium for Saturday's game are likely to see a high scoring contest. Jackson may even get his first receiving touchdown of the season to justify the double teams and punts to the sidelines.

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