For the fourth week of the Pac-10 preview, we’ve got the Oregon Ducks, who improved to 3-0 last week with a win over the University of Oklahoma. Now, some might say the Ducks didn’t deserve to win that game. I might fall into that camp. But whatever happens, happens, and if the officials blow a call, you have to deal with it. And in Oregon’s case, when they blow a call in your favor, hey, are you really going to argue?
Oregon sustained some big losses in the draft last season. I was a big fan of QB Kellen Clemens and DT Haloti Ngata, and losing both of them sure made an impact for the Ducks. Of course, Clemens missed much of last season with a broken leg, which left the door open for Relate QB Dennis Dixon. Last season, though, Coach Mike Bellotti wasn’t quite sure what to make of Dixon. He’s one who can cause more matchup problems than a more traditional quarterback such as Clemens, and opposing defenses got a bit of a break last season when the playbook was not totally opened up for Dixon. It looks like it’s been opened up now, which helps the Ducks.
Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart is taking the majority of the carries for the Ducks this season, which looks to be a significant upgrade over Terence Whitehead. While I liked Whitehead as an RB, he was somewhat limited; Stewart has a high ceiling. Bellotti appears to be somewhat stuck in the dark ages when it comes to playing freshmen, as last season Stewart touched the ball around six times per game and averaged 8.8 yards per touch. Stewart was banged up a little bit last season, though, which might account for some of Bellotti’s reticence to play him.
In the USC program, or even in the Oklahoma program, Stewart would have been rode hard and put away wet. Not the case with Oregon, which made him sit a little bit. Stewart is a gem for the Ducks, as he doesn’t come from Texas, California or Florida; he’s from Washington, and while he was the #2 prep recruit in the country, he stayed relatively close to home.
On defense, the Ducks have had to replace a tough defensive lineman in Haloti Ngata. And while having a defensive tackle like that in your front four can take a lot of the pressure off your defensive backs, the Ducks don’t have anyone that good to replace him. They have brought in LB Blair Phillips, who has done an excellent job in the early going, and have depth in their defensive backfield that makes a difference.
Of course, if you have seven guys dressed in black and white on your side, not a whole lot matters about personnel matchups. But don’t count on too many more breaks for Oregon from the zebras, as the Ducks wind up fourth in the Pac.