Oregon - Page 785

Everything Just Keeps Moving Along

//

By Sam Finley, EDN

Happy Tuesday, everyone.  It was certainly a happy Saturday for Duck fans after Oregon thumped lowly Missouri State 56-7. Yes, you have to take the win with a slight pinch of salt (considering the opponent), but one of the more impressive performances had to come from running back LaMichael James.

LaMichael James ran for 204 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri State. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

The Ducks’ all-time leading rusher looked sluggish against LSU and ran for under 100 yards in the Nevada game. (To be fair, De’Anthony Thomas’ coming out party had something to do with that).

 

On Saturday, however, LaMichael looked like his old Heisman Trophy contending self again. 204 rushing yards and three touchdowns will do that. Oregon running backs’ coach Gary Campbell said it was just a matter of time before James busted loose again.

“I wasn’t surprised by it,” claimed Campbell.  “I’ve seen him make those kind of runs before.  It was certainly something I was glad to see happen, because I hadn’t seen it in awhile, it didn’t surprise me at all.”

Funny that Campbell mentions something that hasn’t been seen in awhile.  You see, last week, I talked about the great running backs that Gary Campbell had coached at Oregon and made a slight error.  While the all the other names I threw out were correct, for some reason I put down the name Rueben Mayes.

Now, Rueben Mayes did play very well inside Autzen Stadium.  In 1984, he ran for 357 yards, but did so playing for the Washington State Cougars.  Thus, not only did Mayes never wear an Oregon jersey, but given the geographical locations between Pullman and Eugene, there was no way that Gary Campbell could have ever coached him in the early 1980’s.

I take pride in getting my facts right and, as your humble sports editor, wish to apologize for this inexcusable mistake.  All I can do is what LaMichael James has done in the past couple of games, which is move on and try to do better the next time.

Speaking of the next time, let’s talk about the Ducks’ big game in Tucson this weekend.  Oregon starts the Pac-12 portion of their schedule against the Arizona Wildcats.  Led by quarterback Nick Foles, they posess an offensive attack that they haven’t seen this season.

“The first opponent (LSU) that we played was more of a two back, ace package type of team,” said Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. “Nevada was more of a pistol team, and Missouri State was a combination of a pistol and spread offense.  Now we’re playing a a four wide passing team, which is very unique for a defensive coordinator.  It keeps us young and healthy (laughs).”

 

No question, the Arizona offense can put up the passing yards, and they will be a much stiffer joust than the Oregon defense has faced the past two weeks.  But the Wildcats have some holes on that side of the ball, too.

Arizona does not have a proven running back, and their offensive line is spotty. Going by those factors alone, the Ducks should be able to shut down Foles’ passing ability at some point.

Cliff Harris could be a huge factor for Oregon this weekend. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

That being said, throw this little potential portion into the equation:  Though Aliotti couldn’t confirm what his role will be, I have a feeling that Cliff Harris is going to get his first significant amount of playing time since coming off his suspension.  There is no way that Chip Kelly is going to limit him to a play here or there now that the conference title is officially on the line.

Here’s how I see this one going down.  It’ll be an offensive track meet in the desert for a half, but the Wildcats’ offense will be stopped in the second half.  The Ducks, like the title of this column, will keep moving along.  Oregon wins 45-21 over Arizona.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley –  EDN Sports
feedback or story ideas: [email protected]

 

Oregon Opens Pac-12 With A Pair of Victories

//

The Pac-12 era got off to a good start for the 16th ranked Oregon Ducks when the volleyball team defeated Arizona and Arizona State at Matthew Knight Arena over the weekend.

Oregon swept the Wildcats 3-0 (25-23, 25-10, 25-20) on Friday, improving their season mark to 8-1. Arizona had won the last five meetings.

Alaina Bergsma led the Oregon attack with 16 kills. As a team, the Ducks hit for .299 while holding the visiting Wildcats to a .143 mark.

On Sunday, the Ducks dropped their first set in seven matches against Arizona State.

Oregon did show a more balanced attack against the Sun Devils with four players reaching the double figure level in kills. Bergsma was at the head of the pack with 22. Lauren Plum and Katherine Fischer each added a dozen, and Ariana Williams knocked down 10.

Oregon out hit ASU .279 to .161 and held a 63-42 advantage in kills. Despite the lopsided advantage on the stat sheet, the Sun Devils weren’t willing to go quietly back to the desert after the Ducks handily won the first set 25-12.

ASU took an early lead in the second set and, although Oregon rallied late to tie the match at 19, the Sun Devils escaped with the set on a pair of Oregon attack errors.

“We came out well,” said head coach Jim Moore of Sunday’s first set. “We jumped on them in the beginning and you could just see us thinking, ‘oh, we’re fine’. But they (ASU) got hot, got all excited, started yelling and screaming, and they got in it. You let somebody in it and you’re going to have to fight.”

In the third session, Arizona State battled Oregon tough to a 13-13 tie. They wilted, however, under a barrage of Bergsma and Lauren Gross attacks. The Ducks claimed the set 25-20.

Oregon built a comfortable 20-15 margin in the fourth set and appeared to be set to close out the match.  Unfortunately, Oregon was again victimized by untimely attack errors, and ASU fought their way back to a tie at 23.

But Bergsma and Williams ended the suspense, as well as the match 25-23 with a pair of kills.

“That was the frustrating part,” said Moore. “We were on them so well in the beginning and then just kind of relax and think that it’s over,We haven’t done that in a while. So, although we were pretty nervous at one point, it was good come out and take care of Arizona State.”

The Ducks are the road for their next four matches. First on their travel itinerary, they’ll face conference newcomers Colorado (Sep 23) and Utah (Sep 24). Then, Oregon will cross the Columbia River to tangle with Washington (Sep 30) and Washington State (Oct 1).

The next homestand will be early next month, when the Ducks return to Matthew Knight Arena to host the Bay Area schools.  Cal will be the opponent on Friday, October 7th.  One day later, they’ll play the Stanford Cardinal on the 8th. Both matches are set to begin at 7:00 pm.

— Rick Morgan for EDN

Photos: Soccer – Florida International 2, Oregon 1

The Oregon soccer team fell to Florida International University (FIU) in their final pre-season game on Sunday, September 18. The game was the second of two in the Oregon State University tournament, where the Ducks went 1-1, with a 2-1 win against UC Davis on Friday, and 2-1 loss to FIU on Sunday. FIU striker Ashleigh Shim opened up the scoring in the 21′ by dribbling through the defense to take a shot from the 6 yard box. Oregon was held scoreless in the first half, despite having 8 shots on goal to FIU’s 4. Early in the second half, FIU midfielder scored on a penalty kick rewarded after a foul committed by Oregon defender Taylor Jones, increasing the lead to 2-0. Oregon battled back with a goal from striker and leading scorer Julie Armstrong in the 62′, but it was not enough. The loss brings the Ducks overall record to 5-4-1. Oregon begins Pac-12 play this Friday, September 23, at home against Utah at 7:00 pm.

Crystal McNamara (15) of Florida International slides in to a challenge with Oregon's Kiyomi Cook (14). (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Kelly Hutchinson (12) and Oregon's Nicole Bakke (28) go up for a header. Florida International's defense held up to Oregon's relentless attacks in their 2-1 victory over the Ducks. (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Oregon striker Julie Armstrong (9) pressured by Florida International defender Sara Stewart. Florida International allowed 16 shots on goal but only allowed one in the net. (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Oregon battles back as a shot from Julie Armstrong slides past Florida International goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage (63'). Armstrong scored on a volley from Mo Fitzgerald's cross. (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Florida International University midfielder Sarah Stewart (19) and Oregon forward Mandy Mercier (7) battling for the ball. (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Mo Fitzgerald (4) is held back by Florida International University's Kelly Hutchinson (12). (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Nicole Bakke sends a pass through as Oregon pushes forward in the second half. (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Allie Rodriguez (26) knocks Florida International defender April Perry (6) off the ball in the battle for the midfield. (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Florida International midfielder Victoria Miliucci (18) struggling with Oregon's Julie Armstrong (9) for possession. (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Florida International University (FIU) players celebrate after Johanna Volz's goal on a penalty kick (47'). (Jeff Matarrese/Oregon Daily Emerald)

DUCK FOOTBALL: From One Mission To Another…

//

By Sam Finley, EDN

Hamani Stevens has heard it all about the Mormon faith.  The young Oregon offensive lineman from Hemet, California wasted no time explaining certain stereotypes that have been applied to his religious beliefs.

Hamani Stevens spent two years in the Philippines. (Photo Credit: Oregon Media Services)

“The usual misconception about Mormonism is that we all believe in polygamy and stuff like that,” claimed the 6’3, 305 pound redshirt freshman. “However, most of us don’t have 10 wives or practice any weird off-the-wall kind of things. People may think that, but we’re regular people that go to church on Sundays, focus on families, and are here to serve one another.”

Part of that service took him away from football for a short period.  After utilizing his redshirt in 2008, Stevens spent the next two years on his Mormon mission in the Philippines.

“There was a lot of knocking on doors and sharing of my beliefs,” said Stevens about his time abroad. “It was a great experience, and it tests you physically, mentally, and spiritually. I wouldn’t say it was an easy two years because it was very difficult at times, but it made me stronger and it built up my faith.”

Hamani did confess that, as rewarding as his mission was, he did miss a certain game.

“There is no doubt that I missed football,” he admitted. “I thought about it all the time when I was out there.  It wasn’t too much of a distraction, since I served outside of the states and they don’t follow the sport as much in the Philippines. But I still missed it a lot.”

What he didn’t expect, after returning to Eugene this year, was how difficult it would be to get back into footbal shape.

“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” laughed Stevens about getting back into the typical football rigors. “I thought I’d just come back, pick it up, and just start going with it.  But I had to pick up all the stuff on offense such as all the plays and get back into hitting every single day. I also had to get used to running, and putting the pads back on.”

Although Hamani Stevens is not quite where the Ducks would like him yet, his efforts have not gone unnoticed by his teammates or his coaches.

“Hamani did a good job this offseason,” said senior offensive lineman Mark Asper. “He got after it in the weight room, and he is one of the strongest guys on the offensive line. If he continues to learn the playbook and really focuses, then he can work himself into a steady part of the rotation this year and he’ll definitely be a major contributor next season.”

“He’s progressed quite a bit in the past several weeks,” explained offensive line coach Steve Greatwood.  “I was able to get him in the Nevada game last Saturday, and he’s getting his fundamentals back.  He’s seeing more things, and I’m pleased with his progression so far.”

As Greatwood mentioned, Stevens finally got some playing time during the Nevada game and relished the opportunity.

“It was great to make my debut,” he claimed. “It was the first time I actually played as an Oregon Duck.  You know, you sit on the sidelines, and it is entirely different from actually getting into the game.  It’s just so overwhelming and exciting, and you just want to go out there do your best.  It’s just amazing.”

With the Mormon mission now behind him, Hamani has a different mission he’d like to accomplish.

“I’m just trying to get back into normal life,” he said. “The mission life is quite different than everyday life, because you have to wake up at certain times and talk to people.  So right now, I’m just trying to get re-adapted.”

That normal life he seeks seems to be defined by taking it to the next level on the gridiron, as well as focusing on what needs to be done in the classroom.

“I haven’t declared my major yet,” he stated, but I’m thinking about doing journalism or something similar. So school and football are my main priorities at the moment.”

 

Missouri State Preview

//

The Ducks will wrap up their non-conference slate on Saturday when they host the Missouri State Bears in Autzen Stadium. Kick-off is set for 12:30.

The Bears were a last minute addition to the 2011 schedule. When the Pac-10 expanded and added Utah, Oregon was faced with a dilemma. Play their originally scheduled game against the Utes in Salt Lake or try to find another opponent. As the master schedule for 2011 was developed by the conference, Oregon opted to replace Utah with the FCS (Division 1-AA) Bears.

Missouri State was beaten by Arkansas 51-7 in their opener but gave a better showing in week two, falling to Eastern Kentucky by a score of 28-24. Still, it is hard to imagine a final score on Saturday that has the Bears within 35 points of Oregon.

This is the likely case, despite the fact several Ducks are anticipated to be out with injuries. Linebacker Michael Clay, receivers Josh Huff and Justin Hoffman and running back Kenjon Barner are expected to sit out Saturday.  They’re hoping to be ready for the conference opener against Arizona seven days later.

Head coach Chip Kelly has consistently preached a philosophy of preparing his team not to play to a particular opponent but play to a level of performance.

“The way you set this program up here is we have a vision for how we should practice and how we should play,” he said when asked about playing the Bears. “That’s the standard we hold ourselves to and what I hope our players understand as we continue to practice for this week and get ready for Missouri State.”

The Bears will give Oregon one wrinkle: a three-four defensive front. LSU employed the scheme only in their nickel package and Nevada is a dyed-in-the wool four-three team, so this will be the first time the Ducks will see the odd front on every snap.

Kelly indicates his offensive line will have to be effective at communicating blocking assignments and the running backs will have to account for the extra linebacker.

“There are some schematic problems that defense presents,” he said. “The good thing is that our defense runs some of it during camp, so we’ve got some familiarity with it. But the way Missouri State runs it is a little bit different than the way our defense runs it. We can kind of simulate the looks a little bit, but it’s still going to be kind of new to us.”

When Oregon’s defense takes the field they will see something of a mirror image across the line of scrimmage. Missouri State runs a spread offense very similar to what the defense faces every day in practice.

The difference of course is the personnel – Oregon’s offensive talent runs 20 players deep while the Bears will be using a converted receiver Trevor Wooden at quarterback. Expect him to hand the ball often to senior running backs Stephen Johnston and Chris Douglas.

At 6’4” and 234 pounds Matt Thayer will be a key match-up at tight end, as will wide-outs Jermaine Saffold and Julian Burton.

One ominous sign for Missouri State is they have yet to score a point in the first half. That will have to change radically on Saturday; it is not unreasonable to expect Oregon to have 40 on the scoreboard by the break.

The best scenario Oregon can gain from such a clear mismatch is additional playing experience for the younger players, as well as giving Oregon’s injured another couple of days to get healthy.  They’ll need the rest before playing the Wildcats in Tucson to open the Pac-12 era next weekend.

— Rick Morgan for EDN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking As I Go Along…

///

By Sam Finley, EDN

Bet you didn’t see that one coming on Saturday, did you?  Oh, not that the Ducks would beat Nevada.  I think everyone thought it would be a mismatch, and most had Oregon scoring anywhere from 40 to 50 points.  But a 69-20 victory over the Wolf Pack?  No, that was a little more than I expected.

Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell has developed a lot of great Ducks since 1983 (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

Then again, while I thought Darron Thomas would have a better passing game than he did against LSU, I didn’t see him tying a school record with six touchdown passes in one game. That’s why I’ll go out on a limb and say he’ll have a chance to break that record this weekend.  Here’s my prediction:  Oregon 72, Missouri State 10.

Now that I’ve gotten my Saturday prediction out of the way, I have to say I’m still impressed by what I saw from another DT: De’Anthony Thomas.  Let me be clear: I knew he’d be a special player, and I wrote off his two fumbles against LSU as freshman growing pains.

That being said, his putting up around 200 yards of total offense so soon against anyone is a worthy feat.  There’s no question which running back will be getting the handoffs when LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner need a breather.  

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so shocked about De’Anthony’s big day. He is, after all, under the tutelage of running backs coach Gary Campbell.  He hasn’t really developed THAT many good backs since 1983. No, aside from Reuben Mayes,Derek Loville, Maurice Morris, Onterrio Smithp, Jonathan Stewart, and LaMichael James (just to name a handful), Campbell has been average at best.

In all seriousness, Gary Campbell has worked wonders as a long time member of the Oregon coaching staff, and is a classy guy to boot.  Hmmm, maybe I should do a profile piece for EDN on him in the near future?  I’ll have to take it up with the sports editor.  But he’s a nice guy who I know better than anyone else, so maybe I can make it happen.

Staying on the topic of Oregon assistants, and I don’t mean to shamelessly self-promote in my column, but you really should check out the fall issue of Eugene Magazine.  I have a short piece about Oregon wide receivers coach Scott Frost, and it’s all about his time at Nebraska and in the NFL, as well as what he likes about working at the U of O.

Moving onto other things, did anyone see Serena Williams’ tasteless behavior at the U.S. Open on Sunday?  That she tried to get away with a distractive shout before Sam Stosur had the chance to hit the ball is despicable by itself.  If she was a young tennis pro playing her first major event, it would be one thing.  Unfortunately, Serena has played long enough to know that kind of tact just doesn’t cut it.

However, continually berating the official after you’ve been (and correctly I might add) penalized a game point is way out of line.  I’m disappointed that the USTA only fined her $2,000 for the shenanigans, but I’m glad that Stosur won.  While Williams whined and moaned, Stosur kept her mouth shut and let her tennis racket do the talking.  Sometimes, good things happen to the right people in the end.

Oregon wide receivers coach Scott Frost is subject of a Eugene Magazine article written by yours truly. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

Speaking of the end, maybe it’s time if you’re a Dallas Cowboys’ fan (and thankfully, I’m not) to understand that Tony Romo is not going to hack it as a big-time quarterback.  I had a little chat with a buddy of mine after Dallas built a 24-10 lead against the New York Jets on Sunday night.  My exact words to him were to wait and see: the Cowboys were going to turnover the ball once or twice, and Romo was going to be the guilty culprit.

Moments after I made that statement, Romo fumbled the ball at the Jets’ one yard line.  If he holds on, the ‘Boys probably get at least a field goal and leave New Jersey with a win.  Instead, his botched ball gave the Jets new life, and they found a way to tie it up late.

Then, in the final minute, Tony Romo decided to make up for that mistake by throwing a ball in the same direction as Jets’ cornerback Darrelle Revis.  Everyone, including the ball boy knows that Revis might be the best DB in the NFL right now, and you don’t take that risk.  Why?  Because he’ll likely intercept your pass, and that’s exactly what happened.

It’s also why the Jets won 27-24 on a field goal shortly after Revis’ pick.  If I were a Cowboys’ fan, I’d be calling on owner Jerry Jones to get rid of him after all these choke jobs he’s pulled the last few years.  But again, I’m not, so I guess he’s Dallas’ problem.

My problem right now is I have a lot more to say, but not enough time to write it in.  Maybe that’s why the good folks at EDN let me do this on a weekly basis.  But check out my usual profile piece on Friday.  I, tenatively, have a fascinating piece about a certain member of the Oregon offensive line.  Should be a good read.

In the meantime, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  You can e-mail your feedback to him at [email protected]s.com

 

A New Challenge Looms For The Ducks

///

By Sam Finley, EDN

The number four can represent many things.  In a positive light, it cen be seen as the insignia on the Fantastic Four’s costumes.  But if you’re a Duck fan, then you’re not even thinking about it in comic book terms.

No, in this case, it is the number of turnovers committed by Oregon in their 40-27 loss against LSU this past weekend.  It is one of many reasons why the Ducks fell face first on a national stage in Dallas, Texas.

Against anyone, sloppy ball handling will hurt your team’s chances of winning.  Against an SEC team like LSU, you will seal your team’s fate, particularly when you give them the ball on your 20 yard line.

Take away the turnovers, and Oregon could’ve won.  Yes, LSU’s larger offensive and defensive lines played a role in the outcome. So did their running back Spencer Ware.

And yes, I’m being mindful of the fact that the Ducks were playing a lot of younger guys for the first time.  Guys, like De’Anthony Thomas (who fumbled twice) who will learn from their trial by fire and become Oregon players you will remember for years to come.  They also could have used Cliff Harris in the secondary on Saturday.

That being said, this team has plenty to play for.  I still think they’ll win their third consecutive conference title, and will play in a BCS bowl game. (Though going back to the National Championship Game is going to be a reach, so you’re likely going to have to “settle” for Pasadena this time).

But, as Ross Perot used to say, here’s the deal:  While there is no question that the Ducks have established themselves as the college football power in the Northwest, as well as one of the top three teams in the Pac-12, there is a new challenge facing Chip Kelly & Company.  Specifically, Oregon must win a game against a ranked non-conference opponent and it must be away from Autzen Stadium.

We know what the Ducks can do there, and would probably win against any national power handily with LaMichael James running for well over 150 yards (instead of the meager 54 he got on Saturday).

However, if you want Oregon to be truly recognized as one of the nation’s elite teams, then they have to go to a neutral site or a highly-ranked opponent’s venue and come out on top.  That, with all they’ve accomplished in recent years, is something they have yet to do.

If you don’t think it’s that big of a deal, consider that this is the fourth time in the past three seasons where they’ve failed to defeat a top opponent outside of Eugene.  They didn’t do it in Boise two years ago.  They also stumbled in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State in 2010, and came up painfully short against Auburn in the BCS title match in January.  The setback against LSU has effectively established a trend.

Until the Ducks can win a game like the ones mentioned above, then Oregon will be known as merely a very good team that is worthy of being ranked in the top ten every year.  They won’t, however, be seriously considered as one you can talk about as one of the great programs on the national landscape.

If they can win their conference as predicted, they’ll have their shot at national redemption come January in the Rose Bowl.  In the meantime, let’s briefly talk about some other items.

As stated earlier, Oregon does have plenty to play for, and beating Nevada this weekend would be a great start for them to make a quick turnaround.  The Wolf Pack may have lost a lot of starters from last year’s 13-1 team to the NFL, but you can’t overlook them.  

Somehow I don’t think, especially after the LSU debacle, that the Ducks will take anyone for granted. Nevada picked the wrong week to come to Autzen, and it could be a long day for them.  Here’s my guess on this one:  Oregon 42, Nevada 17.

Now then, some people have said that LaMichael’s performance in the first week cost him any shot at the Heisman Trophy this year.  Let’s put it this way:  He’s definitely not one of the top five guys you’d consider for the award at this moment.  But, despite his very average-looking perfomance against the Tigers,  he still became Oregon’s all-time leading rusher.

LaMichael James established himself as Oregon's all-time leading rusher during the loss against LSU. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

If he can run off a string of games of 100 yards or more and has a huge game against Stanford late in the year, then you can’t pound the nails in the Heisman coffin just yet.  On the flip side, I wouldn’t be planning a trip to New York for the awards presentation, either.

I would, however, plan on letting you all know what’s on tap for the upcoming months.  We will be expanding this sports page into a bunch of areas, and it will become something people in Eugene haven’t seen before.  You’ll start seeing some of new features within the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, look for a wrap-up on the Ems’ first round NWL playoff series this week.  And on Friday, there will be a piece about Oregon’s receivers you might want to check out.  I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game previews that will be coming on a weekly basis, too.

Until then, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

 

Duck Football: Pleasant Is Ready To Tackle This Year

///

By Sam Finley, EDN

Eddie Pleasant had watched the National Championship game many times as a kid, and had always dreamed of playing in it.  When he got his wish last season against Auburn, a very cruel trick soured the experience for the Oregon defensive back.

In the final minutes of the big game, the score was tied at 19-19, and then came the play people are still talking about.  Auburn running back Michael Dyer came right at Pleasant, but it seemed  like he had been tackled after a six yard gain.  Unfortunately, Dyer had merely landed on top of Pleasant, and since neither his hands or knees touched the ground, he was able to roll up and run for another 37 yards, setting up the their eventual game-winning field goal.

Eddie Pleasant was Oregon's fifth-leading tackler last season. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans).

Needless to say, Eddie felt responsible for the outcome of what transpired after that moment.

“I took it very personally,” explained the 5’11, 210 pound senior from La Palma, California. “I was the one who was a big part of that play.  It was even more unfortunate that it happened in the BCS game.”

At the same time, Pleasant has used that moment this past offseason as a motivating tool to get better for this year.

“It’s something that has been biting at me ever since,” said Pleasant. “I’d like to make up for whatever I did wrong in that game. But there’s nothing I can do but move on.”

Move has been a common word around Eddie Pleasant as a Duck.  In his first two seasons at Oregon, he played linebacker.  Then last season, he made the switch to the secondary.  Although he started all 13 games as a defensive back and was fifth on the team with 65 tackles, Pleasant wasn’t happy with his performance.

“I could’ve done some things better,” he claimed. “I was a little hesitant because I was in a new position, and I was more of an offensive guy when I played in high school.  So it was a bit of a challenge, but I’m looking forward to do some great things this year.”

One guy who believes Pleasant could have a big season is Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

“Eddie’s a competitor and he had a great fall camp,” said Aliotti. “He’s really grown up.  I think he’s made a quantum leap from where he was a year ago.  He has better speed, quickness, and feels a lot more comfortable with his assignments.  I think he’ll go a long way.”

Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti (pictured right) believes Eddie Pleasant can have a big year. (Photo Credit: Geoff Thurner)

Upperclassmen like Eddie Pleasant and senior cornerback Anthony Gildon are going to have to do a lot, particularly early in the year.  With cornerback Cliff Harris suspended for Saturday’s big game against LSU, that leaves only three (when counting junior John Boyett) experienced players in the secondary.

The rest of the defensive backs are very young, while very talented, will not have played a down in an actual college game until the ball is kicked off in Dallas, Texas.

“Freshmen like Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill have gotten a lot of reps during camp,” explained Aliotti. “I’m pleased with the way they work and what they’re doing, so in that sense, we feel good about them. But they’re not game tested, so we’ll find out.”

It’s not the ideal situation to test the younger players in, even with the recent problems fourth -ranked LSU has faced.  Yes, they had to suspend their starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, but their backup Jarrett Lee is a fifth-year senior who has won some games for the Tigers.  Add to that, a very dangerous running back Spencer Ware (among many other offensive weapons) and it would seem the third-ranked Ducks have a very tall order on their hands. But Pleasant thinks they’ll be fine, despite the absence of their top defensive playmaker.

“Mitchell has done a pretty good job so far,” Pleasant stated about his younger teammates. “So has Troy Hill and all the other young corners. We wish we could have Cliff out there, but there’s nothing we can do about that.  That said, we have some fiery young guys that are ready to go.”

And though this game is being billed as the toughest challenge the Ducks will face this year, Pleasant said the keys to success are fairly simple.

“Run to the ball and play our game,” he explained. “We need to be aware and stay focused on our assignments.”

He also stated that his team has been prepared to play this game for some time.

“We’re ready,” said Pleasant. “We’ve been preparing all summer.  This is one of the biggest games of our season, and we’re ready to go.”

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

The Big Week Has Arrived…Here’s My Prediction

///

By Sam Finley, EDN

It’s a big week around here.  Ever since the last seconds ticked down in the BCS championship game, many Duck fans have been eagerly awaiting the matchup in Dallas, Texas.  That’s where third-ranked Oregon will face fourth-ranked LSU in the Cowboys’ Classic.

Well, the wait is almost over, because the game is this Saturday.  Some of you might be asking:  What’s the big deal?  Nothing really.  Just two very good teams going at it, and the winner will look like an early favorite to play for the national title.

Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says everyone on LSU's roster is dangerous. (Photo Credit:John Giustina).

Now that the obiligatory sarcastic line is out of the way.  This really is a big game, and it’s not so much because who wins.  Both teams are ranked highly enough that a loss in this one, won’t necessarily be out of the running.  (They’ll just have to run the table the rest of the way).  Rather, it’s a chance to see just how good Oregon and LSU really are in the early point of the season.

That being said, how good is LSU?  Just ask Oregon’s defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

“All of their players pose problems,” said Aliotti. “They’re LSU.  They’re big, fast, and strong. They won 11 games last season and they’re in the SEC.  A very good team.”

There is no question, even with the recent suspension of LSU’s quarterback Jordan Jefferson, that the Tigers’ offense will pose a challenge to the Ducks’ defense.  In fact, how Oregon’s defense plays (without suspended cornerback Cliff Harris) is going to be a big factor in this matchup.

I’ll go more in depth on the defense in a piece later this week, when I have reactions from another key member of Oregon’s secondary.  Who is he?  It’s a surprise, so you’ll have to check in on Friday afternoon.

In the meantime, here is how I see the other variables stacking up for Oregon in this game as well as throughout the season.

If you think the Duck defense is going to have their hands full on Saturday, then the Oregon offense isn’t going to enjoy a picnic either.  Remember the way Auburn’s large defensive line manhandled the Ducks’ running attack in the BCS game?  Make no mistake that LSU has watched the film of their SEC rival and is probably chomping at the bits over that prospect.  The fact that Oregon has some experience questions on the offensive probably has them even more confident this weekend.

Having said that, I think Oregon learned something  from their narrow defeat in January. They probably realized that if LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are bottled up, then they can rely on Darron Thomas to carry them in a game. Somehow, after receiving multiple punishing hits, Thomas somehow threw for over 300 yards and still had the Ducks right there at the end.

Darron Thomas' poise and Chip Kelly decision making will be critical on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans).

Now, if the running game doesn’t work this time, I see head coach Chip Kelly adjusting to more passing plays, because he knows that Darron can make things happen when needed.

At the same time, I also see the Ducks’ running attack performing a little better than in January.  LaMichael and Kenjon are in better shape now. For that matter, the offensive line, while they have lost some key players, still has guys with plenty of game experience.  They’ll open some holes, and the backs will get their yards.

There’s also one other variable that hasn’t been discussed much, and that is coaching decisions late in the game.  Let me say that Les Miles is a very good coach, and he has a national championship ring to prove it.  But, there have been many games in recent years, where Miles has called plays that are a tad questionable. 

Sometimes LSU has been good enough to overcome the calls that have resulted in costly fumbles or interceptions.  But other times, not so much.

On the other hand, Chip Kelly has been pretty solid with his decisions as the game goes along.  Very rarely, when I observe a Duck game, will I see a play develop and say it was the wrong call.

That’s enough for me to go ahead and make my prediction.  Oregon will have to battle, but they’ll defeat LSU.  Oh, I have to give a score? Fine, here it is:  Ducks 35, Tigers 31.

As for the rest of the season, whether or not I’m right about this first game, there is nothing that tells me that Oregon won’t win the Pac-12 North as well as take the Pac-12 Championship title.  The only thing that is hazy for me right now is whether they’ll run the table and get another shot at the BCS crown or if they’ll have to “settle” for a Rose Bowl trip in Pasadena.  (Arizona State, USC, and particularly Stanford could all beat the Ducks this season.  But my feeling is this team is good enough that if they lose once in conference, they won’t lose again).

Either way, this should be an amazing season to follow. I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback.

 

Running Better Than Ever

///

Kenjon Barner had an interesting experience this summer.  In fact, it was a first for the Oregon junior halfback from Riverside, California.

“I got a job,” said Barner.  “I sold Power Bands at the Valley River Center, and I learned that money comes hard.  But it was a great experience for a first job.”

Kenjon Barner is a Hornung Award candidate this season. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans).

That wasn’t the only thing Barner did during the month of July.  He could also be found with his fellow Ducks in the hot sun at voluntary conditioning drills, getting prepared for the upcoming season.  One of those teammates with him was, obviously, starting running back LaMichael James, who says he’s in much better shape now than the past two years.

“I got a lot stronger,” explained the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner. “There is no question I did a lot of great things as far as strength and conditioning.”

Indeed, LaMichael, who is once again a potential Heisman candidate, seems to be carrying a larger frame, as does Kenjon.  Though their respective weights appear the same in the U of O media guide, James (listed at 185) and Barner (listed at 180), it is quite obvious that both of them have added at least 15-20 pounds of rock-soild muscle.  Even more frightening to the Ducks opponents’, both James and Barner claim they are faster, too.

But while Oregon’s top two running backs’ physiques might’ve changed, one thing has remained the same.  LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are still the best of friends, even if they do have a disagreement on who holds a rather dubious title.

“LaMichael is a crybaby,” chuckled Kenjon.  “He cries about anything and everything.”

“I figure Kenjon would say something like that,” laughed LaMichael. “But Kenjon is the real crybay.  Ask him about crying at practice last year each and every day and see what he has to tell you about that.”

All kidding aside, perhaps the biggest attribute in their friendship is the way they motivate each other to reach a little higher.

“LaMichael makes you want to work hard when he comes out,” Barner explains.  “When I work hard I make LaMichael want to work. There may be days where one of us feels tired, but we never really let each other take the day off.”

That attitude may be more important as James and Barner are now upperclassmen and will be expected to take an even larger leadership role. So far, the younger backs have been respectful to two of the most accomplished players in Oregon history.

“They’re very good leaders,” said redshirt freshman Ayele Ford. “When it’s time to practice, they help me out with plays and whatever I need.  They’re also very good off the field as mentors.”

James and Barner have been mentoring some very talented running backs.  While five-star recruit Lache Seastrunk recently decided to transfer to Baylor, the cupboard is still very full. In addition to the speedy 5’7, 179 pound Forde, the Ducks have two other guys that could play a lot of Saturdays at Autzen.

There is the freshman De’Anthony Thomas from Los Angeles.  The 5’9 160 pound five-star recruit originally planned to sign with USC, before signing with Oregon at the last minute.

Another name to look out for is freshman Tra Carson.  Like LaMichael James, Carson is from Texarkana, Texas and played at Liberty-Eylau High School.  Unlike James, however, Carson is 6’0 and 227 pounds and could bring a much-needed physical change of pace to an otherwise finesse roster of backs.

Whoever winds up getting some handoffs come September, Barner and James like what they see with the new kids on the roster. 

“I’ve been impressed with them,” claimed Barner. “Tra is a big guy, but he moves like he’s 185 pounds.  De’Anthony is extremely intelligent, and they’ve both picked up on the offense very well.”

“I love Ayele Ford,” said James. “I think he’s an unsung hero on this team. He does everything right, breaks a lot of tackles, and could make a lot of big runs.”

LaMichael James is only 20 yards shy of becoming Oregon's all-time leading rusher. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans).

Of course, whatever big runs that Forde, Thomas, or Carson can make will likely be limited as James and Barner will get the bulk of the carries.  Having compiled 3,277 yards as Duck, LaMichael only needs 20 more to surpass Derek Loville as Oregon’s all-time leading rusher.  But for the soft-spoken James, it never has been about the accolades.

“I’m just taking it game-by-game,” he said about his expectations for 2011. “Hopefully, we win the first game, and then take it from there.  I only think about the game in front of me and winning the day. You can’t look ahead or think about anything else.”

As for Barner, he’s a potential candidate for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the most versatile player in college football.  Yet Kenjon isn’t concerned about setting a single-game touchdown record as he did with five last season against New Mexico.  In fact, since he missed two games last season after a nasty collision against WSU on a kickoff, his goals are pretty simple.

“My main goal is to stay healthy,” explained Barner. “I just want to stay healthy and complete a season without getting hurt.  That, and just being here with these guys, and getting on this field again.”

Both James and Barner understand that, with a successful 2011 campaign, Oregon could appear in a third consecutive BCS bowl game. They’re also pretty straight forward with what it will take to make that happen.

“We have to stay focused and practice hard every day,” stated James. “That’s the only way you can win games.

“We have to keep our mindset the same,” Barner opined. “We have to stay humble, and keep our nose to the grindstone.  If we do that, it’s going to be an exciting season.”

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback.