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Ducks on move in polls, on guard against letdown.

Byline: Rob Moseley The Register-Guard

When Oregon beat Michigan nine days ago, the fact that the Wolverines had lost to a lower-division team the week before colored the win by the Ducks.

Then, those same Wolverines went out and hammered Notre Dame this past weekend. That put the Ducks' win in Ann Arbor in a different context.

"Obviously, Michigan is a pretty good team," UO coach Mike Bellotti said.

And obviously, the Ducks can say the same. They're now 3-0 and ranked No. 13 in both major polls after thumping Fresno State 52-21 in Autzen Stadium on Saturday. In six days, they'll play their Pac-10 opener at Stanford as a much stronger candidate to challenge for a conference title than they were thought to be before this season.

Sure, that's a big-picture view. But the Ducks have made that possible by handling the little things so well through three games. Maintaining that is now the biggest challenge for the players and staff.

"It's the ability to stay self-motivated and to stay hungry," Bellotti said. "To understand that what's past is past. Each week is a new opportunity and a new challenge."

This week, that's the Cardinal, 1-1 after a 37-0 win over San Jose State this past week. Stanford has relied heavily on the arm of quarterback T.C. Ostrander, who is 45-of-87 for 566 yards and four touchdowns with one interception through two games.

The Ducks have had the opposite focus on offense. They're currently third in the nation in team rushing at 325.67 yards per game, having exceeded 300 yards in each of their first three games. Both of their passing touchdowns Saturday utilized play action, with a fake handoff before the throw.

The 307 rushing yards Saturday came despite primary backup Jeremiah Johnson finishing with just four carries because of a hamstring strain. Both he and left guard Josh Tschirgi, who missed the game with a lingering back injury, should return against the Cardinal, Bellotti said.

But offense hadn't been a problem this month for the Ducks, who are averaging 46.3 points per game. Their biggest question mark had been defending the run, but Oregon held Fresno State to just 60 yards, led by linemen David Faaeteete, Nick Reed and Jeremy Gibbs, according to Bellotti.

"We got improved play from the entire front seven," the coach said. "Our recognition of offensive formations, and our fits and fills by our secondary and linebackers was very, very good, and resulted in a lot of tackles at the line of scrimmage or pileups for short gains that basically put us in control."

Particularly impressive was the sequence that ultimately ended in Fresno State's second touchdown, just before halftime. It took the Bulldogs six plays to score from the 6-yard line, not including one that negated a third-down sack by Faaeteete because of a UO penalty.

Bellotti also lauded punter Josh Syria and returner Andiel Brown, but said Oregon's kickoff coverage will be addressed after a 47-yard return set up that second touchdown.

Still, Oregon's special teams have been much improved since last season, as has the turnover ratio. Both will be keys to maintaining momentum in conference play. And with the team's leadership base, led by quarterback Dennis Dixon, already drawing comparisons to the standout group from 2005, that momentum shows no signs of slowing.

"We have a lot of teammates who have been around for so many years, it's about time for us to click," Dixon said. "And I think we're doing that now."

OREGON AT STANFORD

7 p.m. Saturday, Stanford Stadium. TV: None. Radio: KUGN-AM (590), KZEL-FM (96.1). More UO coverage at www.registerguard.com/blogs
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 17, 2007
Words:612
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