Matching up with the Vandals.
Though it's only through two games, Oregon is ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency, just below Oregon State. Even as today's game gets out of hand, expect the Ducks to throw the ball to help Kellen Clemens both improve on his touch and try to complete a couple of deep passes. The last-place passing team in the Pac-10, incidentally, is Washington, and at least the Huskies have the arrival of Johnny DuRocher to look forward to as a boost to their passing offense. Not that DuRocher has confirmed that, of course (wink, wink).
The Idaho quarterback is Michael Harrington, and there's no two ways around it - he's struggling. The Vandals don't have much big-play capability, as shown by Harrington's low average in yards per completion. Expect Brian Nooy -another Oregonian - to play at some point today.
Through two games, Oregon's best back is Dante Rosario, and he doesn't have any carries. But he's got the only touchdowns among UO running backs. With the attention on receivers and tight ends in pass coverage, Rosario has taken advantage to become the Ducks' leading receiver. Expect Oregon's first rushing touchdown of the season today. And the second. Probably the third. Maybe even the fourth ...
He's not first, or even second, on the Idaho depth chart, but the leading rusher for the Vandals is true freshman Jayson Bird. In the grand tradition of backs wearing No. 44, Bird is a big guy at 6 feet, 220 pounds, and the Idaho native was a state 100-meter champion last year.
All the injuries to the UO wide receivers in fall camp seem to have caught up with the Ducks, who are still trying to get their passing game in sync. Receivers have just 22 of Oregon's 49 receptions so far this season. It's great to spread the ball around, but if the Ducks are going to stretch the field, these are the guys who will help do it. One who can do that is Cameron Colvin, who could be in for a big day this afternoon after easing into the offense through two games.
The Vandals run a spread offense, but you'd expect more than 112 passing yards per game from a unit that emphasizes throwing over running. Leading receiver Bobby Bernal-Wood is a big target at 6-2, 203.
Tim Day is apparently over all his injury problems. Now the trick is getting into shape, which will make him an even more dangerous threat in the Oregon offense. As it is, he's second on the team in yards per catch with 13.5, trailing only Demetrius Williams and his 15-yard average.
The Vandals have another Oregonian, Willie Sipoloa, at tight end. He's a graduate of Roosevelt High School in Portland. He's battled injuries throughout his career, totaling just seven receptions.
Robin Knebel graded out as Oregon's best lineman last week, and that was while playing both right tackle and center. Adam Snyder also deserves some recognition for taking just about every snap at left tackle. Like a lot of positions, though, today could end up being more about the young guys, with guards Josh Tschirgi and Shawn Flanagan and tackle Jermaine Randolph possibly getting some action.
Idaho starts a true freshman, Desmond Clark, at right tackle for the fourth straight game. He'll need to be quick off the ball to deal with UO senior Chris Solomona. Center Jarrod Schulte is relatively light at 269 pounds.
If Haloti Ngata plays today, it'll be nothing more than a brief, glorified workout. There's just no reason to risk aggravating his hamstring problems in a game that Oregon should win handily, and with conference play starting next week. That means more snaps for true freshman David Faaeteete and junior Nuvraj Bassi, who got significant playing time last week.
An undersized Idaho defensive line is epitomized by nose tackle Siua Musika, a true freshman who played linebacker in high school. He has gained more than 20 pounds since coming to Moscow, and he anchors the line. The two ends average 239 pounds, including Mike Anderson, a converted linebacker who led the team with 97 tackles last year.
Jerry Matson was again all over the field last week, and the Ducks are thankful that Ramone Reed is still healthy, but Bellotti said he'd like to see Anthony Trucks develop into more of a playmaker. Just like the offense needs to convert long drives into points, the defense could stand to make more big plays of its own - like turnovers.
The catalyst at middle linebacker for the Vandals is Cole Snyder, who is averaging 10 tackles in Idaho's first three games. He also has four tackles for loss, including two sacks, and has broken up two passes.
Like Ngata, Aaron Gipson and Justin Phinisee have no reason to play much this weekend. They'll have plenty of work to do next week chasing down passes from Arizona State's Andrew Walter, so there's no reason to tire them out too much against Idaho. Expect to see freshman Jackie Bates play in a three-man rotation with veterans Marques Binns and Sam Hughes today.
If Oregon's running backs can get past the Idaho front seven this afternoon, there won't be much else to slow them down. The biggest Vandal defensive back weighs 180 pounds, and the corners are both less than 170, though junior Herb Cash was a championship sprinter in high school. Strong safety Daniel Dykes is a true freshman.
Nobody takes Oregon's placekicking problems more serious than the kicker himself, Jared Siegel, who is a ball of intensity. He'll get plenty of work on PATs today. Also, since Paul Martinez seems to have lost the punting job - but can't redshirt this season after having played against Indiana - why not let him get some work on his placekicking, which seems to be his future at Oregon?
Yuck - combined, the two kickers in this game are 1-of-5 on field-goal attempts this season. That means Idaho's Mike Barrow has missed twice, kicks of 43 and 40 yards. He's also the punter, averaging nearly 40 yards an attempt this season. Check this out: In three games this season, the dude has punted 22 times. Only two punters in the country have more kicks through three games.
Michael Harrington isn't the only Idaho player with local ties - check out No. 40 for the Vandals today. That's former Churchill High School star David Vobora, a true freshman who has one tackle on special teams for Idaho this year. Idaho also signed Junction City's Brandon Nystrom last spring, but he's taking classes only part-time and should begin his eligibility next year.
Nick Holt is a veteran of the Pac-10, having coached linebackers at Southern California the past three seasons. An even more familiar face to Oregon fans might be the Idaho quarterbacks coach: former Oregon State quarterback Jonathan Smith. Holt already needed to play psychologist with this team to keep it focused through an 0-3 start, and now he has to get them to play hard the week after the death of a teammate. Mike Bellotti also wants his team to end a losing streak, and with as much as the Ducks have to work on today after two losses, they might put up a lot of points in the name of self-improvement.
An already major challenge for Idaho becomes immense in the wake of the death of cornerback Eric McMillan. There's just no way to know how the Vandals will react once they hit the field today; when they do, UO administrators are asking fans to forget the usual greeting of boos for the visiting team. There will also be a moment of silence in McMillan's memory, about 20 minutes before kickoff, when the teams conclude warmups.
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Sep 25, 2004|
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