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Special teams woes collide with body count.

Byline: Bob Clark The Register-Guard

U O f o o t b a l l

What's a coach to do?

Oregon has some obvious areas of concern that require more work in practice, but there's also a long list of injured Ducks.

`How do you get healthy and how do you get better?' UO coach Mike Bellotti said Monday. `I'm trying to figure that one out.'

The issue particularly relates to Oregon's special teams. Bellotti said to improve coverage of punts and kickoffs, the 18th-ranked Ducks (4-1 overall, 2-1 in the Pac-10) need to practice at full speed `to simulate game conditions, and those are high-speed collisions that can result in injury, so you're always leery of doing that.'

Part of the problem with special teams play is the loss of several defensive players who also made their mark on special teams. The latest of those is reserve linebacker Jerome Boyd, whose knee injury was diagnosed Monday as a torn MCL that will keep him out of action from two to six weeks, Bellotti said.

Boyd was tied for second in tackles on special teams, and played on both coverage units. With his loss and Oregon's spate of injuries, it means more duty on special teams for some of the same players rather than spreading the load.

The Ducks have given up both a kickoff return and punt return for a touchdown in the past two games. Oregon is last in the Pac-10 in coverage of both punts and kickoffs, allowing teams an average return of 7.7 yards on punts and 21.3 yards on kickoff returns.

UCLA, the opponent for the Ducks on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, averages a very good 11.2 yards on punt returns, including one for a touchdown, but a Pac-10-worst 15.1 yards on kickoff returns.

Oregon's net punting average - distance of the punt minus the distance of the return - is only 26.8 yards, six yards less than any other Pac-10 team. On kickoffs, Oregon opponents are reaching the 29-yard line on an average return and three kickoff returns against the Ducks have covered 43 yards or longer.

Knowles, Evensen fare well

The first punts of the season in a game for Aaron Knowles at Cal and the first place kicks for Matt Evensen should help them on Saturday against UCLA, assuming they keep those duties.

While Bellotti said the punting job is a competition again this week between Knowles and Matt Dragich, who punted in the first four games, the coach was satisfied with the performance of Knowles against the Bears. He averaged 38.8 yards, with a long punt of 48 yards.

`I was kind of disappointed with the first couple punts but I got to settle down,' Knowles said Monday. `I wish I could have made a little bit more difference for our defense with field position.'

Knowles said he felt he rushed his first two attempts. On his longest punt, `I didn't swing as hard. The more calm you can be the better the results can be ... it'll be a little easier if I play against UCLA.'

Evensen didn't know he'd be kicking against Cal until Paul Martinez felt pain on his field goal in the first quarter and `told me I probably should get ready,' Evensen said.

Martinez is doubtful for the UCLA game, so Evensen can prepare this week to handle the field goal attempts and extra points as well as kickoffs.

`It's shocking to get there and (be told), `all right, you're going to be the guy,' ' Evensen said. `You don't really mentally prepare.

`I'm looking forward to it if I get the chance to go in and kick some more.'

Evensen made 4-of-9 field goals last season while filling in for Martinez. Evensen's longest field goal was 51 yards, and he has now made all 16 extra points attempted in his career, with the three at Cal.

`I've gotten a little stronger (this year) and my kickoffs have been better,' Evensen said. `My consistency on field goals will hopefully be a little better.'

Cowan draws first start

UCLA quarterback Patrick Cowan will make his first collegiate start Saturday against the Ducks. He played most of the win over Arizona on Saturday, completing 20-of-29 passes after starter Ben Olson suffered an injury to his left knee.

`He made some really tough plays under pressure against Arizona. I thought he looked like a veteran quarterback,' Bellotti said. `We'll see what happens with the noise levels in Autzen but I'm sure they're preparing for it.'

An MRI on Olson's knee Monday showed a tear of the MCL. The injury does not require surgery but he will be sidelined at least four weeks, UCLA officials said.

UCLA starting middle linebacker Christian Taylor is questionable against the Ducks with an ankle injury. He has been the No. 3 tackler among Bruins through five games.

TV streak stops in Palouse?

Oregon's streak of games televised live this season, which will reach six with ABC on hand for Saturday's 12:30 p.m. kickoff against UCLA, may end with the Oct. 21 game at Washington State.

The only Pac-10 games scheduled to be shown on Oct. 21 are UCLA at Notre Dame on NBC as part of that network's exclusive deal with the Irish and Washington at California, chosen Monday by FSN. There isn't an ABC telecast of Pac-10 teams that date. The Ducks' game at WSU is currently scheduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff.

OREGON VS. UCLA 12:30 Saturday at Autzen Stadium. TV: ABC. Radio: KUGN-AM (590). Web updates:
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Title Annotation:Sports; To improve their kick coverage, the Ducks need to practice for UCLA at full speed, raising the specter of more injuries
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 10, 2006
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