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Oregon can start thinking about USC

10/24/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

SEATTLE -- Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is thinking about food. First, a big meal on the short plane ride home after the Ducks 43-19 win over Washington on Saturday. Then some vanilla ice cream when he gets home. On Sunday, he'll eat some breakfast with a grin on his face.

Only after that will he start thinking about USC.

"My mind is not on 'SC right now," he said. "I'm going to enjoy this win."

He added, "It will be tomorrow."

Oregon, like many teams, has a 24 hour rule, when coaches and players are allowed to celebrate a victory or mourn a defeat for only one day before moving on and focusing exclusively on the next foe.

Coach Chip Kelly might be more obsessive than most about not looking back or forward but living only in the moment. He's repeatedly harped on how each Saturday is a one-game season and each game should be treated like a national championship.

That allowed for him to say this, which is great fun when taken out of context, "We're playing USC for a national championship."

Ha! But get this: the Ducks-Trojans showdown on Halloween night in Autzen Stadium will showcase two Pac-10 teams with the potential to play themselves into the national championship picture, assuming, of course, that USC keeps up its end of the bargain and beats Oregon State on Saturday evening.

The Ducks, who've won six in a row since an opening night loss at Boise State, presently look like they could play with anybody. Aliotti's defense and Kelly's offense are both humming.

The offense got a huge boost from the return of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who hurt his knee on Oct. 3 and sat out the Ducks win at UCLA. After a slow start, he completed 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown and ran 11 times for 54 yards with two touchdowns.

He seemed to get bolder on each run, as if his knee was successfully passing a series of tests.

"I definitely gained confidence in my knee, cutting and whatnot," he said. "It was just one of those things where I take it safe at first."

While Masoli said he only felt "70-75 percent," it's clear that his presence stressed the Huskies defense.

"It's a big lift because they can't key on me because Jeremiah is incredible with the ball in his hands, so they have to pay attention to him, too," Ducks running back LaMichael James said.

James, a redshirt freshman, also gets a defense's attention. He seems to get better every week. His 154 yards rushing on 15 carries, which included a 56-yard touchdown run, was a school freshman record. It also was his fourth 100 yard game since replacing LeGarrette Blount in the starting lineup.

Oregon's special teams also are fairly sharp. The Ducks scored their first touchdown on a blocked punt. A fake field goal set up their second.

"(Oregon) just destroyed us on special teams," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Then there's Aliotti's defense. It gave up some yards -- 395, which is 115 more than the season average entering the game -- and it allowed its first offensive touchdown in 15 quarters, but it has become a swarming, no-name unit that seems a step faster than the opposing offense.

The Ducks had four sacks and forced three turnvoers, one of which concluded a first-half goal line stand.

"When this group gets flying, it kind of gets into a frenzy mode," Kelly said.

Injuries, particularly in the secondary, are a bit of a worry, though. The Ducks have already lost cornerbacks Walter Thurmond, perhaps the Ducks best player, and Willie Glasper. While safety T.J. Ward played for the first time since spraining his ankle at Boise State and made five tackles, cornerback Talmadge Jackson hurt his back, forcing Aliotti to play true freshman Cliff Harris and junior Chad Peppars.

It's not a good thing to face USC with a banged up secondary.

But Kelly and his players don't seem like the worrying sorts. Or the sorts who will allow USC, the seven-time Pac-10 champions, to get into their heads.

"They haven't had success too much in Oregon the past few years, so they'll definitely bring their A-game," said linebacker Casey Matthews, whose brother, Clay, starred for the Trojans last year.

Kelly said USC didn't come up when he talked to his players after beating Washington.

"This group is as focused a bunch of young men as I've ever been around," Kelly said. "They buy into everything we're talking about. And all we talk about is the next game."

And what about that next game?

Despite the blinders, Kelly knows it's going to be a circus.

"We've got a real, real big game coming up," Kelly said.