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Oregon wants to become road warriors

9/20/2011

Oregon coach Chip Kelly recently groused about how hard it is to get elite teams to sign a home-and-home series with his Ducks. While money, as it often is in college football, is an issue, the biggest reason is teams don't want to get their butts kicked. Kelly's crew has won 18 in a row at home, last losing to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008.

So when you ask Kelly about what he's learned about his team during a pair of home blowouts after it lost to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, he doesn't make any sweeping pronouncements of newfound skill, confidence or maturity.

"We're a good team at home," he said. "What we've got to learn now is how do we play on the road?"

That's a fair point. Though Oregon has lost only five games over the past two-plus seasons, each has been outside the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.

And the numbers show a decided difference, too. The Ducks averaged 59 points at home last season and 36.7 points on the road. They averaged 41.6 points at home in 2009 and 29.7 point on the road. On defense, the Ducks held foes to 14.8 points at home in 2010 and 22.0 points on the road. In 2009, it was 20.4 at home and 27.7 on the road.

Of course, every team is better at home, and the quality of the home and road schedules matter. But when your team is trying to join the super-elite, those are numbers coaches notice and point out to players. For example, Auburn last season played better defense on the road, and averaged 45.8 points at home and 36.3 points on the road. In 2009, Alabama averaged 32.7 points at home and 31.4 points on the road. Those are the last two national champions.

So Kelly wants his team to take its A-game -- its Autzen-game -- to Tucson to face reeling Arizona.

Speaking of the Wildcats, a lot has been made of their seven-game losing streak to FBS foes. No one likes a seven-game losing streak.

But some perspective, folks. Four of those games were against top seven-ranked foes, and a fifth was against an Oklahoma State squad that finished 2010 ranked 13th. The Ducks will be the Wildcats third top-10 opponent in three weeks.

"This has been a perfect storm and we've got to weather it," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops (a visit to No. 23 USC is next, by the way).

Further, Stoops is a defensive coach. His most infamous sideline frowns and gesticulations come when his defense is not doing what he wants it to do. And that's been happening a lot of late, seeing that his defense ranks 111th in the nation.

Oregon, by the way, will be bringing the nation's No. 6 offense, the third consecutive top-20 offense the Wildcats will have faced, which is also a good reason the defense has looked so lousy. You might be surprised, however, that the fiery Stoops has become philosophical, preaching the power of positive thinking and learning from adversity.

"You have to look at where it's exposing our weak areas, where we have to get better," he said.

Stoops then is probably noting his run game, which ranks 116th in the nation with an anemic 55.7 yards per game. The Ducks defensive weakness, at least thus far, has been against the run, see 214.3 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the Pac-12. So that's an interesting weakness-on-weakness matchup.

It's more likely, though, this one will come down to a showdown of strength on strength: Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles versus a good Oregon pass defense, which ranks No. 1 in the conference.

Kelly is a big fan of Foles.

"I think Nick is one of the top quarterbacks in the country, not only in this conference," he said. "I don't think he gets nearly enough credit."

Of course, we could have another barn burner. The last time the Ducks visited in 2009, they won a thrilling 44-41 decision in double-overtime, a game that it looked like the Wildcats had in the bag. Until they didn't.

"I remember Jeremiah Masoli just running around making plays," Stoops said. "He made some incredible plays down the stretch. We couldn't come up with that last play to win the game."

Oregon doesn't want that. It wants to come in a take care of business -- like Stanford did in Tucson last weekend -- and look like a team that shouldn't yet be written out of national title contention.

Stoops' team is just trying to weather the storm. But he sees "speed everywhere" with Oregon. And he knows no team brings an offensive maelstrom like the Ducks.