Monday, September 14, 2009
Oregon still finding itself with Utah coming to town
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Last year, Oregon ranked seventh in the nation in total offense with 485 yards per game.
Two games in 2009, Oregon ranks 107th in the nation in total offense with 254 yards per game.
It's been the sort of start that makes a former offense coordinator who enjoyed talking numbers transform into a head coach who is only about the bottom line.
Said Oregon coach Chip Kelly on Monday, "We don't talk about yardage, statistics, any of those things. Our goal as an offense is very simple. Win is No. 1. And score points is No. 2."
The Ducks did the former and mostly took care of the latter against Purdue, though a pair of defensive touchdowns came in handy in the 38-36 victory.
Oregon gained only 152 total yards -- 31 rushing -- with six first downs in the opener at Boise State. Against the Boilermakers, the Ducks rolled up 356 yards -- 193 rushing -- with 17 first downs.
So will the trend continue on the uptick when the Ducks play host to No. 18 Utah on Saturday?
The Ducks might not again double-up their previous production against a tough Utes defense, but the improvement from game one to game two was significant.
It started with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was terrible against Boise State, barely recognizable to those who witnessed his incredible production over the final three games on 2008.
Masoli completed 11 of 21 passes for 163 yards and rushed 14 times for 84 yards, a total that led the Ducks. He was inconsistent throwing, but so were his receivers, particularly speedster Jamere Holland, who for the second straight game dropped what should have been a long TD pass.
"[Masoli] became more of a factor in the running game," Kelly said. "When he's running and making defenses defend the entire field, that obviously opens up holes in the running game for us. And he was more consistent throwing the ball."
And with Masoli seeming to find his rhythm, the Ducks young running backs in the post-LeGarrette Blount era -- redshirt freshmen LaMichael James and Kejon Barner -- seemed to get more comfortable.
Both started slowly until Kelly told them to "run like you do in practice."
"They kind of got their first-game jitters out of their system," Kelly said. "They are both special players when they have the ball in their hands."
The Ducks developing offense -- the line is still struggling -- and opportunistic defense will be tested by a Utah team that is a bit of a mystery.
The Utes, though they own the nation's longest winning streak at 16 games, have hardly looked impressive during a wins over Utah State and San Jose State.
It's likely, however, that they have only partially cracked open their playbook.
Still, injuries to offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff (knee) and running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) cloud the issue for a Utes offense that already was rebuilding.
Not that Kelly thinks inexperience or the environment in Autzen Stadium will make the Utes wide-eyed, even if they are untested in 2009.
"Utah played in the Sugar Bowl, so I think they've played in some big games," Kelly said. "I don't think this is going to be their first rodeo."
Nor for the Ducks, who after being bucked by the Broncos, are still trying to get back on their horse.