Pac-12: Curtis Painter

Oregon finds new ways to overcome adversity

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
11:17
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Oregon defensive end Will Tukuafu first heard the phrase from his junior college coach, Ken Giovando.

As Oregon backslid in the first half Saturday, making "enough mistakes to last the rest of the season," according to head coach Mike Bellotti, Tukuafu began to repeat the line: Adversity introduces a person to himself.

"Things aren't always going to go our way," Tukuafu said. "But when those things don't go our way, how are we going to react? I think we reacted pretty well today."

More than a few things haven't gone Oregon's way during the last month, but the 16th-ranked Ducks continue to find a way.

Consider the stumbling blocks and the Ducks' response:

  • After losing projected starting quarterback Nate Costa to a season-ending knee injury, Oregon put up 110 points in its first two games behind Justin Roper.
  • Left tackle Fenuki Tupou was suspended for the season opener for receiving improper benefits from an agent, but Oregon pounded Washington, 44-10.
  • When the offense couldn't find the end zone for the better part of three quarters Saturday, the defense put up a wall at its own 40-yard line and wouldn't let Curtis Painter and Purdue cross it.
  • As starting running back Jeremiah Johnson played with a recently separated right shoulder, backup LeGarrette Blount stepped up with 132 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the second overtime.
  • When Roper went down with a sprained left knee in the first overtime, freshman Chris Harper led the winning touchdown drive.

"We got as close as you could get to losing, but still we got a victory," offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said. "In the end, you're 3-0 and in January and February, no one's going to talk about the Purdue game."

Most of Oregon's mistakes Saturday stemmed from Kelly's unit, but the defense faced its own hurdles. Purdue's Kory Sheets gashed the Ducks for an 80-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage and put his team up 20-3 on the first play of the second quarter.

But from that point, the Ducks' defense locked down. Purdue consistently got good field position but didn't advance past Oregon's 38-yard line on its next 11 possessions. The Boilermakers racked up just 22 yards on 17 plays in the second quarter.

"I challenged the defense to shut them out, and they did," Bellotti said. "They put the momentum on our side."

As Blount walked over to Kelly outside the visitors' locker room after the game, the coach embraced the 229-pound junior and said, "I'm proud of you."

Johnson insisted his shoulder was fine, but Bellotti acknowledged the back wasn't 100 percent. The Ducks needed Blount to step in, just as Roper did for Costa and Harper eventually did for Roper.

Though Jairus Boyd's 87-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the third quarter was undeniably the game's turning point, Blount changed field position and ignited the offense with a 72-yard dash from his Oregon's 4-yard line.

"He's one of a kind," Johnson said of Blount. "That's my boy. When I went out, he came in and did an excellent job today."

The heroics from Blount, Boyd and others helped Oregon survive a multitude of mistakes in all three areas of the game. Roper had two passes intercepted in Purdue territory, Oregon lost the turnover battle 4-3 and committed several costly penalties. The Ducks' inability to handle a short kickoff into the wind set up a Purdue touchdown.

Late in the third quarter, Bellotti slammed his headset to the turf after the defense was nearly whistled for illegal substitution on consecutive plays.

"I can't think of a game anywhere that we played that poorly," Bellotti said.

"We weren't nearly as focused," Harper said. "I don't think we had the same intensity we had for Washington or some of those other games. We came out sluggish."

They'll have to be better starting next week against Boise State, and more adversity awaits. Roper is expected to miss the game, meaning Harper or Jeremiah Masoli will start at quarterback.

Relief was the general sentiment after Saturday's win, but there were lessons, too.

"It makes me want to work harder," said Tukuafu, who had two sacks and recovered a fumble. "We want to understand the mind-set now. We faced a little adversity and our mind-set changed. Our work habits, all those things, increased a lot more this week."

Purdue should offer Oregon first test

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
6:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Purdue coach Joe Tiller apparently is playing the San Francisco 49ers -- Joe Montana variety -- this weekend, not the 16th-ranked Oregon Ducks.

Oregon's offense?

"Well, you try to see if Coach [Mike] Bellotti will agree to allow us to play -- I spent nine years in Canada, playing Canadian defense, which is 12 men, versus 11," he said. "That's probably where you start. Outside of that, I don't have any answers. They're a very explosive team with both the run game and the pass game. So they're just a handful."

And what about that Ducks defense?

"Fast, faster, and fastest is how I would describe their defense," he said before comparing the Ducks to the Washington defense for the Huskies 1991 national championship squad.

"I don't see a weakness in them defensively," he concluded.

Hmm.

The Ducks have been dominant in dispatching Washington and Utah State by a combined count of 110-34.

Even with a number of key injuries, the offense ranks No. 1 in the nation with 592 yards per game -- 332 yards on the ground -- and is fifth in scoring (55 ppg).

As for the defense, it shut the Huskies out in the second half and has yielded just 274 yards and 17 points per game.

So Tiller, who will retire at the end of the season, isn't just being silly.

Still, it's clear that the Ducks haven't been tested, a fact that Bellotti freely admits. The offense, in particular, has faced a pair of pillow-soft defenses, so it's probably premature to compare this year's offense to last year's nearly unstoppable unit led by QB Dennis Dixon.

"We'll certainly find out this weekend," Bellotti said. "We haven't been stopped too much in the first two games."

Most projected Purdue to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. The Boilermakers welcomed back just 12 starters from an 8-5 team, and lost RB Jaycen Taylor to a knee injury in the preseason. Moreover, LB Jason Werner is expected to be out Saturday due to back problems.

One thing Purdue does have is an accomplished, veteran QB in senor Curtis Painter. Painter, who the school is touting for the Heisman Trophy, has started 33 consecutive games, thrown 56 TD passes and ranks in the Big Ten career top 10 in passing yards (9,049).

Tiller talked during the preseason about Painter stepping up in big games, the one thing he mostly hasn't accomplished.

"Well, I would say [this game] fits that scenario perfectly," Tiller said.

Painter figures to test the Ducks athletic, veteran secondary, which -- surprisingly -- hasn't grabbed an interception this season after ranking second in the Pac-10 with 20 last year.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon, despite its eye-popping numbers, still has questions, such as its three-man rotation at QB, topped by Justin Roper, with Jeremiah Masoli and Chris Harper offering relief.

"All three have done some really good things," Bellotti said. "They complement each other."

Also, tailback Jeremiah Johnson is nursing a bum shoulder, though he's expected to play. If he can't go, LeGarrette Blount stepped in with 132 yards and two TDs against Utah State.

Oregon, of course, is hoping for a repeat of its last Big Ten road trip: A 39-7 win at Michigan last year.

"Now it's up to us to carry that Pac-10 banner," Bellotti said. "But that's secondary in my mind to us winning the game.

Internal affairs: Big week for Pac-10

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
1:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A look inside the Pac-10 this week.

Pac-10: This week defines the conference, with eight of 10 nonconference opponents having played in bowl games last year and five representing other BCS conferences. It's more than USC trying to defend its No. 1 ranking against visiting Ohio State, ranked fifth. It's UCLA at No. 18 BYU. It's No. 16 Oregon at Purdue. It's Arizona looking for revenge at New Mexico. It's Washington playing host to No. 3 Oklahoma. It's California at Maryland, Stanford at TCU, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and Arizona State trying not to look ahead to Georgia while playing UNLV. The Pac-10 is 7-3 so far in nonconference games, and two of the losses came against ranked opponents. If the conference were to have a big weekend -- say go 8-2 or 9-1 -- it would send a message to the rest of the nation.

USC: Coach Pete Carroll sometimes can be difficult -- in a pleasant way, of course -- with reporters. Ask him a question that has a negative turn, and he'll reject it in favor of something positive. But when asked about linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga nursing wrist and hand injuries this week, he admitted that, yes, those types of injuries make it harder to tackle. Harder to tackle, say, 240-pound speedsters like Ohio State RB Chris Wells. Maualuga has practiced all week, but seems to favor his hand. Cushing missed half of practice Tuesday, but because of a hip bruise, not his wrist. If Cushing is limited, DE Clay Matthews, a pass-rush specialist, would slide over at strongside LB. It's hard to believe that one of these injuries won't become an issue Saturday.

Washington: It's hard to imagine Washington beating Oklahoma, so that means an 0-3 start for the Huskies with the screws tightening on coach Tyrone Willingham. The question, really, then is whether the Huskies play hard the entire game and keep things interesting. Would a respectable performance mollify fans, with a string of more manageable games ahead after a bye week (Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Notre Dame)? After school president Mark Emmert -- who held the same post at LSU and loves his football -- went public with a request for patience, it seems like even a blowout loss wouldn't cost Willingham his job before the end of the season. If the Huskies gut it out and put a scare into the Sooners, it's not unreasonable to project them winning a couple of their upcoming games and possibly building some momentum. Still, finding six wins over the remaining nine games feels extremely difficult, and the general feeling is six wins is a minimum standard for Willingham to survive.

UCLA: Is UCLA ready to refocus after a bye week? BYU will come at the Bruins with a far more sophisticated -- and balanced -- offense than Tennessee, so the week off to game plan likely will help. Washington barely touched Cougars QB Max Hall, who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate while completing 30 of 41 passes for 348 yards and three TDs, so figuring out ways to apply pressure will be the biggest task for defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. This will be the second consecutive veteran offensive line Walker has schemed against, and the Cougars may be even better than the Vols. On the other side of the ledger, the Cougars' secondary is vulnerable -- it will not be able to match the athleticism of the Bruins WRs. But QB Kevin Craft needs time to throw, and it's still uncertain how well the Bruins OL will hold up. The BYU front seven won't be as athletic as the Vols, but it's still a strong crew. Further, will "Leaky" Craft or "Jet" Craft show up? Guess is OC Norm Chow is hoping for the Craft of the second half of the Tennessee game, not the one who threw four interceptions in the first half.

Oregon: With Oregon, it's almost always about the Ducks' potent spread offense, which is fancy. But the visit to Purdue figures to be more of a test for the defense. Purdue QB Curtis Painter has started 33 consecutive games and has thrown for a lot of yards in the Boilermakers' version of the spread. In other words, he knows most of the tricks in the book. The Ducks' defense focuses on stopping the run first and relying on an experienced and talented secondary to win one-on-one matchups in the back-half. So this one figures to turn on how the touted Ducks' secondary does against Painter. Will the front seven help by pressuring Painter into mistakes? Or will Painter find seams in the secondary and earn the Big Ten a statement victory?

Pac-10 Morning: Tree sitters grounded

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
10:14
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Your hump day links.

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