Akili ready to air it out
Oregon's Smith waiting for shot against Colorado
Posted: Tuesday December 22, 1998 02:32 PM
HONOLULU (AP) -- Oregon quarterback Akili Smith says his eyes "popped out" when he saw films of the man-to-man defense used by Colorado, the team Smith's 21st-ranked Fighting Ducks will play Christmas Day in the Aloha Bowl.
"They're up there in bump coverage, and their safeties are up, the middle of the field is wide open," Smith said Monday before his team's practice. "If I get some time, I can really pick these guys apart. But when you got eight, nine men in the box, they're going to be getting after you."
Colorado cornerback Ben Kelly's eyes may not be popping out of his head like Smith's, but he's just as confident the Buffaloes (7-4) of the Big 12 Conference will be able to throttle a potent Oregon attack averaging 478 yards a game this season.
"That's the type of game DBs [defensive backs] look forward to," Kelly said. "A lot of throwing. That puts you on the island. That's what DBs like to do -- to have glory, or not have glory, covering a deep ball. Just one on one."
With Oregon (8-3) of the Pacific-10 Conference missing top running back Rueben Droughns to a broken leg and top receiver Tony Hartley to suspension, Colorado is focused on Smith, who passed for 3,307 yards with 30 touchdowns, and also ran for three more.
"He has a great arm, so it's paramount we have good coverage in the backfield. As a defensive line, we have to maintain our rush lanes to keep him kind of contained and not give him any big gaps where he can shoot through the gaps and get big runs," Colorado defensive lineman Aaron Marshall said.
"It requires a much more disciplined approach, and may hamper our pass rush, but it's a fine line between getting a good pass rush and keeping him contained in the pocket," Marshall said.
Smith, who went to the same San Diego high school as Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis and former NFL great Marcus Allen, has dreams of playing in the NFL next season, and said those dreams are making it hard to stay focused on the Colorado game.
"I've been losing sleep over it [NFL], but I want to win this ballgame for my team," said Smith, who came to Oregon before the start of last season after spending a year in junior college and three years chasing his dream of playing professional baseball.
A 1993 draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Smith said he was too young and unfocused to develop into a good player. But he now believes he would be a better player, so he might try to play both sports if given the chance.
That same lack of focus cost him last season at Oregon, as he struggled to regain his football form and split time at quarterback with Jason Maas.
"Coming into the season last season, I wasn't a real smart quarterback. I was struggling to learn the offense, and I really didn't know the defenses like I should have," Smith said.
A summer of hard work and tutelage under new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has allowed Smith to have the type of season that has him mentioned as one of the school's all-time top quarterbacks -- not bad for a school that has produced 11 NFL signal callers, including former San Diego Chargers great Dan Fouts and former Atlanta Falcon Chris Miller.
"I put up great numbers this year, I believe I have the record for touchdown passes and we didn't lose at home this year," he said.
Asked if he is the best Oregon quarterback ever, he said: "Yeah, I do. To be quite honest, I do.
"Those guys are great quarterbacks, but the one thing I have that they didn't have is mobility, plus the athleticism and the strength. I think that's what separates me."
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