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7. Oregon

The Ducks, winningest Pac-10 team the past six years, will again fly in V formation

By B.J. Schecter

 
Enemy Lines
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Ducks

"I love their quarterback, Joey Harrington . He's not only a big talent but also has tremendous heart. ... The coaches are confident in their players, which gives the kids confidence in themselves, and it shows. ... Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti does a nice job. He's constantly switching coverages, finding ways to create numbers advantages. ... Oregon State might have greater team speed, but the Oregon kids are tenacious. Everyone hustles and runs to the ball. ... Just a very scary team."

Sports Illustrated Immediately following the Ducks' thrilling 35-30 victory over Texas in the Holiday Bowl, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti was overcome with joy and emotion because he realized that his program had arrived. "We've been building this thing for some time," says Bellotti, who is entering his seventh season in Eugene. "We've proven ourselves in our conference, but beating Texas sends a message that we can play with anyone."

Since Bellotti took over in 1995, the Ducks have more victories (49) than any other Pac-10 school and have shown a knack for surviving close games, going 18-7 in those decided by a touchdown or less. Given that the team is coming off a school-record 10-2 finish last fall, expectations are naturally at an alltime high -- and for good reason. Nine starters are back from an offense that averaged 409.8 yards and 29.3 points per game.

It all starts with the crafty and agile senior quarterback Joey Harrington, who threw for 2,967 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2000, and ran for seven more scores. Two months ago he was flown cross-country to get a good look at himself, in the form of a 100-foot billboard bearing his likeness and promoting his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy. (Oregon boosters paid $250,000 for the advertisement, which is mounted on a building across from Madison Square Garden in New York City.) When Harrington saw the billboard he stopped dead in his tracks and stared upward, mouth agape.

"It was overwhelming," he says. "To look at myself on a billboard that size, sitting in New York City, blows my mind. It's something special, but you have to keep it in perspective. If we had gone 7-5 last year, none of this would be happening. If we don't win this year, it will all go away. All the attention I get is because of the success of my team, and I have to remember that."

On defense the Ducks have only one player, senior tackle Zack Freiter, returning among the front seven, so they will need senior safeties Keith Lewis and Rasuli Webster to help stop the run. "We basically play a nine-man front and that will present many problems for other teams, because our cornerbacks [seniors Rashad Buman and Steve Smith] can cover most wide receivers one-on-one," says Bellotti.

If the defense can withstand some early tests against Wisconsin and USC, Oregon may be undefeated heading into its final two games, against UCLA and Oregon State. "I really like this team," says Bellotti. "It has a togetherness and chemistry that are awesome. This group is confident it can play with anyone."

Issue date: August 13, 2001


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