The big news in the Oregon program is that long time head coach Mike Bellotti has stepped down and moved over to the AD position. Chip Kelly who was the offensive coordinator under Bellotti has assumed control of the team with his full blessing. Oregon led the Pac-10 with 484.85 yards of total offense and an impressive 41.92 points per game under Kelly's direction.
Washington played Oregon in the opener last season and it seemed even if the Ducks put the water boy in at quarterback they could do anything they wanted to the Washington defense. Jeremiah Masoli came on very strong at the end of the 2008 campaign and pretty much turned a hot hand quarterback rotation into the team’s biggest strength. On the year Masoli threw for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for another 718 yards and ten trips to the end zone. So Darron Thomas and Jr Nate Costa return as seasoned back-ups.
Big running back LeGarrette Blount who hit the 1,000 yard mark last season is back to help keep the Ducks offense moving. Sr Andre Crenshaw returns to complete a solid one two punch at RB. Keep an eye on RS LaMichael James who is one of the shifitiest and fastest guys on the team.
Oregon has taken some hits at wide receiver. Of last year’s top seven receivers, two have graduated and two have recently transferred, so the Ducks are a little light and inexperienced on the wings. Converted safety Jr Jeff Maehl returns after catching 39 receptions in the slot for 421 yards and five touchdowns in 2008. Jr Jamere Holland a transfer from USC is the Oregon deep threat but he only caught 4 balls for 53 yards last season. Former walk-on Sr. Rory Cavaille and Jr Drew Davis who is recovering from a knee injury round out the rotation. Keep an eye on RS Dion Jordan who has the build to be a tough matchup for conference corner. TE Ed Dickson returns for his senior year and is one of the best in the conference.
The biggest concern the Ducks have on this side of the ball is their offensive line. They graduated a lot of talent in 2008. Jr Jordan Holmes, who has 21 games of experience will take over at center. Jr Bo Thran will be the starter at LT, and Jr C.E. Kaiser starts on the right. Kaiser started ten games last season and Thran was a backup. So Mark Asper and So Carson York will start on the inside. Darrion Weems and Nick Cody add depth to the unit.
Defensively the Ducks were challenged in 2008. Somehow the Oregon defense ranked last in the conference and 111 th in the nation in pass defense, and that was with corner Jairus Byrd and rover Patrick Chung. Walter Thurmond III and T.J. Ward who aren't slouches either return in 2009. With Byrd and Chung departing to the NFL. Sr Willie Glasper will line up opposite of Thurmond. Jr Talmadge Jackson takes over for Chung.
The question is why were these guys torched all last season with one of the best secondaries on paper in the conference? What makes it more of a quandry is that the Ducks had a solid group up front that routinely harrased opposing QB's. LB's Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger are two of the five returning starters and they have the talent to play extremely well.
The Ducks lose three starters on the line. 6-4, 272-pound Sr Will Tukuafu had a good season at DE last year and takes over for Nick Reed. On the opposite side, 6-3, 215-pound Jr Kenny Rowe is a speed rusher. 6-7, 250-pound Jr Brandon Bair and 6-6, 290-pound Sr Blake Ferras are the tackles.
The bottom line for Oregon is 2009 is they have a great offensive system and a questionable defense despite having good talent. However no team in the Pac 10 returns fewer starters than the Ducks do in 2009. Oregon has solid players to build around but the lines on both sides of the ball need to be rebuilt and that takes a little time.
Most experts feel that Oregon will battle California for the runner up spot in the conference in 2009. The Duck offense is a thing of beauty when it gets rolling and even though the defense might have plenty of holes to fill they can outscore most of the teams they play.
The Ducks are a bowl team but they are going to slide out of the top three this year because they don't have the horses they have had in the past up front. The defense will continue to give up more yards than they should and the middle of the DL is suspect.
Washington hasn't played well against Oregon since Casey Paus came into the game in the second half to engineer a victory at Husky Stadium. Since then the Huskies have been outperfomed in every facet of the game by the Ducks.
This year the game returns to Husky Stadium and the Ducks obviously are going to be favored. Oregon has a lot of things in place even though they are breaking in a new coach. The Ducks have a system on offense that works well and Washington will be trying to forge a new identity under Sarkisian.
I do think the Huskies will give them a game for a change under Sarkisian. I also think we have a chance to pull the upset in this one. Count on this contest to be way closer than anyone expects at this point.