By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: When Chip Kelly took over in Eugene last season the expectations were high, but no one at Oregon could have expected the exciting campaign that ensued.
The season opened with an 18-9 loss on the road against Boise State, but what
happened after the game changed the whole landscape of the offense for Oregon.
After the game finished running back LaGarrett Blount lost his cool and
punched a Boise State player in face, and was quickly suspended for most of
the season. Instead of letting that ugly incident drag down the whole team,
Kelly rallied his players and they responded with a thrilling, 38-36 victory
over Purdue in their next matchup. After a hard-fought, 31-24 victory over
Utah, the Ducks began league play with a convincing 39-point win over
California. The good times kept on rolling for Oregon against league
opponents, as the team won four more Pac-10 matchups, including an impressive
47-20 decision over USC in Eugene. Oregon's seven-game win streak came to an
end early in November when the Ducks lost a shootout at Stanford, 51-42. The
resilient bunch overcame the loss to the Cardinal and bounced back with three
straight wins After disposing of a weak Arizona State squad, the Ducks needed
double-overtime to slip past Arizona on the road and then scored the last nine
points against rival Oregon State to grab a win and the outright Pac-10 title
for the first time since 1994. The Ducks fought hard in the Rose Bowl matchup
with Ohio State, but the Buckeyes proved to be too strong and defeated Oregon
by a 27-16 margin. Despite the loss, the Ducks had a memorable season and
Kelly proved to be the right man for the job.
OFFENSE: The Ducks were supposed to have one of the most explosive offensive
units in the country to start this season, but off the field issues put a
large hole at the quarterback position. During the off-season, Jeremiah Masoli
faced criminal charges and was eventually suspended from Oregon's football
team, leaving the starting position in the hands of either Nate Costa or
"It's always a question mark when you lose your quarterback," said coach
Kelly. "We have two competent players in Nate Costa and Darron Thomas who will
battle it out in preseason camp. Both are prepared and worked really hard for
it. All of our offensive line, receivers and running backs are back. They will
have a supporting cast around them."
As coach Kelly mentioned the rest of the offense returns intact, which will
give whoever is under center plenty of options.
At receiver the Ducks return three big time weapons, beginning with Jeff
Maehl, who hauled in 53 receptions and six touchdowns last season. Lavasier
Tuinei and D.J. Davis should also be solid options for Oregon's quarterback,
and also keep an eye on freshman Diante Jackson, who has the athleticism to be
a big time threat very quickly.
When the Ducks lost Blount after the first game no one knew what to expect,
but LaMichael James stepped up and practically saved the season for Oregon by
rushing for a Pac-10 freshman record 1,546 yards, to go along with 14
touchdowns. James will miss the first game of the season due to a suspension,
but once he is back on the field he should become one of the top backs in the
DEFENSE: The defense for Oregon will once again rely on speed to get the job
done, but that is the only real option for Oregon, which is undersized for the
Up front coach Kelly returns two big time starters defensive tackle Brandon
Bair and end Kenny Rowe. Rowe is only 232 pounds, but the senior is a
tenacious pass rusher with a non-stop motor that racked up an impressive 11.5
sacks a year ago. As for Bair, he is solid in the middle, but is aware this
unit relies more of athleticism and less on size.
"You have to have guys who are athletes," said Bair. "We have to know every
position on the field so we can be put in any of those spots."
Eddie Pleasant, one of the team's top linebackers moves to safety this season,
and even with the position change the Ducks have a dangerous trio at
linebacker. Casey Matthews will man the middle slot, while Spencer Paysinger
will be on the outside. Matthews and Paysinger are both tough, smart players
that understand the game and usually find themselves around the football. As
mentioned earlier, Pleasant will now be at the one safety spot and will be
teamed with John Boyett, who racked up 90 tackles a year. The combination at
safety could be a dangerous one for opposing receivers who dare come over the
middle. Add in Talmadge Jackson III at corner, a true shutdown player on the
outside, and Oregon's secondary is definitely a strength.
SPECIAL TEAMS: If there are question marks on this unit it is on special
teams. With that said, there is plenty of promise, beginning with Kenjon
Barner, who did an admirable job returning kicks and punts last year as a
freshman. Also enjoying a successful freshman campaign was punter Jackson
Rice, who has the leg to be one of the best in the conference. Where the
problem for Oregon lies is at kicker. Rob Beard has a big leg, but his
inaccurate tendencies and off the field problems have left the kicker
suspended for the season-opener. That leaves freshman Alejandro Maldonado to
man the spot for the Ducks against New Mexico on September 4th.
OUTLOOK: Before Masoli was suspended from the team, the Ducks were serious
contenders for a shot at the national title, but with a huge question mark
looming at the quarterback position, those lofty expectations are tempered a
bit. The Ducks may still be good enough to contend for their second league
championship, though. Even with the loss of Masoli, the Ducks are loaded with
talent, and return 17 starters from last year's 10-win club.
The schedule will test the team down the stretch, but other than a road
matchup against Tennessee in week two, the Ducks have an easy road over the
first two months. Over their last five contests however, the Ducks will have
to battle USC, California and Oregon State on the road. Clearly the game
against the Vols will be a tough test, but if Oregon can get the ball rolling
early, the Ducks might not stop until they come up smelling like roses once