Oregon must guard against another second-half slump

Updated: October 8, 2003, 5:45 PM ET

EUGENE, Ore. -- It happened last year. The Oregon Ducks got off to a great start, then started a second-half slide. And that is the ghost they find themselves fighting this season.

The Ducks opened this year with four straight victories, punctuated by the resounding 31-27 upset of then-No. 3 Michigan at Autzen Stadium.

Oregon zoomed to No. 10 in the national rankings. They made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Then it fell apart. The Ducks crumbled under turnovers against Washington State, a 55-16 loss Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said, in retrospect, was one of the "wackiest, unbelievable" games he's ever been involved in.

Next up was Utah, with its unusual spread offense, and the Ducks came away 17-13 losers.

Oregon (4-2, 1-1) heads to Arizona State (2-3, 0-2) this Saturday.

Last season the Sun Devils defeated Oregon 45-42, starting Oregon's slump in which it dropped six of the last seven games. The Ducks had won six straight going into the game and were ranked No. 6.

Injuries have hurt the Ducks this year.

"I think right now what's occurred, and it's unfortunate, is we're down about eight players for the season," Bellotti said. "We lost six before the first game."

The focus now must be on the team's mentality, so that they don't get caught in a downward spiral like last season when everyone just expected that they'd snap out of it, Bellotti said.

"Those that we here last year learned something from that," he said. "I still sense a really good feeling on the team. It's difficult when you lose after you win."

And Bellotti points out that the Pacific-10 Conference is so unpredictable that the Ducks are still in it. Oregon State and Washington State are the only two Pac-10 teams undefeated in conference play.

"We're one game out, that's the reality of it," Bellotti said. "I think we still have a chance to be a factor in this whole thing. And it's important that our players understand that."<

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SCOUTING THE SUN DEVILS:@ Like Oregon, Arizona State is feeling a little pressure to turn around the season starting this Saturday.

The Sun Devils, expected before the start to be among the contenders for the Pac-10 title, have lost three straight.

Their most recent was a 37-17 loss last Saturday to Southern California.

"(It was) when we got down 10 points that we sort of got that 'here we go again' mentality that you have when you are on a team that is on a losing streak. This is not acceptable, we have to get this changed or else we aren't going to get anything done," coach Dirk Koetter said.

Arizona State has not lost four straight since dropping five games to close out the 2001 season.

Last season, the Sun Devils came to Autzen Stadium to face the 6-0 Ducks and walked away with a hard-fought 45-42 victory. Oregon had won the previous four games in the series.

Koetter said these are markedly different squads this time around.

"I've looked at the tapes and Mike said he was going to look at the tapes. It's a chess match, what parts get taken out of that and stuck in here," he said. "There are totally different guys playing now. There were guys missing who were big factors in that game and some new guys on the scene."

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^EXTRA POINTS:@ Arizona State leads the series over Oregon 14-9 dating back to its start in 1966. The Sun Devils are 7-3 over the Ducks in Tempe. ... ASU coach Dirk Koetter was offensive coordinator at Oregon in 1996-97. ... Oregon's defense is allowing opponents an average of just 70.3 yards on the ground.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index