Clemens, Ducks not intimidated by USC
Oregon respects USC's array of talent, but the Ducks see some ways to attack the top-ranked Trojans.
EUGENE, Ore. -- The Oregon Ducks have read the papers. They have seen the video where Arkansas looked like a bunch of white-clad Wile E. Coyotes, watching the Road Runner stick out his tongue and sprint past them.
If you try to soften the blow of facing No. 1 USC, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti stops you in midsentence.
"They're as good as they look," Bellotti said Thursday evening. "It's the same team that won a national championship, that shocked Oklahoma in a national championship game."
Acknowledging that is not the same as giving in to it. As Bellotti described it, the enemy of his team is tentativeness, the lack of discipline that comes from being intimidated by a team that has won its first two games by a collective score of 133-34.
His players are saying the right things.
"We have a lot of respect for them," senior quarterback Kellen Clemens said after practice Thursday. "We're a long way from being afraid of them. They are susceptible to things. There are chinks in the armor. It's thick armor. But there are chinks. We'll have to expose them."
They may not be weaknesses as much as they are evidence of mortality. The Trojans are young on defense, and with injuries knocking cornerback Terrell Thomas and linebacker Dallas Sartz out of the lineup, getting younger by the game.
Oregon's switch to a spread offense appears to have gone well. The Ducks have averaged 490.7 yards and 40.7 points in starting 3-0. But it won't help in one fashion. The old-school way to stop an explosive offense like the one belonging to No. 1 USC is to keep it off the field. Reggie Bush can't dance away from anyone if he's standing next to coach Pete Carroll.
Oregon isn't built for chewing up the clock. It's the opposite -- the Ducks don't even like to huddle.
"We're out quick," Clemens said. "We try to keep the pressure on the defense. Our main goal is to score. If we need to slow it down and huddle and milk down the play clock, we'll do it. That doesn't fit too well."
That, in turn, means the Ducks' defense will have to play better than it has in the first three games. Fresno State quarterback Paul Pinegar became Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week after going 33 of 43 for 418 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's 37-34 victory last Saturday.
"They have great athletes, great ability and a lot of it," Oregon senior cornerback Justin Phinisee said of USC. "A lot of their plays come from busted plays. They make a play. It comes down to [us] being competitive."
Most offenses, Phinisee said, don't adjust within a play.
"Most of the time, you take away a route, the receiver sees you in his way and he's beat," Phinisee said. "They [USC] don't settle. If they see you taking away a post, they turn it into a post corner. They know each other. They have some type of chemistry. You want to keep everything in front of you."
If the Trojans don't settle, Phinisee said, the Ducks can't either.
"Your competitiveness has to go up a notch," he said. "It's not just any game. You always want to play against the best. Playing against number one, with athletes such as they have, that's what you're here for."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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