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Oregon dealing well with obstacles

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, especially in Eugene, it is most likely en route to the end zone. There is no denying that Chip Kelly is building something special at Oregon, and the result may just be a national title in the near future.

The Ducks have had to deal with their fair share of adversity under Kelly, whether it be last year's embarrassing display following the season-opener at Boise State which resulted in the dismissal of one of the team's top offensive weapons, or the dismissal of one of the nation's most dangerous (in more ways than one) signal-callers prior to the 2010 campaign.

In either case, Oregon has possessed the depth to compensate for the losses, and may actually be better for it.

The team lost All-Pac-10 QB Jeremiah Masoli before the season began, as he was sent packing in the summer after a series of off-the-field criminal incidents. With a loss like that, most teams would temper their expectations for the upcoming season, but not Oregon.

Give Kelly credit for knowing his personnel and what they were capable of.

"It's always a question mark when you lose your quarterback," Kelly said prior to the season. "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."

Give Chip Kelly credit for knowing his personnel and what they were capable of.
Kelly has been proven correct in his preseason confidence. Costa has played in all three games, but it has been Thomas who has taken over this team. The 6-3 sophomore has completed just over 53 percent of his passes, with eight TDs against just two INTs.

Still, if you know anything about Oregon football, it is that the Ducks are going to run the ball down the opposition's throat. This is a run-happy offense and there aren't many teams in the country doing it better than Oregon. The Ducks lead the country in scoring (63.0 ppg) and total offense (611.7 ypg), while ranking second in rushing (380.7 ypg), on an astounding 6.9 yards per carry. With 189 points scored thus far, Oregon is averaging just a hair over one point per minute -- an amazing statistic.

LaMichael James got a chance to handle the bulk of the carries in 2009 when LeGarrette Blount was suspended after the opener. James made the most of it, rumbling for a Pac-10 freshman record 1,546 yards and helping Kelly become the first coach in Pac-10 history to claim an outright conference title in his first season.

James himself was suspended for the 2010 season-opener against New Mexico, but again, Oregon's depth proved to be the difference. The Ducks rushed for 369 yards behind Kenjon Barner (147 yards, four TDs) and Remene Alston (110 yards).

James has made up for lost time and in the two games since the UNM win, has rushed for a team-high 361 yards with three TDs. His 180.5 yards per game would place him third nationally, if he had played in 75 percent of his team's games, but despite officially being absent among the national leaders right now, he has still run for 37 more yards than any other Pac-10 rusher.

With the offense putting up such ridiculous numbers, the Oregon defense gets overlooked, and the athletic Ducks have been equally as impressive on that side of the football. The results are obvious, with UO pitching two shutouts in the first three games, albeit against the likes of New Mexico and bottom-tier FCS foe Portland State.

A big play unit, Oregon leads the nation in scoring defense (4.3 ppg) and pass efficiency defense (61.2) and ranks third in pass defense (99.7 ypg). The Ducks have already recorded 11 takeaways in 12 quarters of football (five interceptions, six fumble recoveries) to go along with 22 TFLs and seven sacks.

The Ducks will begin defense of their Pac-10 crown this weekend in Tempe, when they take on the Arizona State Sun Devils. Picked toward the bottom of the conference standings prior to the season, the Sun Devils have played well and shocked just about everyone with their narrow loss against nationally-ranked Wisconsin last weekend in Madison.

Can the Sun Devils carry that performance over into their showdown with yet another of the nation's premier teams, or will it be another opponent succumbing to the juggernaut that is the Oregon Ducks?

The way Oregon is playing right now, the latter seems more likely.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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