No Secret To Oregon's Success

Dixon and Stewart driving Ducks to top of Pac-10, polls

Nov. 2, 2007

College Football Preview: Week 10

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> B.J.: Corn-shusked  |  Amsinger: Weekly Picks  |  Sorenson: 10 Questions  |   Braff: Boise's Back
> Trev: Look Out For 'Bama  |  Ohio State Isn't No. 1   |  Palm: Soft Schedule Warriors
> Hart: Georgia Not Top 10 Material  |  Roland: Alabama's Not What They Appear
> Caparell: No Secret To Oregon's Success  |  Crystal Ball: Weekend Predictions

By Adam Caparell



Adam is's football editor and national football writer.
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Mike Bellotti knew a little something everyone in the country apparently didn't.


When the media released its preseason poll predicting the order of finish in the Pac-10 this summer, Bellotti could only laugh when he saw his Ducks were picked to finish sixth in the conference.


"I sort of smiled inwardly," the Oregon coach said. "I thought we were a better football team than that."




Bellotti's preseason premonitions could not have been more on point. His Ducks are 7-1, are ranked fourth in the country and are considered by many to be the cream of the crop in the Pac-10. The Ducks aren't just better than the sixth team in the Pac-10 - it's tough to argue that there are six teams in the country better than Oregon.


But one of those teams in the argument happens to be the sixth-ranked team in the nation and a squad that was picked to finish ahead of the Ducks in the Pac-10.


That team, of course, is Arizona State, a surprise in its own right, having emerged from the depths of the unranked all the way to No. 6 in the polls.


And in this wild, wacky and unbelievably unpredictable season, who would have ever thought that the biggest game on the first weekend of November would be played in Eugene?


But that's college football for you in 2007. The two teams in the Pac-10 playing at the highest level aren't USC and Cal, the teams picked to finish first and second respectively, but rather the surprise Ducks and Sun Devils. Only the success of the two schools isn't much of a surprise to Bellotti.


"It wasn't like they weren't a good football team," Bellotti said of the 8-0 Sun Devils. "But they're playing at a level that's now maybe unsurpassed in the conference. They're statistically one of the best teams in this conference, if not the best team in this conference."


Sounds an awful lot like the Ducks, doesn't it?


Bellotti's crew owns one of the most potent offenses in not only the Pac-10, but the country. Led by the lethal Dennis Dixon, the Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback is helping drive Oregon to 524 yards of offense and 47 points per game while seemingly running past every defense they've seen.  


But according to their coach, the real success of the Ducks may not lie in the capable hands of Dixon. The team MVP just might be the man who Dixon hands the ball off to, Jonathan Stewart.


"I think Dennis is directing this offense and done some things and really is the trigger man, but Jonathan is the guy who sort of carries the team and at times is really putting the team on his back," Bellotti said.


Stewart already has 1,043 yards rushing on the year, a career high, and nine touchdowns, one away from last season's total, through the Ducks' first eight games. He's run for 100 yards or more in six games and cranked out a 251 performance against Washington on the road two weeks ago.


But maybe his most impressive outing came last week against USC where Stewart pounded out a tough 103 yards on 25 carries for two scores against one of the best run defenses in the country. It was the first time all season the Trojans had allowed a 100-yard rushing performance and it was a big reason why the Trojans were eliminated from national championship contention before Halloween.


"He's scary, he really is," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "He reminds me of [former Oregon State running back] Steven Jackson, to be quite honest with you. That kind of size, has great speed like Steven has, breaks tackles, great feet and sees things so well.  I haven't seen a back like him since Steven in a long time."


Jackson did some impressive things under Erickson in Corvallis and while Stewart still has a ways to go to produce the kind of career numbers Jackson did as a Beaver, the progression of Stewart has been striking. He didn't carry the ball much his freshman season but emerged as the Ducks' rushing leader last season at the cusp of realizing all of his considerable talents. This year he's been unleashed as the Ducks' rock-steady running back while Dixon gets most of the props and pub.


"I think there's some God-given skills that you don't have to coach or can't coach, but [Stewart's] gotten better," Bellotti said. "He's seeing the holes, running with power, he's getting outside running with his agility, making more people miss, maintaining his balance through tackles and he's still punishing people and still moving the pile. It's just a natural maturation. It's really only his third year."


But Bellotti certainly won't sell Dixon short. How can he when Dixon has put up such impressive numbers? The senior, who spent his summer playing minor league baseball, has thrown for nearly 1,900 yards, 16 touchdowns and only three picks while rushing for close to 500 yards and eight scores. All this from a guy who never ran for a touchdown during his high school career.


"It's been experience," Bellotti said. "Fifth year in the program, third year in the system. I think Chip Kelly has done a great job of helping him understand a few things more about this offense and the corresponding response of the defense. And I think he's been a better student of the game."


While there's a lot to be impressed with, the thing that's caught Bellotti's eye more than anything so far this year is how improved Dixon's decision making has been. That TD-INT ratio says it all. Bellotti will point out that Dixon had a similarly impressive first half of the season in 2006, but he couldn't finish off the season.


"He's in the process of finishing this season," Bellotti said.


Dixon and Stewart are having great individual seasons, but the two of them combined are making the Ducks practically unbeatable. They're a fumbled ball in the end zone away from potentially being undefeated right now.


"They're both great players having great seasons, but I can't envision what we'd be doing not having either one of them," Bellotti said. "They are great athletes making great plays."


And clearly motivated as well. Dixon was named a team captain before the season began and Bellotti said you could see the confidence carry over from fall camp. The coach also used the diss of the predicted sixth-place finish in the conference to rev up his team as the season kicked off.


"A lot of times young men respond to the challenge of disrespect, so to speak," Bellotti said.


And no one is disrespecting the Ducks now. Not at 7-1, among a handful of national championship contenders, and not when teams have to game plan for two headaches in Dixon and Stewart.