OF COURSE it's fun to focus on the amusement-park aspects of the Oregon offense: the trick plays with names like 71 Stogie Switch, the triple options, the double passes, and the pitches to, of all people, tight end Ed Dickson. "When everything's falling into place and we move the ball, it's a ton of fun," says junior right tackle C.E. Kaiser.
All the bells and whistles and gaudy statistics from last year (41.9 points and 280.1 rushing yards per game, for starters) tend to obscure the fact that the show run by quarterback-ringmaster Jeremiah Masoli is predicated on five brutes winning battles along the line of scrimmage.
In Masoli, Dickson and running back LeGarrette Blount the Ducks boast some of the nation's most dangerous skill-position players. But here is the rub: Gone from last year's 10-win squad are four starters from the line, three of whom—center Max Unger (second round, Seahawks), left tackle Fenuki Tupou (fifth round, Eagles) and right guard Mark Lewis (free agent, Dolphins)—are now in the NFL. How their replacements fare will largely determine whether the Ducks exceed or fall short of expectations.
Kaiser (6'4", 290 pounds) started 10 games last season and is the team's most experienced returnee—and potentially its most devastating run blocker. Last year he broke a 16-year-old school record, power-cleaning 374 pounds. Alongside him will be right guard Mark Asper (6'7", 323), a sophomore with excellent feet and only one college start. But Asper is a hard-boiled veteran compared with baby-faced redshirt freshman Carson York (6'5", 285), who is expected to take over at left guard. The new left tackle is Bo Thran (6'5", 295), a junior who made four of his five career starts at guard. They'll all be taking signals from center Jordan Holmes (6'5", 285), another junior whose four starts have come at guard.
Don't panic, Duck Nation. You have a tremendous resource in Steve Greatwood, who last season was voted the nation's top offensive line coach by his peers. While his guys may not have many starts, Greatwood says they have plenty of "experience in the system." Another slight edge: When Masoli is the ballcarrier—which is often—it frees up a running back to be an extra blocker, making it easier for the Ducks to get "a hat on a hat," says Greatwood.
"We're not as big or as strong as last year," says Holmes, "but we're quick and we're smart and we're mean. As soon as we get our communication down, we'll be good to go."
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"WHEN WE MOVE THE BALL," SAYS KAISER, "IT'S A TON OF FUN."
COACH: Chip Kelly (1st year)
2008 RECORD: 10--3 (7--2 in Pac-10)
FINAL AP RANK: 10
RETURNING STARTERS: 10
Offense 5, Defense 5
3 at Boise State
3 Washington State
10 at UCLA
24 at Washington
7 at Stanford
14 Arizona State
21 at Arizona
3 Oregon State
In what could be the Pac-10's game of the year, USC will spend Halloween in Eugene. Scary fact: The Trojans haven't won in the state of Oregon since 2005.
QBs Justin Roper and Chris Harper left the program in the spring, leaving the backup job to sophomore Darron Thomas. Against Boise State last September, Thomas, with 210 passing yards and three TDs in the fourth quarter, almost rallied the Ducks from a 24-point deficit.
ERIC EVANS PHOTOGRAPHY
Holmes moves over to center after making four starts at guard in 2008.