BYU could be to Oregon what Miami was to BYU.
As probably the highest-ranked team the Ducks will play this year, BYU presents Oregon with a rare opportunity to vault into the national spotlight. A victory over the Cougars Saturday in a game in Eugene starting at 1:30 p.m. MDT could launch the Ducks well into the Top 20, especially after their impressive showing in a close loss to 13th-ranked Arizona last week.A win would also improve the Ducks' chances of playing in a bowl game for the second year in a row, something Oregon has never done.
Last year the Ducks finished tied for second in the Pac-10; this year they were picked in most preseason polls to place no higher than fifth. They were expected to stumble because of the loss of 23 players, including Derek Loville, the No. 1 rusher and scorer in Oregon history; wide receiver Terry Obee, who had 46 catches last year; and three starters each on the offensive line and defensive secondary.
But Oregon Coach Rich Brooks said the losses were not unusual, and his team's 2-1 record seems to bear that out. The Ducks beat San Diego State 42-21 and Idaho 55-23 before the 22-17 loss to Arizona.
"Our (player) losses are about normal," Brooks said. "We were abnormal a year ago when we had to replace only one starter. That just doesn't happen very often."
Since the season started the Ducks have lost starting wide receiver Tony Hargain and starting fullback Brandon Jumper to season-ending injuries, but the team continues to play well - primarily because it still has quarterback Bill Musgrave.
Musgrave is a four-year starter for
the Ducks who had passed for 5,732 yards and 43 touchdowns entering this season. Last year - the first in which he didn't miss games due to injury - he amassed 3,061 yards and 22 TDs. In the Independence Bowl against Tulsa, he threw for 320 yards and was named most valuable player. BYU fans may remember him for the 489 yards he rolled up against the Cougars in Provo last year.
This season, Musgrave has thrown for 798 yards on 59.8 percent passing, with five TDs and four interceptions. Still, he is rarely mentioned with the nation's elite quarterbacks, perhaps because of the difficulty of getting media exposure in Eugene, Ore. But while other QBs that BYU has faced - notably Craig Erickson of Miami and Dan McGwire of San Diego State - have gotten more publicity, Musgrave may be the best of the three.
With the loss of Hargain, Musgrave's favorite targets have been tight end Jeff Thomason (14 catches), flanker Michael McClellan (13 catches) and split end Joe Reitzug (12 catches). It's clearly a balanced passing attack, like BYU's, with the difference that the Ducks don't throw as much to running backs. Oregon's three main running backs have caught just 12 passes combined.
Reitzug, by the way, caught seven passes for 136 yards against BYU in '89.
And the pass isn't the Ducks' only mode of attack. Against Idaho they racked up 398 yards on the ground, tailbacks Ngalu Kelemeni and Sean Burwell accounting for 149 and 126, respectively. Kelemeni is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, Burwell 5.8. And fullback Juan Shedrick has gained 77 yards on just 11 carries.
The Duck defense, which was less than spectacular against San Diego State and Idaho, made its best showing in the Arizona game, limiting the Wildcats to 192 yards total offense and eight first downs.
One thing Oregon has in common with BYU: a tendency to give away more than it gets. The Ducks have lost five fumbles and have seen five passes intercepted this season, while getting just one fumble and one interception. The Cougars have committed 11 turnovers, gotten four.