Focus key to No. 7 Oregon's success

EUGENE — It was the only way that No. 7 Oregon could rebuild its season following the drama of its opener: Forget, focus and forge ahead.

The Ducks, ranked No. 16 going into the season with what was believed to be one of the nation's most formidable and innovative offenses, nose-dived with a 19-8 loss to Boise State on national television.

Adding insult to injury, running back LeGarrette Blount punched Byron Hout in the aftermath of the loss, bringing the Broncos' defensive end to his knees. The next day, first-year coach Chip Kelly suspended Blount for the season.

The Ducks were forced to start over for the next week's game against Purdue.

"Because of how poorly we performed and everything that happened there, Purdue was it, that was our season if we didn't win," linebacker Mark Asper said. "The fans would've set sail on us, the media would have buried us, so we rallied together and said. 'Look, Purdue, Saturday, that's our goal.'"

The strategy worked. Oregon defeated the Boilermakers 38-36. So the Ducks did it again against then-No. 18 Utah.

"Then Utah, a ranked team, came in and we thought we could send a message, and from then on it was a habit and our atmosphere here," Asper said. "We bought in."

Oregon (7-1, 5-0 Pac-10) has won each of its games since the loss on Boise State's trademark blue turf, topped thus far by a 47-20 statement-making victory over USC this past Saturday.

The Ducks, who sit atop the Pac-10 standings as the league's only undefeated team, visit Stanford (5-3, 4-2) this Saturday.

While the game has all the trappings of becoming a classic "letdown" loss, the recent past would indicate the Ducks have already put aside the Trojans.

"We've talked about it in our team meetings: If beating USC is all we're known for, or if we want to win the Pac-10," quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said.

Oregon ranks eighth in the nation for rushing offense with an average of 233.25 yards a game. The Ducks are averaging 35.63 points per game, ninth best in the nation.

Defensively, Oregon ranks among the country's top 25 teams for pass defense (179.38 yards), scoring defense (17.13 points) and total defense (300.88 yards).

Perhaps the Boise State loss was a fluke, but Oregon has proven adept at overcoming controversy. Earlier in the season when Masoli was castigated for relying too much on his scrambling ability, he came back and threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-3 victory over then-No. 6 California.

And the Blount drama still lingers.

Kelly spurred continued debate when he announced the Ducks could reinstate Blount if he met certain academic and behavioral requirements. His earliest possible return was set for the Stanford game, but Oregon had made no moves to bring him back.

Blount continues to practice with the team and the Ducks have used the situation to their advantage. Blount was Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best during practice for California and Oregon ended up holding Best to 55 yards.

This week he's practiced on the scout team as Stanford's Toby Gerhart.

After the Cardinal, the Ducks host Arizona State, visit No. 21 Arizona and wrap up at Autzen against Oregon State in the annual Civil War rivalry game.

From the disappointment of that loss to Boise State, Oregon has emerged as the current favorite to wrestle the Pac-10 crown from Southern California, which has won the title for the past seven straight years.

"Coach Kelly does a good job keeping our head on straight," said linebacker Casey Matthews. "We're 7-1 right now and he'll say 'Congratulations, you've now guaranteed you can go 7-5.'

"We know what's at stake. We know we can't afford to be looking forward to upcoming games."

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