Oct. 26, 2001
By JOHN K. WILEY Associated Press Writer
SPOKANE, Wash. - Oregon coach Mike Bellotti biggest fears this week are a laid-back Hawaiian, a transfer who caught only 14 passes last season and a soft-spoken basketball point guard.
The 14th-ranked Cougars play host to the No. 11 Ducks on Saturday at Martin Stadium in Pullman.
Bellotti said Washington State offers the best opponent the Ducks (6-1, 3-1) have played so far.
"Look at the Pac-10 statistics," Belloti said. "Washington State is first in three of four major offensive categories. They are 1, 2, 4 and 5 in all defensive stats.
"By far, they are statistically the best team in the conference and certainly the best team we have played to date."
Gesser, a junior from Hawaii who's thrown for 19 touchdowns, leads the conference in total offense and passing, averaging 265 yards. The Cougars lead the Pac-10 in scoring, averaging 44 points, and in total offense, at 492 yards.
The Ducks are not far behind, averaging 38.6 points.
Bush, the top scorer on the Cougars' basketball team, averages 87 yards receiving, just behind McElrath the conference leader and junior college transfer who caught only 14 passes for 303 yards last season.
McElrath leads the conference in receptions per game (7) and receiving yards per game (112). He and Bush each have scored eight TDs.
So what causes Bellotti sleepless nights?
"Jason Gesser and the big receivers," he said. "It's a combination of those two: Jason's elusiveness, his creativity, his daring, because he will put the ball up for those guys and he has great confidence in their ability."
Ducks linebacker Seth McEwen said Oregon need a strong pass rush to keep Gesser contained.
"They pose a lot of problems. They have a great offensive line and a really strong running back that hits the holes strong and hard," he said. "They also have big wide receivers and a very mobile quarterback. That right there is a lot to handle."
John Tippins, who scored four touchdowns and combined for 194 yards last week, will start for the Cougars in place of Dave Minnich, their leading rusher, who underwent knee surgery two weeks ago. Minnich could play, but the decision won't be made until game time, Price said.
The Cougars are also a concern defensively, Bellotti said.
"I think the improvement in the Washington State team has been more in the defense," the Ducks coach said.
The Cougars have a veteran secondary in senior safeties Billy Newman and Lamont Thompson, who have combined for 86 tackles, and defensive end D.D. Acholonu, who has eight of Washington State's 26 sacks.
Oregon will have to go to the run to keep Joey Harrington out of harm's way, Bellotti said.
Harrington averages 240 yards passing with 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions and is nearly even with Gesser in pass efficiency.
What could make the difference for the Ducks are special teams, particularly Onterrio Smith, who averages 31 yards per kick return and nearly 112 all-purpose yards per game.
A WSU victory would set up a potential battle of conference unbeatens Nov. 3 at Pullman if No. 4 UCLA beats No. 20 Stanford on Saturday.