No. 2 Ducks reopen practice, get ready for Bruins

With just a brief respite at the midseason mark, second-ranked

Oregon is beginning its preparations for UCLA next Thursday

night.

The Ducks practiced behind closed doors earlier this week before

a couple of days off for their bye. They head back to practice as

usual on Saturday.

Oregon jumped up a spot in the polls after former No. 1 Alabama

lost last week. The upset moved Ohio State into the top spot and

the Ducks moved to No. 2 ahead of Boise State.

Coach Chip Kelly kept the first couple of practices private –

with no fans and no media – and did his best to take the spotlight

off the Ducks, while fans excitedly anticipated the possibility of

an upset when the Buckeyes face No. 18 Wisconsin this Saturday.

”We don’t look at this as a bye week, we look at this as an

improvement week,” Kelly said about what his sheltered team was

doing. ”We’re just stressing fundamentals, because fundamentals is

what wins for you. Blocking, tackling, ball security are huge

priorities for us this week.”

Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-10), with its blurringly fast spread-option

offense, is led by sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas and running

back LaMichael James, a fellow sophomore who is rising up the

Heisman hopeful list.

In five games this season, James has rushed for 893 yards and

nine touchdowns. He ran for 136 yards and two scores and also

caught a TD pass in Oregon’s 43-23 victory over Washington State

last weekend.

Thomas, who has thrown for 1,231 yards with 14 touchdowns

through six games, hurt his shoulder against the Cougars and his

status for the UCLA game has not been released by Kelly.

Similarly, there is little known about the condition of running

back and return specialist Kenjon Barner, who sustained a

concussion at Washington State.

UCLA (3-3, 1-2) is more of a mystery with an upset victory over

then-No. 7 Texas earlier this season but a 35-7 loss last weekend

at California. The Bruins also have an open date this weekend.

On Tuesday, the Bruins suspended receiver Josh Smith and F-back

Morrell Presley for the Oregon game for violating team rules. UCLA

would not release more details, citing student privacy.

Smith is the Bruins’ top kick returner, averaging 27.4 yards on

14 kickoff returns. The junior transfer student from Colorado also

caught three passes and rushed for 74 yards in UCLA’s first six

games.

Presley, whose position is a combination of fullback and tight

end, was suspended for a game last season for another undisclosed

violation of team rules. He also has caught three passes this

season while starting all six games.

Earlier this week, Kelly pointed to a 24-10 victory over UCLA as

one of last season’s highlights.

”I believed that because of how banged up we were going into

that game, and how injured our guys were that week in practice,

that arguably was our best football game as a team last year,” the

coach said. ”Now, I know the fans don’t think that, but I know as

a coaching staff we believe that, and I know our players believed

that.”

The Ducks are 6-0 for the first time since 2002, but that season

they dropped six of their final seven, including a 38-17 loss to

Wake Forest in the now-defunct Seattle Bowl.