UCLA Puzzled by Oregon Two-Quarterback Offense

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Every day, Rocky Long looks across Spaulding Field at Oregon's offense.

The UCLA defense doesn't practice against it, having been more concerned about preparing to stop Washington State, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and Houston. But it's been there all along.

That's because Oregon's offense is UCLA's offense, handed down in Eugene from Bob Toledo to Mike Bellotti to Al Borges and now to Dirk Koetter, coordinators all.

Toledo taught it to the Bruins, then Borges polished it when Toledo became the coach and brought Borges from Eugene to Westwood.

So Long, UCLA's defensive coordinator, will stand on the sideline here today and signal ways for the 18th-ranked Bruins (3-2, 1-1 in the Pacific 10) to stop the Ducks (3-2, 1-2).

It's all fairly familial, but with a fillip.

Oregon's offense will be led by quarterback Jason Maas.

Or by Akili Smith.

Actually, both, which has confounded Long all week.

Which is fine with Bellotti, Oregon's coach.

"We utilize both of them," he said. "And there are plays for each of them. There are Jason plays. Then there are Akili plays. And there are plays that are down the middle that both of them can run.

"It depends on what kind of defense we see. Both do a great job. The team has responded to both. It's a very effective offense."

It's a very confusing offense, familiarity notwithstanding, because of the people running it.

"They're different styles, and they run different plays with them," Long said. "Maas is more of a drop-back guy, Smith is more of a roll-out, sprint-out, option guy. So they run different plays with them.

"You have to have a different game plan for each guy. It's difficult to prepare for because we have basically two different plans of attack, depending on who the quarterback is. So you have to practice both of them, because you know they're going to use both of them.

"It's not like one of them is the backup quarterback. They're both going to play, so you have to practice for both of their styles."

Maas is a junior, with four years in the system, and he got the lion's share of the playing time in Oregon's first four games, three of them victories. So far the more effective passer, he has completed 57.8% of his 109 throws for 816 yards, but he has fallen into an interception habit. He has been intercepted seven times, including three times last week in a 24-13 loss to Washington State.

Smith is also a junior, but transferred in the spring from Grossmont College, where he threw for 3,212 yards last season. He is still learning the Oregon system but showed against Washington State that he is picking it up. Smith threw for 205 yards against the Cougars and, for the first time all season, graded out higher than Maas.

"I've said all along that Akili Smith is the best athlete I've ever seen playing quarterback at Oregon," Bellotti said.

Based on his play against Washington State, Smith is the probable starter against the Bruins, but that really doesn't seem to matter.

"It seems like they split time in the first half," Long said. "Then my impression of watching the tapes is, in the second half, the majority of the time, they go with who they think is hot. The Stanford game, Maas played most of the game. They split the first half and Maas played most of the second half.

"Then last week, Smith played most of the game, so I kind of think they go with whoever has the hot hand."

Or doesn't have the cold one.

It's all a bit perplexing to Bellotti, who in public puts on the usual happy face of a coach with two quarterbacks, extolling the virtues of both.

"It's a little surprising to me [that this isn't a starter-backup situation]," he said. "I didn't think it would evolve into this.

"It's probably the traditionalist in me, but I would have expected to have a starting quarterback. With what we have, if you win, people say it's fine. If you lose, you're under scrutiny."

And the Ducks have lost their last two games.

"At some point, one quarterback may have to be the starter," Bellotti said. "But I want it to be from a positive standpoint."

In other words, he wants a quarterback to take the job, not to have it because the other has lost it.

Long's fondest wish is that today, neither Maas nor Smith walks off the field as Oregon's No. 1 quarterback.

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TODAY'S GAMES

USC at ARIZONA STATE

12:30 p.m., Channel 7,

Radio: KLSX (97.1-FM)

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UCLA at OREGON

3:30 p.m., FX

Radio: AM 1150

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