EUGENE, Ore. The University of Oregon defense, expected to be a strong suit heading into the 2008 season, didn’t do anything to bunk that expectation during the Ducks’ first extended scrimmage of the spring on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, barring the offense from the end zone in all but two of 14 series.

Junior linebacker Kevin Garrett wasted little time in setting the tone for the day, picking off Justin Roper’s first pass attempt on the exhibition’s opening play. Sophomore corner Anthony Gildon intercepted a Darron Thomas offering midway through the 69-play scrimmage, and true freshman John Boyett reeled in Cade Cooper’s deflected pass attempt to end the game.

"I don't think we threw the ball particularly well but thought we ran it well,” said head coach Mike Bellotti. “I thought the offensive line and running backs did some very, very good things. I think our quarterbacks need to improve.”

As lackluster as the passing game was for UO 83 yards, 13 completions on 26 attempts with three interceptions the Ducks’ rushing attack displayed flashes of prowess while churning out 156 yards on 39 carries, including two scores.

Newcomer LeGarrette Blount, a junior college transfer who arrived early to participate in spring camp, ripped off several impressive runs among his 11 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown. The Florida native had four rushes for 10-plus yards, including a 17-yarder that ended with him dragging a gang of defenders for the final five yards.

“LeGarrette Blount is better than I thought he might be at this stage simply because of his JC status,” Bellotti said. “But the other two guys (Remene Alston and Andre Crenshaw) also have gotten much better because the presence of LeGarrette has pushed them.”

Crenshaw, a junior, carried 10 times for 31 yards and a TD, and the sophomore Alston piled up 34 yards on six attempts.

"I thought there was some decent hitting out there, but I don't think we tackled very well on defense and don't think we played smart defense,” Bellotti said. “I was surprised that we were able to run on 3rd-and-long and make first downs. I thought the defense was resting a little bit at times.”

It should be noted that Oregon’s offense was without senior running back Jeremiah Johnson, an expected starter, and redshirt sophomore quarterback Nate Costa, both of whom are limited to non-contact drills this spring after coming off knee injuries suffered last fall.

Roper, the starter for last season’s Sun Bowl victory over South Florida, saw the most action among the five quarterbacks who played. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 25 yards and added five more on the ground.

True freshman-to-be Chris Harper was the most efficient of the bunch, completing both of his pass attempts for short gains and rushing three times for 14 yards.

In addition to the trio of interceptions, the UO defense also recovered a fumbled snap by the true freshman Thomas with senior tackle Simi Toeaina recovering the loose ball.

Redshirt freshman rover Todd Doxey did a nice job filling in for hobbled veterans Patrick Chung and Marvin Johnson by pacing the defense with four solo tackles, including one for loss. Garrett and redshirt frosh Eddie Pleasant had 3.5 tackles apiece, and senior Mike Speed and sophomore Casey Matthews each recorded a tackle for loss.

The Ducks were 3-of-4 in field goal attempts, highlighted by a 53-yard bomb from senior starter Matt Evensen.

"I wasn't very pleased with the offense not taking advantage of good field position,” Bellotti said. “They drove the ball and moved it in a positive direction, but then when they got into good field position, they had to settle for field goals. We have to be more opportunistic.”

Oregon has eight more spring practices, culminating in the Spring Game on Saturday, April 26 at 2 p.m. The team’s next scrimmage will take place at the end of practice on Friday.

"There were no significant injuries today,” Bellotti added. “Although I think a couple of guys got banged up a little.”

Oregon Offensive Statistics
Passing (C-A-Y-I-TD)
Thomas, 2-3-14-1-0
Cooper, 1-4-12-1-0
Harper, 2-2-3-0-0
Roper, 6-10-25-1-0
Kempt, 2-7-29-0-0

Rushing (A-YDS-TD)
Blount, 11-68-1
Alston, 6-34
Crenshaw, 10-31-1
Harper, 3-14
Thomas, 1-8
Roper, 2-5
Cooper, 1-5
Maehl, 1-(-1)
Block, 1-(-1)
Kempt, 3-(-7)

Receiving (R-YDS-TD)
Holland, 4-32
Williams, 4-18
Barkley, 2-18
Oberding, 1-8
Davis, 2-7

Oregon Defensive Leaders
Tackles
Doxey, 4
Garrett, 3.5
Pleasant, 3.5
Jackson, 3
Gildon, 2.5
Matthews, 2.5
Thurmond III, 2.5

Tackles for Loss
Boyett, 1
Garrett, 1
Gildon, 1