Two Buck Ducks

The University of Oregon’s spring football training starts this week. Building on last year’s success with the new “spread offense,” Coach Bellotti hopes to fine tune it with sophomore quarterback Dennis Dixon, the athlete born to run it.

Mindful of a growing national following, Bellotti has his team and his fans thinking offense most of the time. His approach of playing just barely in control has won his team followers across the country. The spread offense gives the players room to be as aggressive as the coach insists they be.

Except when it counts.

The Ducks last year struggled inside the 10-yard line. Paul Martinez broke records and earned Pac-10 player-of-the-week status more than once as the team’s place-kicker. His success overshadowed the team’s biggest failure. Too often, they couldn’t punch it in from first-and-goal and had to settle for three points from the Red Zone.

Brady Leaf will be back this year and Coach Bellotti promises we’ll see plenty of both young men behind center, even if Dixon is the clear starter and Leaf is not the freewheeling scrambler that Dixon is. Leaf has earned his keep mostly as the holder for extra points and field goal attempts. His standup style suits the old Ducks better than the new Ducks.

Unless.

Unless we dispense with the point-after kicks and use every touchdown as an opportunity to run another Red Zone play. Bellotti has made his name here by insisting that his players “leave it all on the field.” So why go for one point when two are available?

The spread offense is difficult to work when the field has narrowed to ten yards or less. Spread all you want from side to side, but if every player has to fit between the ten-yard line and the end zone, eleven guys can’t get away from the other eleven.

So let Leaf also be our Red Zone quarterback. When it’s first-and-goal, bring in fresh legs and tell everyone what they already know. Everything that matters will be happening right in front of them. Leaf under center and Dixon from the shotgun gives us the best of both worlds. Let each do what he does best. And make both count.

Point-after kicks have become so mundane, some telecasts have been tempted to cut to an extra commercial rather than show it. The Ducks can make a name for themselves here.

Extra points could become fun again. If every touchdown brought the Red Zone offense out, the kickers might not be so happy, but the fans would love it. Sure, once in a while a kick to play it safe wouldn’t hurt. But our team could set itself apart by seldom leaving that extra extra point on the table.

Making it fun is no small matter. High school players flock to the west coast for our special brand of offense that sometimes seems more like basketball than football. Double-reverses, shovel passes, quarterback-as-receiver. Fans love these plays. The players who prefer the smash-mouth running game tend to stay closer to home. How many recruits will be drawn to the only team in the nation that barely needs a kicker anymore?

A two-point conversion gives a unique adrenaline rush to both sides. Because it’s a single play, each player’s intensity is at its peak. But that intensity can be its own undoing. Fakes and reverses work best when the defense commits quickest and hardest.

Misdirection and trick plays make great TV, and here’s where these two quarterbacks can really shine on point-after attempts. With Leaf under center and Dixon as a tailback, which offense will the defense be getting? Add a kicker to the backfield and watch defensive linemen scratch their heads. Remember, Leaf is an expert placeholder, so you can have everybody guessing what might be coming, up to the snap and a moment beyond.

Trader Joe’s has made a name for its inexpensive Charles Shaw wines. At $2.99, it’s popularly known as “Two Buck Chuck.” If we take this option often enough, the nation can come to know us as the “Two Buck Ducks.”