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Ducks rise to No. 20 in AP poll

The Associated Press

EUGENE -- The points were piling up so quickly, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti could hardly keep count.

It was a game of big plays, Bellotti said of the Ducks' 58-3 dismantling of San Jose State on Saturday. I can't remember them all, because they happened so fast.

It's been that way in both homes games for Oregon, which moved from No. 22 to 20 in this week's AP Top 25 after improving to 3-0 for the fourth straight season. The Ducks routed Michigan State 48-14 in the opener at home, then stumbled past UTEP 33-26 before Saturday's impressive win before 41,868 at Autzen Stadium.

Oregon was ranked No. 21 in the USA TODAY/ESPN poll.

The 55-point margin was Oregon's biggest since a 58-0 drubbing of Washington in October 1973, and the Ducks' biggest point output since a 59-6 win over UNLV in 1992. It was the worst defeat for San Jose State (1-2) since November 1968, when the Spartans were hammered by Arizona State 66-0.

Even with the lackluster performance against UTEP, the Ducks are on a school-record pace for points scored. Oregon has outscored opponents 139-43, its most points after three games since 1916.

That season, Oregon had a 164-14 scoring edge through three games, including a 97-0 win over Willamette. The Ducks finished 7-0-1 and went on to score their only Rose Bowl victory, 14-0, over Penn. Last year the Ducks set a school record by scoring 380 points in 12 games, but a mediocre defense left them out of contention for an alliance bowl game.

This season, the offense is just as potent, and the defense and special teams have improved. On Saturday. Michael Fletcher returned a punt 70 yards for the Ducks' first score, and Rashad Bauman ran back an interception by Marcus Arroyo 80 yards for another touchdown.

In between, Akili Smith threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jed Weaver. In the first quarter, the Oregon offense was on the field for just six plays and 1:16 and still built a 21-0 lead.

We were sitting down on the sideline, looking at each other saying, `Stay loose,' and jumping around, stretching, Smith said. (Fletcher's return) set the tempo, and we went from there.

The defense didn't allow a touchdown for the first time since a 7-0 win over Oregon State in 1992.

Another area of improvement is the kicking game. Nathan Villegas is 9-of-9 on field goals, compared to last season when Oregon's two kickers combined to make just 10-of-15. And punter Josh Bidwell is averaging 49.3 yards per kick, up 8.5 yards from 1997.

Bellotti, 12-0 in non-conference games at Oregon, acknowledges that the team's early-season opponents aren't an indication of the resistance it will face in the Pacific-10. The Ducks begin the conference schedule Saturday at home against Stanford, which has beaten them six of eight times in the 1990s.

Things change now, Bellotti said. When you get to the Pac-10 schedule, it all changes. There's an increase in intensity, an increase in importance. We have to be ready to step up our level of play, and again come out with the type of emotional enthusiasm that we've had each of the times we've played at Autzen Stadium.