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Ducks credit turnaround to their speed

LOS ANGELES — Jeremiah Masoli is always in a rush when he's running Oregon's high-octane spread offense. He's constantly scrambling from the pocket, fast-forwarding through his progression of receivers, looking to the sideline for the next play, or simply urging his teammates to hustle, hustle, hustle.

Maybe that's why the star quarterback isn't finding it easy to slow down and smell the Roses at the close of the No. 7 Ducks' remarkable season.

"I know we had a great year, but I couldn't tell you how great," Masoli said. "That remains to be seen."

Oregon has conditioned him to think ahead — to see what's happening before it happens, even when the next happening is the Rose Bowl. Yet Masoli is aware that Oregon's recovery from a rough season-opening loss at Boise State is among college football's more remarkable stories of the year.

"A lot of guys were worried about the big picture, and coach (Chip) Kelly just told us to worry about next week," Masoli recalled Tuesday while the Ducks continued preparations for Friday's Rose Bowl against No. 8 Ohio State.

Oregon's 19-8 loss was of the type that can ruin a whole season. Not only were the Ducks dominated on national television by the Broncos, but tailback LeGarrette Blount punctuated it with his infamous postgame punch at Boise State's Byron Hout, leading to his suspension.

Kelly's response to the loss has been well-chronicled: After suspending Blount, the rookie head coach persuaded his players to focus on practice and preparation instead of the negative attention they were receiving. Following a shaky win over Purdue, the Ducks (10-2) posted back-to-back victories over ranked opponents Utah and California to get on a roll toward Pasadena.

"I wasn't surprised we came back, but it was tough at the time," said Masoli, whose standout play with freshman tailback LaMichael James led the Ducks' frenetic offense. "That was one of the worst feelings, to wonder if you messed up your season before it even really started, but we came back great from it."

Even Blount's suspension and significant injuries to top defensive players didn't slow down the Ducks, who ended the school's 15-year Rose Bowl drought with an offense that can drain even the fittest defenses.

"We look at the body language of the other team," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "We don't want a defense to be set. We want a false step at the snap, and hopefully that's created by playing fast and creating a moment of indecision for those guys."

The Ducks feel they found their offensive groove against Cal during their 42-3 victory over the then-No. 6 Golden Bears. The no-huddle scheme began to make more sense to the newcomers, and everybody found a rhythm that most defenses haven't been able to match — even in the Ducks' only other loss, they scored 42 points against Stanford.

"Hopefully the tempo will wear them down, because it's worked well for us in the past," said James, the Pac-10's offensive freshman of the year with 1,476 yards and 14 touchdowns. "It all starts in practice for us. We practice the way we play, and that makes it easier. It's tough to get used to, but you could see it all coming together for us in the Cal game."

The results are intimidating. After Masoli sat out a low-scoring win over UCLA with an injured right knee, the Ducks scored 43, 47, 42, 44, 44 and 37 points over their past six games, running over every defense in a solid Pac-10.

The Buckeyes are well aware of the book on Big Ten teams: They're too big and slow, leading to the league's overall struggles this fall. Ohio State takes exception to that label, noting the impressive athletes at most of its skill positions, but the sight of Oregon's offense is impressive to any defense.

"You can't run guys in and out as much because of their tempo, so we're going to find out how much better our wind is after all the running we've been doing," Ohio State defensive lineman Doug Worthington said.

Ohio State can appreciate the Ducks' turnaround after the Buckeyes' own recovery from a three-point home loss to USC in early September. They lost just once the rest of the way in what could turn out to be the best four-year stretch in school history.

Safety Kurt Coleman bristles at the very thought his team could be perceived as slower than the Ducks. In fact, the Buckeyes paid extra attention to speed and conditioning drills during the dead weeks of bowl practice, with Coleman claiming he's in the best shape of his life for his final college game.

"Speed is going to be the key," Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "I don't think this is a game where you say, 'Wow, I'm glad we're big.'"