By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
WEST LAFAYETTE -- Oregon coach Mike Bellotti would put his secondary up against any in the nation.
Those Ducks defensive backs will get a chance to show just how good they are Saturday against one of college football's top quarterbacks, as Curtis Painter and Purdue welcome No. 16 Oregon.
Three members of Oregon's secondary -- cornerbacks Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond and safety Patrick Chung -- have started at least 26 games. Chung was an all-Pac 10 first-team pick last season, and Bellotti said the other starter in the defensive backfield, safety T.J. Ward, is the strongest of the group.
Painter has passed for nearly 4,000 yards each of the past two seasons in coach Joe Tiller's spread offense and is being touted by the school as a Heisman Trophy contender.
Bellotti said Painter presents a challenge for his defense because Painter is committed to throwing the ball, even if the Boilermakers' pass protection breaks down.
"I'm taking nothing away from Washington and Utah State," Bellotti said. "They had more mobile quarterbacks that did not have the sophistication or level of passing game of Purdue. I love our secondary. They will be tested as they have not been tested this year."
Bellotti said the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Painter is as good as advertised.
"He's a great passer," Bellotti said. "He's a strong, physical quarterback who can shake off would-be tacklers. He sees the field extremely well, and has the velocity and accuracy to really beat you if you're not in good position coverage-wise."
A Purdue victory would make Tiller the Boilermakers' career leader in coaching victories. He tied Jack Mollenkopf at 84 wins last Saturday when the Boilermakers beat Northern Colorado 42-10.
Painter likes the challenge of playing a ranked team early in the season.
"We're really going to have to step up from last game," he said. "We did some things well. We think we can get better in a lot of areas. I think it's really about making those improvements and making them fast, making them this week."
Painter came away from his film session impressed with Oregon's speed.
"Whenever you see a guy that gets tackled, there's four or five guys around them," he said. "It's a great defense, a swarming defense."
Painter has an 0-7 career record against ranked teams, but a win Saturday could make him more than just a statistical addition to the list of top Purdue quarterbacks that includes Drew Brees and Kyle Orton.
If the Ducks pay too much attention to Painter, Kory Sheets could hurt them. The senior ran for 81 yards and two touchdowns against Northern Colorado, and Tiller plans to lean more heavily on him this week.
Purdue's offense will need to be at its best to match up with Oregon. The Ducks lead the nation in total offense after two blowout wins.
The Ducks rolled up 688 yards last week in a 66-24 win over Utah State. Overall, Oregon has seven players with at least one rushing touchdown and three quarterbacks with at least one touchdown pass.
Oregon running back Jeremiah Johnson will be back this week after leaving the Utah State game early with a right shoulder injury. He has worn a protective harness over the shoulder all week, and could wear a small one during the game.
"They just don't want anyone to hit it the wrong way and end up coming out again," he said. "It's just preventative this week and hopefully come game time it'll be 100 percent.
Johnson gained 137 yards against Washington in the opener.
"I think Johnson is an exceptional running back," Tiller said. "I think that's the only way to describe him. He has outstanding speed, great vision -- all the qualities you see in a great back."
LaGarrette Blount ran for 132 yards after Johnson was hurt last week.
Oregon is off to a good start, outscoring its first two opponents 110-34. But Bellotti said the Boilermakers are better than Washington, and it will be Oregon's first road game.
"I'm pleased with where we're at right now, but I don't think that we have been tested or proven that we are going to hold up against the tougher teams on our schedule," he said. "I think we have a great opportunity to find that out by going to Purdue."