With all the attention on Oregon's 118mph offense and make-your-eyes-bleed uniforms, the other side of the ball is frequently an afterthought. But not to be overlooked during Oregon's rise to prominence over the past few years has been the emergence of their defense. Although long-tenured defensive coordinator Nick Alioti certainly had his share of critics during his earlier years, he re-invented himself and the Oregon scheme into an aggressive, swarming, tenacious unit that complements their high-octane offense.
After the jump, let's take a closer look to see if these Fighting Ducks are smokin', or all smoked out:
208.25 passing yards per game, 1st in the Pac-12, 31st nationally
181.25 yards per game, 10th in the Pac-12, 93rd nationally
389.5 total yards per game, 9th in the Pac-12, 77th nationally
24.5 points per game allowed, 6th in the Pac-12, 59th nationally
4 turnovers caused, 10th in the Pac-12
2.25 total sacks, 6th in the Pac-12
3 total interceptions, 4th in the Pac-12
1 fumble recovered, 11th in the Pac-12
6.25 tackles for loss per game, 4th in the Pac-12
On the surface, the #'s are a big drop in defensive production from where they've been the past two years. I'm not overly fond of statistics anyways, but this is really a case where the numbers don't tell the whole story. For instance, Oregon gave up 289 total yards to FCS school Missouri State, but only seven points. Similarly, they held Arizona down 36-9 while the game was still in doubt, and gave up most of Nick Foles 415 passing yards during garbage time. Perhaps a more accurate indicator is to look solely at the LSU game where they held the Tigers to a respectable 240 passing yards and 95 on the ground. Considering how quickly and often the Duck offense scores, some defensive stats will be misleading due to the number of extra snaps that their defense has to play.
The strength of the team is a deep and athletic secondary. Even without suspended corner Cliff Harris, there is plenty of experience in this group. Safety John Boyett is their leading ball-hawk, and Rover Eddie Pleasant is their version of Thomas DeCoud. New starting MLB Dewitt Stuckey is a bit undersized, but has a really shown a nose for the ball.
DE Terrell Turner, 6'3, 265, Sr
DT Taylor Hart, 6'6, 283, So
DT Isaac Remington, 6'4, 286, Jr
DE Dion Jordan, 6'7, 240, Jr
DT Wade Keliikipi, 6'3, 300, RS Fr
DT Ricky Heiumuli, 6'4, 321, So
Summary: Similar to the Cal Bears, their most talented players are still somewhat young and inexperienced. No one has emerged yet to provide the same pass-rushing presence as the departed DE Kenny Rowe. In order to produce more pressure on the opposing QB, this unit has used a variety of stunts and zone blitzes. They do rotate a number of players in depending on down and distance. It's hard to say how stout they are against the run because their opponents have been either spread teams or have run a specialized offense. It was impressive how they were able to completely shut down Arizona's run game with only six men in the box - but that may also have something to do with 'Zona's Oline.
MLB Dewitt Stuckey, 5'11, 221, Sr
WLB Michael Clay, 5'11, 225, Jr
SLB Josh Kaddu, 6'3, 235, Sr
LB Kiko Alonso, 6'4, 240, Jr
Summary: With Clay returning from injury and Alonso from suspension, this is the probably their biggest question mark. Paysinger and Matthews were really the heart and soul of last year's defense and made a lot of schemes work. Their replacements haven't been nearly as solid in coverage or with their reads. Stuckey has played very well and leads the team in tackles. (24) This unit has plenty of speed, however, and Aliotti will send anyone from anywhere.
LCB Terrance Mitchell, 6'0, 189, RS Fr
FS John Boyett, 5'10, 202, Jr
Rov Eddie Pleasant, 5'11, 210, Sr
RCB Anthony Gildon, 6'1, 180, Sr
Designated Driver: Cliff Harris, 5'11, 165, Jr
Summary: There are plenty of starts in big games for this unit. Although Terrance Mitchell might be the youngster of the group, he was talented enough to challenge for a starting spot as a true frosh last year before red-shirting. Does anyone else really think that Chip Kelly is going to keep pre-season All-American, Cliff Harris, on the bench? (Not me.) There's been some mention that the Oregon pass defense isn't as strong as it was last year. Considering how often they're left on an island in tight man, I think their corner play has been solid. What's more likely is that the lack of a consistent pass rush is leaving their defensive backs more exposed.
It's been impressive how many different looks Nick Aliotti has been able to implement with relatively young personnel. In the past two years, he's shown a lot of 3-4, 4-2-5, and 4-4-2. Here's a detailed CGB look at their defense last year and for the '09 Rose Bowl. This year, their base look is more a of standard 4-3, cover 2. They have shown plenty of cover 1 and even occasional cover 0 looks. Here's a great look at their defense in its various formations from AtQ. Regardless of the scheme, the overlying principles have been the same; Aliotti likes to put pressure on the opposing offense. With such a potent, quick-strike offense, their defense is often free to take more chances. Oddly enough, this hasn't resulted in many turnovers this year...I just jinxed the living Oski out of us, didn't I?
Ball control is clearly the name of the game with regards to playing the Oregon Ducks. But, that's easier said than done. If Oregon has a weakness, it's been the play of their outside linebackers and young Dline. With a more dominant Oline, you might be tempted to try to play ball control by pounding them with the power run game. I suspect that Aliotti will be more than ready for that by stacking the box, and bringing up a safety. If they can control our running game out of their base look without needing to commit extra defenders, we might as well all start faking cramps. We'll also need to keep the game relatively close to avoid becoming one-dimensional and letting the speedy Ducks just tee off at will.
Assuming that we're not completely doomed, Aliotti will probably mix it up between Cover 2 and Cover 1 out of various formations. I don't really see a reason to go Cover Zero against us, particularly because KA/Jones are far and away our most dangerous playmakers and because our spread look always incorporates a tailback and slow TE.
We'll see plenty of tight man on the outside combined with different types of stunts and blitzes.
Other teams have had some success running the zone-read against the Ducks. However, Tedford has shown that as more of a wrinkle to our offense than something that he's comfortable leaning on as a primary means of attack.
If we had more faith in our #3 and #4 WRs, or if our TEs were more of a consistent threat, we might be able to attack their OLBs in coverage. Instead, I think we're just going to have to go strength on strength. Oregon likes to play a lot of tight man on the outside. Normally, our scheme would probably dictate going away from tightly covered wideouts. In this case, I think we're going to rely on Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones to beat single coverage and take our chances.
Although sustained drives would be nice, we might need to mentally prepared for some feast or famine against their aggressive defense. Expect some "boring" up the middle runs and short passes to set up a variety of screens, misdirection plays, and play-action deep balls.
(And, of course, remember that this game will be considered a complete failure if we don't give CJ Anderson every carry en route to winning 105-0.)
It's the same song and the same dead horse, but our offense will depend heavily on how well our Oline and TE/FBs stand up to their pressure. Composure and execution will be go a long way towards quieting the raucous Autzen crowd...as would putting up plenty of points on the scoreboard. I have little hope that our defense will be able to match last year's performance, so the offense needs to bring their hardhats and be ready to go to work. With some more consistency from Maynard, I think we'll be able to put up some points on the Ducks. Let's be clear about reasonable expectations - we're taking an inconsistent offense into an extremely hostile environment against perhaps the top team in the league. Even so, I'm excited to see what Tedford schemes up with the benefit of a bye week. No silly mistakes, a few lucky breaks, plus a hefty dose of Honey Badger attitude...and who knows? Go Bears!