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Friday Night Showdown: Previewing the Ducks Defense

In which we take a deeper look into a Pac-12 defense shockingly worse than your Cal Bears.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Anyone wondering if Nike chairman Phil Knight has Chip Kelly’s number on speed dial? The way this Oregon season is heading, it is becoming very unlikely Brady Hoke will have a job by 2017 and his head coach’s job security is suddenly in question. To put Oregon’s 2016 struggle in perspective, the Ducks haven’t won fewer than nine games since “Bad Day” was topping billboard charts. Ironically that song might be just the perfect way to describe the Ducks defense this season—how’s that for a segue?

The Ducks brought in former Michigan coach Brady Hoke to revamp a defense that slipped to 82nd in defensive S&P+ last year and has managed to take Oregon to new lows. Perhaps nothing could have been worse for the Duck faithful than watching their “decade of dominance” disappear against the hated Washington Huskies in a 70–21 drubbing on the Autzen turf. The Ducks gave up a ridiculous 682 yards to the Huskies and were equally bad against the run and the pass, which might spell trouble coming into Friday night’s match-up.

There isn’t much of a saving grace for the Ducks on the defensive side of the ball. What is bad is perhaps only getting worse and they square up against one of the most high profile offenses in the country. The Oregon offense is still extremely dynamic—Royce Freeman (who has been battling injuries) is an absolute force and Cal could easily watch the Ducks throw a crooked figure on their vulnerable defense. That being said, if the Bears don’t #drop50, many Cal fans will wonder exactly what the Bears coaches were doing during the bye week. Let’s take a deeper look at some defensive playmakers for the Ducks!

Defensive Line:

Cal fans will remember last season’s match-up when DeForest Buckner caused all sorts of problems for the Bears offensive line. Buckner has since left to Chip Kelly’s 49ers and Oregon has endured a hard time replacing his talent. Returning starter Torrodney Prevot was suspended indefinitely after breaking the team—as well as the university—code of conduct. Out of Oregon’s five top tacklers in the 2016 season, none of them are on the defensive line. The frequency in which running backs get beyond their front line explains why the Ducks give up an average of 238 yards per game on the ground. That ranks as the 118th worst run defense in the country—just nine slots higher than Cal, who yields 283.8 yards per contest on the ground.

The Ducks have also done a sub-par job at recruiting defensive players to replace elite-level talent like Arik Armstead and the previously mentioned DeForest Buckner. The underclassmen expected to fill the gaps in Oregon’s defensive line have been absent and their future looks bleak with just the talent they already have on campus.


Johnny Ragin III, come on down! The former Cal Bear has been seeing a fair amount of playing time this season for a unit that is providing most of the defensive statistics for the Ducks. Ragin III is fourth on the team in tackles and should relish an opportunity to play against his former squad. Outside linebacker Troy Dye has been a pleasant impact player for the Ducks and is making his name well-known as a freshman this year. He has a knack for making plays behind the line, leading the team in tackles for loss as well as sacks. Perhaps the issue for the Ducks is the fact they lean on their linebackers and secondary to make such a large majority of their plays. The margin for error is razor-thin and they have a propensity for giving up big plays despite playing a heavy “bend, not break” style of defense.

The Cal offensive line has a unique opportunity to dominate the defensive front and get downfield against an undersized linebacker corps. Should the Bears exploit this mismatch, Tre Watson and Khalfani Muhammed should have no problem repeating the success they found against Oregon State.


Tyree Robinson is the leader of the secondary and the whole defense for the Ducks. He leads the team in tackles and returns as one of the few players with multiple years of experience. Cornerback Arrion Springs has also been a solid player this season, leading the team with eight pass breakups. If Chad Hansen plays on Friday, expect him to see a lot of Springs.

This has been the most disappointing defensive unit for the Ducks thus far. They have more talent than their statistical performance would indicate and the unit as a whole had a decent amount of experience coming into the 2016 season. This is what makes their struggle that much more puzzling. Oregon’s defense ranks 117th in the nation in pass yards per game, giving up on average 284.3 yards per contest. Before their bye week, the Ducks allowed Jake Browning to complete 22 of 28 passes for 304 yards and SIX touchdowns. Potentially Oregon’s deficiency against the run is opening up passing lanes for other teams, but with their level of experience, this unit is underperforming by a significant measure.

Final Take:

I hate to put too much pressure on the Bears this Friday night, but Cal has to win this game at home against a struggling Oregon team. Unlike Oregon State, where at least one unit on their defense was above average (pass defense), Oregon struggles mightily in nearly all facets on the defensive side of the ball. This is by far the friendliest match-up for our offense during the rest of the 2016 season and the only thing that can tilt that advantage towards Oregon is the health of Davis Webb and Chad Hansen.

The Bears should be able to run the ball with relative ease against an Oregon defense that struggled to hold Ron Gould’s UC Davis team to under 25 points. Cal hasn’t beaten the Ducks since 2008 and there might not be a better chance to end that streak than this year in Berkeley under the Friday night lights.