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Cal Football Defensive Preview 2019: The Oregon Ducks

What Andy Avalos’ unit brings to the field

NCAA Football: Nevada at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Hythloday from ATQ answered some of the questions we had regarding the Ducks defense. If you haven’t already go check out his break down of the Oregon Defense, on ATQ. Its a very in-depth look at the scheme and a great resource for all the football Xs-and-Os aficionados out there.

First off, you guys made the change at DC from Jim Leavitt to Andy Avalos. What were the biggest changes schematically that happened? Were there any key moves within the roster to fit the scheme?

The most visible change in the new defensive scheme is the STUD linebacker, a hybrid DE/OLB whose primary job is rushing the passer but can also drop into pass coverage. The starter there is #56 Bryson Young, who hadn’t contributed much before but has taken to the new role very well. DC Avalos uses a number of exotic pressures -- the name of the game is confusion, so multiple fronts, disguised blitzes, late shifts and stems -- and his speed and versatility is a good match for the job. The rest of the roster is being used in mostly the same set of assignments, nobody else is really doing anything they’re unfamiliar with from the previous system

How would you rate the game plans set by Avalos? Is the defense still going through some growing pains? Has anyone particularly succeeded due to the change? Struggled due to the change?

It’s hard to complain about the defensive gameplanning, they’ve gone 14 of 16 quarters of football without giving up a touchdown. I don’t see any alignment problems or guys not knowing where they’re supposed to be, outside of one embarrassing substitution problem in the Auburn game. Other than the STUD position the differences in scheme are less about what you’re doing than when you’re doing it, so individual players don’t seem to have any installation issues. Oregon only lost a few defensive starters from last year’s team, and they’ve all been replaced pretty smoothly (and at least in one case at inside linebacker, a substantial talent upgrade) ... most of what you’re seeing in improved performance is I think just a ton of returning production that’s all gotten a year older and wiser.

4 out of the 8 guys that have double digit tackles so far this season are from your secondary. Is that by design of what the opposing offenses are doing or is there more than that?

I’m kind of surprised to see those tackling stats, they don’t really line up with how I’ve been charting the games. At any rate, the picture they might paint of the secondary giving up a bunch of completions and then having to make the tackle just isn’t the case, I think they’re just reflecting run support and perimeter defense on stuff like screen passes. The other issue is that Oregon’s rotation in the defensive front is far more extensive than it is in the secondary, so I think you’re just seeing the tackling numbers spread out among the front-end players and concentrated among the back-end ones.

One of the big names that stands out is former #1 overall recruit Kayvon Thibodeaux. How has he done so far after enrolling in the spring?

#5 Kayvon Thibodeaux has done a great job, his technique is much better than I was expecting as a true freshman and his speed off the snap is astonishing. He needs to bulk up some more, he’s still getting outmuscled at the last second when he turns the corner on the tackle and that’s robbed him of some surefire sacks, but his speed alone takes that tackle completely out of the play and opens things up for other players to do their jobs much more easily. The other true freshman on the defense who’s arguably making a bigger impact is #47 Mase Funa, the backup STUD. This guy’s incredible, he’s built like a lineman and moves like a corner. You’ll instantly notice him when he takes the field.

The stat that jumps out at me is the number of passes defended/broken-up by the defense as a whole. What’s been the overall trend of opposing offenses that they are trying to air it out against a pretty good secondary from last season?

Prior to garbage time, opposing offenses have dropped back to pass downfield 97 times, compared to 89 designed rushes and 15 screen passes. I’d say opponents’ first quarter gameplans have been pretty balanced, and then they react to game situations by changing their run-pass balance. I think the larger pass numbers come from Nevada and Montana, and to a lesser extent Stanford, abandoning the run pretty quickly as they fell behind. Then that’s balanced by, interestingly, Auburn rushing much more in the second half.

If you were the Cal OC, how would you game plan against this Ducks defense? What would be on the play menu heading into Saturday?

Run the dang ball. For one thing, it’ll pretty clearly be Cal’s relative strength given how excellent #34 Christopher Brown and #23 Marcel Dancy are, for another, usually the best underdog strategy is to limit possessions and make it a high variance game. I’d also say the only aggravating thing about watching Oregon’s defense so far is that they’ve been tending to give up a few extra yards after contact when tackling the rusher, something Brown and Dancy are pretty great at getting. So I’d hammer the ball and try to limit substitutions so Oregon can’t rotate its pretty deep front.