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Oregon Position Previews - Defense

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we look at the defense of the Oregon Ducks.

Jonathan Ferrey - Getty Images

Chip Kelly's offense may be the most famous component of Oregon's squad, but one does not rise to be the second-ranked team in America without stout defensive play, and it is on that front that Oregon's national title hopes rest. Nick Aliotti's defense this year is considered to perhaps be the team's best yet, and though the squad has already suffered through some damaging injuries to key players, they are right in the hunt to help the Ducks bring home a fourth-consecutive conference championship, and have realistic hopes of earning their second BCS National Championship Game berth in three years.

Defensive Line: If there's one vaguely positive thing that Washington's beleaguered offensive line can say going into Eugene, it's that Oregon's defensive ends aren't the best duo that they will face this year, as that honor belongs to LSU's twin terrors Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. But Husky fans --- and more to the point, Keith Price --- will find little solace in that prospect, as standout defensive ends Taylor Hart and Dion Jordan have made it their personal missions to spend as much time in opposing backfields as possible. Already, Hart and Jordan have a combined eight tackles for loss and seven sacks, and Oregon ranks 24th and 10th in those categories, respectively, largely due to their play along with inside men Isaac Remington and Wade Keliikipi. Oregon's defensive line corps also includes true freshman Arik Armstead, the touted five-star recruit who (in)famously came within a hair's breadth of convincing Shaq Thompson to attend UO with him, with the two going so far as to order Oregon hats with their names embroidered on them. Washington, of course, was able to land Thompson, who has quickly become a budding defensive star for the Huskies.

Linebacker: The Ducks sport a trio of talented, experienced players at LB, which undoubtedly is a big reason that they currently rank 25th in the nation in rushing defense. WLB Michael Clay, pictured above sacking Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, and MLB Kiko Alonso lead the Ducks in tackles this year, while SLB Boseko Lokombo has been a steady presence beside them in every game so far. Clay has been particularly noteworthy, as he has proven himself to be excellent at disrupting plays before they have a chance to develop, and has earned two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss for his trouble; however, he missed the second half of last week's game against Washington State, and his status for the Washington game is unknown. Meanwhile, Alonso has shown himself to be no slouch as a pass defender, as his two interceptions in five games this year already equal his total from 2011.

Cornerback: This may be the youngest and single-most vulnerable position on Oregon's formidable defense, as all four Duck cornerbacks are sophomores with just one year of playing time below their belts. Sitting atop the depth chart are Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell, the former of whom has already snagged two picks this year in addition to breaking up a team-high nine passes. If Washington can produce enough of a run game with Bishop Sankey like they did last week against Stanford to force Oregon to put one-on-one coverage on Washington's receivers, it could be a long night for an Oregon secondary that, on paper at least, doesn't match up very well with players like Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Safety: Oregon lost a key component of its defense last month when the team announced that team captain, four-year starter and second-team All American John Boyett would undergo season-ending surgery in both of his knees. Though the loss of a player of Boyett's caliber is not easily compensated, the Ducks are lucky to have a pair of juniors in Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson who are available to help fill the void of leadership that the Ducks did not expect to have this year. This is a position that could potentially be hit very hard by injury, as the only other player listed on the two-deep for Oregon's two safety positions is sophomore Erick Dargan.

As always, thanks to College Football Statistics and ESPN for the relevant data that went into this article. You can also follow me on Twitter here.