What's the first clue that Oregon's defense is elite? You could start with me naming six of their 11 starters to the "Players to watch" section above; as for the other five, one could easily make the argument that any of them belong in that company, as well.
Much like Oregon's offense, this is a unit without any glaring weaknesses. On the defensive line, start with 6-8, 296 lb. monster Arik Armstead, a five-star all-world recruit who in 2012 reportedly convinced Shaq Thompson to commit to Oregon with him before Shaq had a change of heart. (Good lord, am I glad that I don't have to include Shaq in this opponent preview.) Armstead plays a position in which it is difficult to quantify production into measurable statistics, but he's the type of player who always demands double teams, and frequently requires triple-teams, to even begin to neutralize his effectiveness. That leaves players like defensive end Tony Washington to clean up the aftermath, and his stat line (4.0 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles) reads accordingly.
Of course, Oregon's ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage isn't limited to their defensive linemen. WILL linebacker Derrick Malone leads the team in tackles (42, 19 solo), and already exceeds his total tackles from last year. On the other side of the field, SAM linebacker Boseko Lokombo, who has my favorite name of any Duck player, doesn't have a penchant for making sacks (just two last season, and none through five games this year) but is still absolutely disruptive in the passing game, having already broken up one pass and being credited with five quarterback hurries. It's a testament to the depth of this team that its linebacking corps can be its unambiguous weakness after losing Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso to the NFL, and it still starts playmakers that many teams in the conference would drool over the prospect of having.
In the backfield, Oregon boasts perhaps the most dangerous cornerback duo in the nation in Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (alright, I lied about Boseko: This is my favorite name of any Oregon player). Mitchell has already tallied three interceptions this year, while Ekpre-Olomu is building off of an All American sophomore campaign in which he made four interceptions and broke up 16 passes. If Washington has any advantage in the secondary against Oregon, it will be the size of its receivers: Austin Seferian Jenkins (6-6, 276 lbs.) and Kasen Williams (6-2, 212 lbs.) in particular should be mismatches against Oregon's backfield defenders, as none of them measure in at taller than six feet or 197 lbs. Could this game be the awaited coming-out party for heralded 6-3, 225 lbs. freshman Damore'ea Stringfellow? Crazier things have certainly happened. However, as many teams (and Vegas gamblers) have learned to their downfall in the past several years, it's rarely wise to bet against the Ducks.
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.
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