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Oregon Position Previews - Defense

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A deeper look at Oregon's sensitive side.

Steve Dykes

Oregon's defense is not particularly good. In past years, the offense overshadowed the defense and, of course, hurt the total yardage numbers somewhat by playing at such a breakneck pace. The scoring numbers usually painted a much more flattering image.

That's still somewhat true this year, but even judging by yards allowed per play (5.78; 7th) or points allowed per game (24.3; 6th), the Oregon defense is no better than middle of the road in the Pac-12. For the sake of comparison, the Huskies have allowed 5.10ypa (4th) and 21.3ppg (2nd).

Perhaps more troubling for Oregon are the explosive plays. The Ducks have surrendered 32 plays from scrimmage of 20+ yards, 10th in the conference. 30+ yards? 13 plays, tied for 8th in the conference.

The biggest issue has been stopping the run. Oregon ranks 11th in the conference in total rushing yards allowed (1049), 8th in ypc (4.33), and a more acceptable 5th in rushing scores allowed with 7. As far as the explosives, only WSU has allowed more runs of 10+ yards than Oregon's 38, and only ASU has given up more 20+ yard runs than Oregon's 10.

When you have one of the most explosive, efficient offenses in the nation, the 6th or 7th best defense in the conference will still be good enough to secure a win the vast majority of the time. Still, there is a level of vulnerability here than has been absent in the last several years.

Defensive Line

Oregon runs a 3-4 featuring Arik Armstead (Jr., 6-8, 296) and DeForest Buckner (Jr., 6-7, 290) at defensive end and Alex Balducci (Jr., 6-4, 297) at nose tackle. On paper, both Armstead and Buckner should be a menace on the edge with their superior size and length. In reality, this defensive line has disappointed despite a wealth of physical talent.

Armstead was held out last week with an injury, so it's unclear if he'll play. If not, it's likely Sam Kamp (Jr., 6-4, 290) will start for a second straight week. Losing him certainly hurts, but Buckner has been the more valuable player through the first half of the season by far. In fact, with 37 total tackles, a team-high 5.5 TFL, and 2.5 sacks, he may be the defensive MVP so far.

Linebackers

I'll start off with OLB Tony Washington (Sr., 6-3, 245) because his role is similar to that of BUCK Linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha. While almost always playing in a two-point stance and occasionally dropping into coverage, Tony (it's too confusing to call him Washington) will basically perform the duties of a pass rushing defensive end.

Tyson Coleman (Jr., 6-1, 235) starts at strongside linebacker, with Derick Malone (Sr., 6-2, 220) and Rodney Hardrick (Jr., 6-1, 247) at inside LB. Joe Walker (Jr, 6-2, 240) is the first linebacker off the bench, and he's somehow managed to tally 37 tackles, tied for 3rd on the team. Hardwick and Malone are each tied with 36 tackles.

Oregon has totaled 18 sacks from 13 different players, but Washington (3) and Coleman (2) have been the most consistent pass rushers aside from Buckner.

There is significant talent here, but no one player has been excellent and the unit as a whole has been disappointing. Along with the defensive line, they bear a lot of the responsibility for the team's failure to stuff the run consistently.

Defensive Backs

So much experience here. You certainly know about Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Sr., 5-10, 195), who should be playing on Sundays this time next year. Troy Hill (Sr., 5-11, 175) is not on the same level as Ifo, but he has been starting on and off since 2011. Mathis Dior (Sr., 5-9, 179) doesn't start, but he will see the field plenty in nickel situations. Three senior corners.

S Erick Dargan (Sr., 5-11, 210) has also been around as a sometimes-starter and special teams fixture since 2011. In his first season firmly entrenched as a starter, he has picked off 3 passes (1st on the team) and totaled 38 tackles (2nd on the team).

Reggie Daniels (So., 6-1, 205) leads the team in tackles with 41, just three ahead of Dargan. While it's great that Daniels and Dargan aren't afraid to come up in run support, it's probably not ideal for the team's starting safeties to lead the team in tackles.

Normally, Ifo would spend a fair amount of time lined up across from a team's best receiver. As far as targets and receptions, that guy for Washington is most definitely Jaydon Mickens. It will be interesting to see if Ifo plays Mickens aggressively in anticipation of the typical wealth of targets behind the line of scrimmage. We've been talking about one of those passes being picked off all year, and though Miles has put more zip on them lately, Ifo is so totally the type of corner to make that play.

Special Teams

Keanon Lowe (Sr., 5-9, 186) is the normal kick returner, but it sounds like he may be out for the game. If that's the case, Devon Allen (Rs.Fr., 6-0, 187) is next on the chart. Thing is, Charles Nelson (Fr., 5-9, 170) has returned 9 KOs compared to 1 for Lowe and 3 for Allen. No one has scored a return touchdown.

Someone will return kicks and he will be really fast. Good coverage will be essential, especially considering that our kick-offs have been a little weak this season.

Charles Nelson and Ifo Ekpre-Oomu have split punt return duties so far, each having returned 5 punts. Nelson has had far more success, including a return touchdown, so he seems like the most likely candidate.

Matt Wogan (So., 6-2, 210) is the place-kicker. It's tough to judge him too harshly given that Oregon rarely needs field goals, but he appears to be fairly limited. He handled field goals for the final five games last season, and while he hit 7 of 8, his season-high was 38 yards and the miss was from 43.

So far this season he is 3 of 4 with a long of 34, and he has still not been asked to kick from 40+ yards. Oregon is the type of team to go for it on 4th down in the area of the field that allows for deep field goal attempts, so it's unclear if Wogan is capable of a deeper kick if it becomes necessary late in a game.

Ian Wheeler (Fr.) is the punter, and he seems to be doing a solid job, with a 40.57 per punt average.

Conclusion

Washington's offense looked much improved in the win over Cal, but it is still one of the most underwhelming units in the score-happy Pac-12. It's biggest strength has been an ability to almost completely avoid costly turnovers. The team as a whole boasts a +14 turnover differential, best in the nation. The offense has turned the ball over once.

Complementing this lack of mistakes has been a very consistent dedication to the run game. The two primary backs, Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington, have not been horribly efficient or explosive, but they have still carried the ball a ton. This has led to the Huskies ranking 1st in the conference in carries (46.67 per game) and 4th in rushing yards (1149) despite ranking 9th in ypc (4.10).

There is no reason for that per game average to go down given that Oregon has struggled against the run and that the Husky strategy will likely involve keeping the ball away from Mariota and the Oregon offense for as long as possible to keep the defense fresh.

Cyler Miles completed 22/29 passes for 273 yards and three scores. What a difference not playing the Stanford defense can make! With the run game completely stuffed and the offensive line collapsing around him, Cyler looked appropriately panicked in that loss.

Once the run game started to hum along and the offensive line granted him some time, the wonky motion and mediocre arm strength didn't stop Cyler from averaging an impressive 9.4 yards per attempt. His overall pocket presence looked much better.

Miles cannot carry the offense, but as long as the rest of the team does its part, he has been ready to do his. The volume isn't there, but he has completed 65% of his passes and, after six full games, he's avoided throwing a single interception. The trade off seems to be a mildly conservative overall approach, but it's worth always putting the defense in the best position to succeed.

This offense isn't designed to trade scores with the Ducks, but they complement the opportunistic Husky defense by focusing on the ground game and ball security. As long as Shaq, Kikaha, Shelton and the rest of the defense can spoil some Oregon drives, Cyler and the offense are capable of making things very interesting down in Eugene.