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Oregon Preview: Defense

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Last in the Pac-12 in scoring and total defense, this defense is still not to be overlooked.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon has faced a number of defensive problems en route to a disappointing 3-3 start.  Their last place ranks in both major defensive categories mean opposing offenses are shredding them for over 470 yards and 38 points per game.  Former Duck DBs like Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmond, Jarius Byrd, and Ifo Ekpre-Olumo made the Oregon secondary feared around the country.  This year, not so much, and in fact, the opposite is true.  The defensive backfield is the major weak link on the defense – they are giving up 323 yards/game and have allowed 21 passing touchdowns this year.  That’s 3.5 touchdown passes, per game, worst in the country.  The Ducks do have a pretty good pass rush, with 17 sacks and 45 tackles for loss.  With a pretty good pass rush, it’s a wonder why the secondary isn’t more opportunistic.

Even though Oregon’s offense has given the Huskies more than they can handle the last 11 outings, the defense has never made things easy.  UW hasn’t gotten more than 24 on the board since 2007.  When they did put up 24 in 2013, it took 2 long Bishop Sankey TD runs to do it.  Oregon’s defense has had Washington’s number as much as the offense has.  Will this year be different?

Defensive Line

DE DeForest Buckner (SR, 6-7, 290), NT Alex Balducci (SR, 6-4, 310), DE Tui Talia (SR, 6-5, 285)

This is definitely the one bright spot on defense for the Ducks.  The senior laden unit ranks 3rd in sacks in the Pac-12, and typically provides a good pass rush.  They fare slightly worse against the run, giving up 150 yards per game, which is still pretty solid at 54th nationally.  Future NFL first rounder DeForest Buckner is the key to this group.  He’s got incredible length, athleticism, and strength.  He’s got 7 seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks through 6 games, and is adept playing both the run and the pass.  Running a 3-4, you need a big man like 310 pound Alex Balducci to occupy the middle, and he does it well.  JC transfer and one time almost-Husky Tui Talia rounds out the group with 3 tackles for loss on the season.  If there’s one matchup on defense where the Ducks could give the Huskies real trouble, it’s the pass rush against UWs young tackles.

Linebackers

OLB Tyson Coleman (SR, 6-1, 235), ILB Rodney Hardrick (SR, 6-1, 245), ILB Joe Walker (SR, 6-2, 240), DE/OLB Christian French (SR, 6-5, 250)

Tyson Coleman is the principle play maker among the linebackers.  He’s a two year starter that leads this year senior laden unit.  For those keeping score, the entire front seven starting for Oregon’s defense, are seniors.  Regardless of their performances this season, this unit has experience.  Like Buckner on the D line, Coleman can make his living a variety of ways.  He’s got 2 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss so far this year, highlighting his ability to get into the backfield.  He’s also force a fumble and defensed 2 passes this year, so he can do damage a variety of ways.  Watch out for #33 out there.  Joe Walker and Rodney Hardrick are tops on the team in tackles, with 44 and 35, respectively.  I couldn’t find anything intriguing to write about Christian French, other than his name amuses me.

Defensive Backs

CB Arrion Springs (SO, 5-10, 205), FS Tyree Robinson (SO, 6-4, 205), SS Reggie Daniels (JR 6-1, 205), CB Glen Ihenacho (RS FR, 5-10, 185)

If there’s one single unit on this team other than QB that’s taken a lot of heat this season, it’s the defensive secondary.  As I noted above, they’ve gotten pretty well sliced and diced through 6 games this season.  Even if you take into account having played the insane pass offenses of Mike Leach’s WSU Cougars and Beau Baldwin’s EWU Eagles, this secondary has still not performed well.  They’ve rotated 8 different starters and just haven’t settled on a unit that can defend the pass well.  Tyree Robinson, however, is the standout and can make plays.  He’s got 2 picks (one of which he returned for a touchdown), 1 pass defense, and a fumble recovery.  Coming out of high school Tyree ranked as a 4 star both at safety and as a shooting guard, in basketball. Two sports, two 4 star ratings; Tyree is a natural athlete and football player.  He’s been the one constant presence throughout all the lineup changes this season.  Sophomore Arrion Springs is 3rd on the team in tackles with 30.  It’s nice to see a CB that can tackle as Springs clearly can, but it’s typically not a good sign when a corner is your teams 3rd leading tackler.

Closing Thoughts

This defense has playmakers.  It has it’s holes, but guys like Tyson Coleman, DeForest Buckner, and Tyree Robinson will require the close attention of the Washington offense. The tackles and tight ends (I’m looking at you, Drew Sample) will need to bring their A game to block this Oregon front.  If their defense is to have success, it will likely be the result of a pass rush taking pressure off their secondary, and thereby not allowing the Huskies to maintain drives.  Oregon definitely does okay against the run, and UW will need to get Myles Gaskin/Dwayne Washington going to soften up the defense.  If Gaskin shows the patience, vision, and burst he did against USC, and the OL do their part, the Huskies should have no problem beating the Oregon secondary over the top on play action.  What will be interesting to watch is if the Oregon defense plays with the same swagger and confidence they’ve played with through the years, and especially against the Huskies.  They always seemed to be able to make the big play when needed to give the ball back to the offense, and the next thing you know, they’ve scored 3 touchdowns and the game is out of reach.  While they have Pac-12 level playmakers at each level, the defense has definitely been the main culprit in Oregon’s less than ideal start.