It’s round 2 of this match up in the 2023 season, and this one is for all the marbles. Since the last game, the two programs have continued their seasons on divergent paths. The Huskies have struggled through injuries, offensive miscues, and a very tough November schedule. The Ducks on the other hand have looked dominant against a comparatively weaker conference schedule. Neither team made their own conference schedule, but in looking at the common opponents, it does appear that the Ducks are the squad that’s on the upward trend heading to Vegas. Let’s take a look at what we’ll expect from their defense this week.
The Scheme & Personnel
The fundamentals of their scheme were broken down pretty well on the Opponent Defensive Preview that I wrote earlier this season, and I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched enough Oregon football since our game against them to be able to break down any nuanced tweaks to their scheme that might’ve occurred since then. At a high level, this is what I had to say about their basic defensive scheme:
To understand what I mean by that, I have to take a not so quick tangent to explain how Lanning approaches defense, and that means I have to explain Georgia’s defense. At one point I was working on an exhaustive breakdown of modern spread defenses, specifically Georgia’s defense, but since I never got around to finishing it, here’s a few of the key points that apply to this weekend’s matchup against Oregon:
-3-4 type LOS personnel in a tite/”Mint” front (3 down DL + 1 OLB on the LOS)
-Mint front controlling interior gaps allowed for smaller and more athletic LBs
-Emphasis on simulated pressure from multiple angles (“creepers”) rather than blitzing numbers
All that being said, we can go into some of the tweaks to their play calling that we might see now that they’ve seen what worked and didn’t work against us the first time. First, I expect them to blitz us aggressively, particularly up the middle. Going back to what I wrote in Film Study, we were able to score on a couple of long TD passes when facing a mix of starters and rotation players in their secondary. It really didn’t matter who was in coverage or who we were throwing to. What mattered more was that on those long TD passes, Penix was working from a clean pocket against a 4-man rush. If I were Oregon’s DC, if we can’t consistently play coverage, we might as well bring the heat with the blitz.
Speaking of the blitz, Oregon’s really expanded their pressure package and dialed up the pressure since our last game. Pressure from multiple angles has always been a key piece of their defensive philosophy, but with talented players in their defensive front, such as DT Brandon Dorlus, DE Jordan Burch, LB Teitum Tuioti, and LB Jeffrey Bassa, they’ve seemingly leaned into that pressure philosophy against pass heavy teams. It hasn’t just been pressure from their front six either. Safety Evan Williams and CB Khyree Jackson are among the Ducks’ team leaders in TFLs and sacks. Keep an eye out for a DB blitz anytime we run a condensed offensive formation.
Keys to the Game
As usual for this Husky offense, pass protection, and the protection up the middle will be essential. Any off-script movement on pass plays from Penix has proven to be detrimental to his accuracy. With that being said, when we get him on the move a little, whether that’s on sprint outs or the play action half-roll actions that we use a lot, Penix has been very good. Expect to see some movement from Penix on those concepts.
A couple of other tricks that may help with Oregon’s pressure packages are the run game and motion. Oregon’s more exotic pressure packages might pose a problem against our pass protection, but they tend to also have riskier gap assignments in the run game, especially on stunts. Our Counter run package, especially when paired with escort motion, might be a good way of punishing their MUG looks and A-gap pressure. If we can get them out of those looks, then the risk of a late zone dropper in the middle of the field goes away, and we can also attack their defense on over the middle plays. It’s all a domino effect, but it does mean that we need to find our footing in the run game.