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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Dissecting the Ducks’ defense

Washington running back Chris Polk is smothered by the Oregon defense in the second half on Saturday, October 24, 2009, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. Oregon defeated Washington 43-19. (John Lok/Seattle Times/MCT)
John Lok
Washington running back Chris Polk is smothered by the Oregon defense in the second half on Saturday, October 24, 2009, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. Oregon defeated Washington 43-19. (John Lok/Seattle Times/MCT)

The most noticeable aspect of No. 11 Oregon Duck football is the team’s high-powered offense, but UA head coach Mike Stoops was quick to comment on the quality of the Ducks’ dynamic defense.

“”I think that’s the one area that probably jumps out at you more than any other, is just that they’re better on defense. They attack a lot of different ways and play very aggressive,”” Stoops said during the weekly Pacific 10 Conference teleconference. “”We’ve got to find ways to counter and make sure that we can establish ourselves in the run game in some way, that’s for sure, or you’re going to be in for a long day.””

Most of Oregon’s opponents have had long days when lining up against the Ducks’ defense. Oregon’s defensive unit ranks at the top of the Pac-10 in scoring defense (20.0 points per game) and is also the stingiest group in the league in terms of pass defense (181.3 yards per game).

Despite losing star defensive back Walter Thurmond III early in the year to a season-ending knee injury — and with safety T.J. Ward missing five games nursing an ankle injury — the Ducks have still managed to play well in the secondary.

“”They’re just good athletes, and I think that’s the thing. They run well, and they play with a lot of freedom,”” UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes said of Oregon’s defensive backs. “”I think they have a clear understanding for what they’re doing and as a result are playing fast.””

While this season marks Chip Kelly’s third season as a coach for Oregon and his first as the head coach, he’s noticed his defensive group is playing with an extra fire that might not have been there in previous seasons.

“”I think the biggest difference is that we have players who are really passionate about playing the game. … I love our players on the defensive side of the ball,”” Kelly said during the Pac-10 teleconference. “”They really have a passion for playing and they really have taken to our coaching and how we’re doing things. It’s a lot of fun when our coaches and our players are all on the same page, and we all have the same common goal.””

That passion and that same goal involve blitzing. A lot.

After watching film on the Ducks, UA center Colin Baxter said Oregon blitzes more than any team the Wildcats have faced so far this season. Because the Ducks bring pressure so often, and from so many different positions, they can create a lot of problems for opposing offenses.

“”They get the line moving a lot, so we’ve got to do a good job of understanding what’s coming and how they’re aligned and stuff like that,”” Baxter said. “”What they do is they blitz and move a lot more than people we’ve seen.””

The Ducks are ranked third in the Pac-10 in sacks (27) with defensive lineman Kenny Rowe leading the way with seven, an individual mark that puts him at fourth in the Pac-10. Oregon has registered 64 tackles for loss this season, again led by Rowe and the 8.5 times he’s stopped the opposition in the backfield.

Constant movement and constant pressure have been Oregon’s MO all season long, and Wildcat coaches expect more of the same when the Ducks come to Tucson.

“”That’s the thing that may be different this year, is that they feel like they have a good defense and as a result they’re playing a little freer, flying around a little bit more and are playing very aggressive,”” Dykes said. “”They do a lot of different things on the back end with the coverages and try to keep you confused and really unsettled.

“”I think that’s the biggest thing they try to do,”” he added, “”is they never let you get settled in, and try to make it tough on you to get really comfortable.””

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