Previewing the Oregon Defense
Stanford's only loss last season came to Oregon in a game the Cardinal controlled through the first thirty minutes. After halftime, however, the Oregon defense took control and shut out Andrew Luck and the powerful Stanford offense over the final two quarters.
In Wednesday's preview of the Oregon offense I mentioned that the Ducks' quick-strike offense is last in the entire nation. The flip side of that, of course, is that their defense is on the field longer than any unit in the land. Fatigue would seem to be an obvious concern, but they combat this by rotating at least two players deep at every position. Saturday's game may well be determined by how fresh the defense is in the fourth quarter, a time when Stanford's offensive line is used to steamrolling exhausted opponents.
For a deeper look at all this, I reached out to Dale Newton from the excellent Oregon football blog, The Duck Stops Here. I'm betting this is the best preview of the Duck defense that you'll be able to find. Read it now, thank me (and Dale) later.
Thanks to the lightning speed of the Oregon offense, the defensive unit is on the field longer than any other defense in the country. How are they able to manage this burden and remain effective?
Even with all the attention showered on Andrew Luck, Stanford is still a run-oriented offense. Tell me about Oregon's front seven, specifically the defensive line, which did a great job against Chris Polk and the Washington run game. Who are the stars of that unit, and how effective do you expect that they'll be against the Cardinal running attack?
Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro teaches effort and technique. There aren't really any stars on the Oregon front; it's truly a unit, with the full rotation of eight guys contributing and improving every week. Washington was the group's best game as they accounted for five of Oregon's six sacks. Defensive tackle Taylor Hart is a tremendous effort guy. On video you can see him chase down running backs twenty yards downfield. Dion Jordan, a 6-7, 240-lb. defensive end and a former tight end and wide receiver, has good agility and athleticism, seems to be coming into his own with 26 tackles in his last six games, 8 for loss, and four sacks. Stanford's mammoth offensive line and power attack represents a new challenge. It's a classic matchup of power versus speed. The Ducks have been tough against the run all season, and they rank sixth in the country in sacks with 3.22 per game, while The Cardinal have given up just four all year. Oregon will try to rally to the ball and be athletic. It will no doubt be a challenge, facing an offensive line with two potential first round draft picks in guard David DeCastro and tackle Jonathan Martin.
It seems like Oregon might be most vulnerable against the pass, and at least some of their problems there must be attributable to the in and out season of cornerback Cliff Harris. How does his absence affect the defense, and how has the team prevented that from becoming a distraction?
Overall, how do you expect the Oregon defense to attack Andrew Luck? As good as the offensive line has been, there have been isolated games where Luck has felt a fair amount of pressure. Can we expect to different blitz packages, or will they attempt to pressure just with the front four?
The Ducks play a very flexible 3-4/4-3 defense with pressure and stunts from all angles. They mix blitzes, alignments and stunts, and disguise their coverages and looks very well. Linebacker Josh Kaddu leads the team in sacks with six; he's a quick, agile edge rusher, and reserve middle linebacker Dewitt Stuckey is a master of the delayed blitz up the middle, a big hitter. Stanford's line protects Luck very well, but USC, who like Oregon has a fast and athletic defense, was able to get pressure and disrupt the Stanford attack to some extent. But no one on the Oregon sideline minimizes the challenge they're facing from The Cardinal, whose balanced attack is a perfect 52-52 in the Red Zone.
Finally, a quick question about Chip Kelly and the fan base. He's famous for saying that Oregon State isn't their big rival since they play eleven rivalry games every year. No game is different from any other. Do fans buy that? Do you feel like this game is any bigger than the others on the schedule? And how excited are fans for this Saturday?
Kelly sells his team on a win-the-day, faceless opponent approach to preparation. The Ducks focus on improving and playing to their potential, and the result is a 30-5 record over the last three seasons and the last two conference championships. Within the locker room, the players and coaches don't talk a lot about rivalry games or polls or national championship implications. Their approach each week remains the same, and that's been extremely effective.
Okay, time for a prediction. Let me know how you think the game will play out, and what's your final score?
The national pundits predict a shootout, and the Vegas Wise Guys have Stanford as a 3.5-point favorite. Oregon has to play their best game of the season to win in Palo Alto, and find a solution to the relentless power run game of The Cardinal.
[Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images]