Offense wins games, defense wins championships. In Oregon offense has won 62 games in the last five and a half years. Offense has won four consecutive BCS Bowl berths. Offense has won an NFL-like facility. The offense is the grassroots to a cult swing in football. Yep, in Eugene offense has won them just about everything, except a national championship. But 2013 is different. Chip Kelly’s gone, but Oregon continues to march on. 2013 is much different and it’s because of the Ducks defense. A defense that has its eyes set on ending the reign of a school 2,500 miles southeast of Eugene.
Oregon’s defense may be one of the most underrated D’s in the country. Ranked sixth in points against and sixth in yards per play allowed the Ducks D showed what it’s capable of against conference rival Washington Saturday afternoon. Huskies quarterback Keith Price was held to just 200 yards of total offense, picked off once, and sacked four times in the Ducks 45-24 win.
Oregon’s defense is constructed about as perfectly as a dangerous defense can be. With size on the front line, a veteran and speedy secondary, and an experienced, football savvy linebacker core, the fast and physical Ducks defense “wants to be feared.” Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has Oregon’s defense playing just as fast and fierce as their offense, which is why they are so scary. “We’re not into ‘bend but don’t break’,” Alliotti has said. And having seen the damage a big, explosive play has on opponents, Aliotti’s defense is all about preventing the “explosion play.” If their performance against Washington wasn’t enough, a look at their first six games and you gain a sense of just how dominant Oregon has been.
Oregon’s defense is run much like their offense. Aliotti’s hockey-like system has his players playing in shifts, keeping them both fresh and healthy. And when your offense is on and off the field in a matter of minutes, freshness is key. Few see the consequence of Oregon’s fast-strike offense; a defense that spends a lot of time on the field. Recent projections show the Ducks D is on the field nearly 63% of the time. The need for a deep roster is crucial if the defense is looking to be successful.
One aspect of Oregon’s defense that catches opponents off guard is their physicality. People just don’t expect Oregon football to be physical. After all, their offense is all about creating space, playing fast, and hitting the big play, so why wouldn’t the defense be similar. Coming to Eugene, the birthplace of faster football, everyone has heard about the five-star athletes that litter the Ducks roster. But what few realize is that these five-star athletes love to hit. A defense that runs 20-25 guys deep, all of which the most dynamic athletes at their position, hitting you in old school football fashion. Ask Tennessee how physical Oregon plays. The Volunteers of SEC boasted a bigger offensive line, but Oregon’s defense stood their ground, and at times pushed back the Vols’ linemen.
Having passed their first true test in Washington, the Ducks still have UCLA and Stanford standing in their way. Stanford played spoiler to Oregon’s title hopes last season, and UCLA has now replaced USC as Southern California’s premiere college football program. Oregon’s road to a Pac-12 Championship won’t be easy. With an offense that makes opponents look like they are playing with eight guys, the Ducks are the consensus pick as Pac-12 champions. And with a defense that’s fast and furious, Oregon’s primed to hoist the Crystal Ball in January.