The Oregon Ducks are not known for their defense. College football fans have come accustomed to the Ducks and their fast paced and high scoring offense. With last season being head coach Mark Helfrich’s first as the leader of the Oregon football program, it was business as usual for the Ducks’ offense; high scoring games and sub two minute drives are still the norm. However, leading up to the Alamo Bowl, the Oregon Ducks made headlines on the defensive side of the ball.
In the weeks leading up to the bowl game, long time defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti announced he would retire following the game. The news shocked some in Eugene as Aliotti had been the coordinator since 1999, but it was time for a change. As Oregon grew into a fast paced offensive powerhouse, Aliotti was forced to adjust his scheme on defense. Considering the defense is on the field far more than the Oregon offense, Aliotti began to recruit smaller and faster players on defense. On some occasions the Oregon defense looks lackluster at best, but more often than not, the defense is above average at Oregon. In fact, the Ducks defense ranks in the top 40 nationally almost every year. Which is impressive considering how often they are on the field.
When looking at Oregon Ducks in the NFL, the big named players are often on the defensive side of the ball – Haloti Ngata, Dion Jordan, Jairus Byrd, TJ Ward, Kiko Alonso and Patrick Chung to name a few. While these players play different positions and played at Oregon in various times, they all have one thing in common – Aliotti. Maybe it is great natural talent possessed by the players, or maybe it is due to the coaching, in either sense Aliotti had an impact. What is clear is that Nick Aliotti coached great NFL talent while at the University of Oregon, and he will be missed.
Finding a replacement for Aliotti was in internal search for Oregon, much like other coaching hires. The University of Oregon hired linebackers coach Don Pellum on January 14th, 2014 as the program’s next defensive coordinator. Pellum, a former Oregon Linebacker, spent 15 seasons coaching the Ducks linebackers and welcomes the challenge that comes with the promotion. Pellum has a firm grasp on how the Ducks play defense, and should continue a similar scheme and the same aggressive style of play laid down by Aliotti.
Don Pellum will have to improve the Oregon run defense first and foremost. In losses against Stanford and Arizona, the Ducks front seven was repeatedly exposed and couldn’t get off the field on third down. Also, the Ducks lost several key down lineman to graduation including Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli, and Wade Keliikipi. Replacing those players is going to be key for Pellum’s success this upcoming season, as teams will likely run more at Oregon.
All in all, Don Pellum should be successful as the new Oregon defensive coordinator. He has been involved in the recruiting process more lately, and being a former player he has a firm grasp on how the Oregon program operates. Pellum brings a more aggressive and intense manner to the Oregon sideline. While Aliotti coached from the press box, Pellum should be remain on the field and that should bring just a little added fire to the team during games. If Pellum is able to fill the holes in the front seven, the Oregon defense shouldn’t take too much of a step backwards; and its possible that the change might even make the Ducks better up front. Only time will tell how successful Don Pellum will be, but if history is any indication, the Ducks will be successful again with promoting from within and keep their aggressive attacking style on defense.