The Biggest Challenge facing the Oregon Ducks

Oregon only returns five starters on defense. Don Pellum will have to rebuild and reenergive a defense that had trouble stopping people in 2014, particularly in big games at the end of the year.

Rushin’ hospitality: DeForest Buckner and Torrodney Prevot apply pressure on Case McCoy in December’s Alamo victory. Pressure and penetration are the two keys to a great defense, and the Ducks have to create a lot of it with a young lineup in 2014 (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports).

The defensive front seven struggled with the running game. Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Texas shredded them pounding the ball straight ahead. Marcus Mariota and the offense saved them with a big drive at the end of the Civil War.

And Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli,  Wade Keliikipi, Boseko Lokombo, Terrance Mitchell, Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson are all gone, and with them 407 tackles.

Oregon has to get more aggressive. Pellum says they have to tackle better and improve their fundamentals. The scheme has to simplified so promising young players can get on the field sooner. They have to execute and avoid costly penalties and lapses in coverage and missed tackles and missed assignments,

The 2014 defense has to be more disciplined and consistent, with less experience.

Fans lament a lack of beef in the front line, but Pellum, Ron Aiken and Erik Chinander have to work with what they have. That means turning an athletic and somewhat undersized rotation into an agile, attacking unit that wins the line of scrimmage.

In their best plays below, the 2013 Oregon defense did exactly that. This year they have to do it more often, with a better plan and a greater sense of purpose.

They’ll be helped by the addition of Tua Talia and Austin Maloata for the front line. Two quick and physical players, at 285 and 291, they may be able to contribute immediately up front. Rodney Hardrick showed signs and becoming an assertive middle linebacker through last season, and he could make a leap in his play in his second year as a starter.  Danny Mattingly joins the rotation after a year on the scout team, and at 6-5, 230, he could be an impact player. Outside linebacker Torrodney Prevot played in 12 games as a true freshman, and he may be able to be a starter.

The secondary should succeed in reloading, given the talent back there and John Neal’s track record. Redshirt freshman Tyree Robinson and junior college transfer Dominque Harrison could become very good players, and Dior Mathis has already played a lot through three seasons, now a senior. He had a weaving, 97-yard kickoff return against Virginia, blocked a field goal versus Nicholls State.

As a squad, a big part of the defenses’ success or failure depends on the health and development of Alex Balducci, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Tony Washington. Pellum needs these four to become great players, and stay in the lineup for 14 games.

The other possibility is that the Oregon offense, with 10 of 11 starters returning, a dynamic quarterback and a veteran offensive line, could succeed in just outscoring people. It’s unconventional. Championship teams are rarely built that way, but few teams have had the array of speed and talent the Quack Attack will line up with, starting the season ranked third in the country.

From Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup and Youtube channel MadMike1951, the defense and special teams highlights for last year’s 10th-ranked, 11-2 Ducks:

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