While final scores do not always indicate as much, most people agree that heading into a bowl game — as in the case of Oregon vs Florida State in the first ever College Football Playoff Semifinal — the initial advantage is to the defense.
Why? Because it will be nearly a month since either team will have played a game, and that is a long time for defensive coaches to look at film and perhaps even every snap the opponent has taken on offense during the regular season.
Of course that does not change the proverbial thought process that just because you know what the opponent is going to do you can stop it…whether you have had one week to prepare or one month!
Defensive Coordinator Don Pellum and the Oregon defense have come under a wide range of scrutiny during the regular season. Some people have said Pellum should be in the press box area like his predecessor Nick Aliotti. Others have expressed concern over missed tackles and admittedly poor communication among players on the field.
Yet the Oregon defense held every Pac-12 Conference opponent below its scoring average, except for Cal, which scored its average and not a point more! In other words, no conference opponent scored more points than its average, and that includes Arizona in its regular season defeat of Oregon. This in a conference which is touted around the country as “high scoring” with “NFL type quarterbacks.”
Interestingly, Oregon ranks right in the middle of the conference (#6) in both rushing and passing defense, yet is second in scoring defense — which suggests, as we often observe, there may be yards and first downs given up between the 20-yard lines, but when it comes time to score the ball, the defense shuts the door!
Here are the numbers for the Oregon Ducks in the category of scoring defense, i.e. average points allowed per game starting with Chip Kelly’s first year, through this year to date:
2009 – 23.8 (4th in the then Pac-10)
2010 – 18.7 (2nd in Pac-10)
2011 – 24.6 (5th in the Pac-12)
2012 – 21.6 (3rd in Pac-12…Kelly’s last season as head coach)
2013 – 20.5 (2nd in Pac-12…Helfrich’s first season as head coach)
2014 – 22.5 (2nd in Pac-12)
Bear in mind that these numbers also reflect the speed with which Oregon’s offense scores, which results in more possessions and therefore opportunities to score for the opposition. I am pretty sure that a check of average margin of victory would reveal an even greater difference than the handful of points difference among all those years. In fact, the worst dropoff in defense came between Kelly’s second and third seasons…Nearly six points!
Nor is the “Helfrich is doing it with Kelly’s players” argument a valid one, because Kelly did it with Bellotti’s players, especially in the 2010 season. The most consistent stretch has been from Kelly’s final year to today with only a two-point difference among those years — and that includes a change in head coaches and defensive coordinators!
During that time frame Oregon has never had the top ranked scoring defense in the conference. Yet arguably, it has been the best team! GO DUCKS!
Top photo by Craig Strobeck