Don Pellum Building a Dominant Ducks Defense


When you look at the Oregon football team what do you see? You see the uniforms and the high-speed offense; you see the flash. You don’t see what defensive coordinator Don Pellum sees; you probably don’t pay much attention to the defensive side of the ball at all.

Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum

Kevin Cline

Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum

The Ducks operate a bend-but-don’t-break defensive scheme. If the offense is operating at usual efficiency, the defense only needs to get a few stops to put the opponent down by two or three scores – and playing catch up against the Ducks is almost impossible. What Oregon does a great job at, is making adjustments, and these could come during the game in terms of on-field personnel, alignments and play calling. But after the game is over, and the Ducks hit the practice field, the real adjustments begin.

Wednesday, Don Pellum talked with the Pac-12 blog about how his defense performed last season, his first as defensive coordinator. Chantel Jennings of ESPN reported the interview.

“The way we evaluate ourselves and our players is that throughout the season the issues or things that we weren’t doing well, the problems that came up — did we come up solutions? The solutions are not just changing calls or changing personnel, some of it may be that there was a period of time early in the season when we weren’t tackling well and we were leaving a lot of plays on the field, we were giving up a lot of yards after contact so we created some periods [in practice] where we did more tackling, but it wasn’t just your normal tackling drills. We took the film, looked at the tackles we were missing and the leverages that we were missing and created some drills to clean it up.”

Oregon has never been traditional. So naturally, the way the Ducks practice would follow a similar untraditional route. What Pellum did was create drills that mirrored the mistakes on the field and the defense improved greatly; playing their best football from November 1 up until the title game – outscoring opponents 297-105 during the six-game stretch. Pellum went on to say:

“I think right about midseason we played better. I think the improved performance was a byproduct of us really continuing to look at ourselves and how we could get better at what we did defensively… And then in the national championship, we didn’t play our best game. We had been working toward it, but we didn’t. We didn’t communicate as well. The thing we did a poor job of was that we didn’t read well, we didn’t tackle well.”

The Oregon defense had its best game in the Pac-12 Championship game against Arizona.

Kevin Cline

The Oregon defense had its best game in the Pac-12 Championship game against Arizona, holding the Wildcats to only 224 total yards.

I will admit, we were somewhat exposed against Ohio State in the national title game. The counter “wham/trap” play the Buckeyes ran dominated our defense for the majority of the game. But now it’s on film, which means the defense can review it and make those key adjustments to get prepared for next year. Mark Helfrich was a much better coach in his second year than his first year, mostly due to being more comfortable in his role as the leader of the program. Next year will be Pellum’s second year as the defensive coordinator; he will be even more comfortable leading film sessions, leading practices, and making those key adjustments we were so good at last year. Not to mention he is a great recruiter, landing guys like five star defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule and big hitter Fotu Leiato with personal visits during this recruiting season. As Pellum improves, so will the defense overall.

The Ducks will likely have another high-octane offense in 2015, but how will the defense look? With key personnel losses including Arik Armstead, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill, Tony Washington, Erick Dargan and Derrick Malone, many fans won’t be expecting much from the defensive unit; but what else is new? Our defense benefits from our offense, there is no doubt about it, but if we get in the weight room and get bigger like we did last offseason and Pellum continues to make strides as the leader of the defensive unit, our offense might not be the only force next year.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Nik Brownlee

Nik Brownlee

University of Oregon alumnus and Duck football fanatic. Born in Eugene and raised in Autzen Stadium, sports are the foundation for who I am. Passionate about fitness, the outdoors and making people laugh. If I'm not talking about sports, chances are I'm listening to my music too loud.

  • nottrue

    This is not true. The defense is bend don’t break. We have the DEs stand up and look around on passing downs and the NT do the same. It doesn’t matter if it is 3rd and 21 – the other team gets a first down at an alarming rate. We need to switch to a 4-3 defense. Period. We have the personnel for it and I don’t want to watch the 3-4 scheme any more. it is for weaklings.

    • NativeDuck

      Nottrue is correct. Can I get an amen!!

    • Nik Brownlee

      I agree with the 4-3 but unfortunately we can’t have our way. With that said, when the defense is on, we can be very good. All we need is an opportunistic group and as much as I wish we had an “SEC” type defense, it’s not our scheme. With our great offense we don’t need to hold teams to only 10 or so points. I’m with you though, I wish we ran a 4-3 with two big lineman to clog the middle. We can dream though right? Thanks for reading.

      • BigBallzChipper

        Rumor is going around that we might switch to a 4-3.

  • goducks58

    I believe the word in the title you are looking for is “Dominant.”

    • Mike Merrell, Editor in Chief

      Thanks, goducks. Got it.

      • goducks58

        Always a pleasure Mike. Keep up the good work. And great writing by you as well.

  • PellumHasD?

    Yeah we seriously need to switch to a 4-3. I’m still not a very big DP fan. We’ll have to see how well he does this year. Talent, recruiting, results, etc. all point to a 4-3. I just think he’s a stubborn guy who probably spends more time looking in the mirror than thinking of game plans.

    • BigBallzChipper

      You sound butt-hurt! Listen I think he did better with our D this year than the previous DC in 2013. Look at how well we played against everyone except tOSU. Even the lose to Zona @ half time they only had a field goal. The 3rd quarter hurt us with wheel routes used by Rich Rod (RR) which was a excellent adjustment by Zona. Lastly look at the fourth quarter Zona only scored a TD @ 02:54 left on the clock. Not to mention that scoring drive was very controversial. The only time I saw our D flustered was during the Natty. In the first half and really in the 1st quarter they were breaking into the backfield but just couldn’t bring down #12. He was big and strong and our LB and CB went high to take him down he just shook it off and either ran/threw for it. Good for him #12 was/is a beast! By the middle/tail end of the 2nd quarter our D was sucking wind. However, what got me is the 2nd half I did not really see any second half adjustments for that “Wham/Trap” play. I saw it being used over and over when we had tOSU in a 3rd or 2nd long and it was very successful against us. I understand why we didn’t have in game adjustments in the second half it was almost like he was conceding because he didn’t want them throwing at Siesay our CB opposite Troy Hill. Which why I keep watching the second half and trying to figure out what was DP trying to do then…..

  • Eric

    4-2-5, 4-2-5!! Lol. I don’t care what we run as long as we do it effectively. But the 4-2-5, while occasionally going 3-3-5 is my favorite. Especially in the manner that TCU does. Even Zona’s 3-3-5 has done well at slowing down Oregon’s offense the past two seasons.

  • Danny Shearer

    I am not sure yet if Don Pellum is suited or good at his job. Hate saying it but the weakest link of the team was our defense and I contribute that to poor defensive play calling and not making the proper adjustments. I admit the defensive unit improved and did great at the end of the season, minus the Ohio State game. We have proven and great position coaches and our players are great on that side of the ball so why did that unit preform so-badly??? If we want to stay on top we need the best coaches we can get and in my opinion Don Pellum is or should be on the hot seat. I am rooting for him and hope that unit performs better. Hopefully a year of experience makes all the difference.