Ducks Defensive Line Ready to Push Back

The Oregon Ducks open the 2014 football season by hosting the University of South Dakota Coyotes at Autzen Stadium.

Just as every fight starts on the feet, every play in football starts on the line of scrimmage. The outcome of every play is determined by the “big uglies” up front.

Nothing was more evident about the above theory than the College Football Championship game against Ohio State. An article I wrote in the days leading up to the game titled The National Championship Will be Won in the Trenches, proved to be ever so true as the play of the big men for the Buckeyes determined the outcome of the game.

When you don’t get push off the line and maintain your gap responsibilities, big plays happen. What will it take for Oregon to improve on this …

to this, where the opposing linemen are on their heels instead of their toes? (Sorry for the shaky camera.)

1. Gap Control

In the simplest way possible, maintaining your gap is the most important thing you can do as a defensive lineman. Every play is designed so each position has a very specific responsibility. Sometimes, things change and players are forced to make a different read in the middle of the play. Often,  staying true to the play call will yield positive results. What do I mean by gap control? Take a look …

Basic 3-4 defensive scheme.–4_defense

Basic 3-4 defensive scheme.

The Oregon Ducks implement a 3-4 defense, and have been doing so for a long time. With guys like DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead rushing off the sides, the intention was to make opposing offenses scared of their size. Last year, however, the defensive line unit was very inconsistent. Big play after big play led to teams marching down the field against the Ducks. Thankfully, the secondary was known for creating turnovers, seemingly out of nowhere. This season, the goal is to eliminate the big plays.  This can all be made possible with good gap control.

The enforcer!

Craig Strobeck

The enforcer!

The guy to look at this year is returning starter Alex Balducci. In a 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle is incredibly important.  His main responsibility is to free up space so linebackers don’t have to go up against multiple linemen when filling open gaps. Last year, he played 621 snaps over the course of the season, so experience is not lacking whatsoever. Along with the rest of the defensive line unit, Balducci will look to lock up some offensive linemen and open holes for the linebackers to wreak havoc.

2. Push

Just as first impressions are key, gaining the advantage first almost always leads to positive results. When you have 300-pound men pushing and scrapping, the one who takes control first is likely to finish on top. The Oregon defense has been known recently to lack brute strength up front, and in order to fix some of the issues from last season, this will have to change.

Canton Kaumatule is one of the most exciting defensive prospects Oregon has seen in a while.

Kevin Cline

Canton Kaumatule is one of the most exciting defensive prospects Oregon has seen in awhile.

With Buckner coming back, the Ducks get a massive 290-pound beast that is looking to solidify himself as a first-round draft pick in 2016. Incoming 5-star recruit Canton Kaumatule has showed as much promise on the field as the scouting reports said he would. In the Spring Game, he combined for 5 tackles, and 2.5 sacks. This type of play up front will help to suppress run plays, and pressure the QB on pass plays.

Against the Buckeyes, the front seven for the Ducks was completely exploited. With a lack of push from the defensive line, linebackers were left forced to run around in free space. If defensive coordinator Don Pellum can create a strategy for his guys up front to win the battle on the line of scrimmage each and every play, the linebackers will be able to drop into coverage or help with the run when they need to. Buckner is the leader of this unit, and I fully expect him to assume that role with success this year. The days of giving up 430 yards per game are in the past — this new unit will be stout, unlike anything we have seen in recent years.

3. Athleticism

Monsters, Inc.  With yours truly, Deforest Buckner.

Kevin Cline

Monsters, Inc. With Deforest Buckner.

It sounds so cliche’, but it all makes sense when you look at it. The motto “Fast. Hard. Finish,” was coined by Chip Kelly, in an attempt to motivate his players to be the best they can be at all times. If this defensive line unit consistently maintains its gap control, and wins the battle at the beginning of every play, then things will run smoothly. Just look at how depleted the Michigan State offensive line unit was towards the end of the game in the video above.  Oregon had the ability to make them pay because of it.

Everyone knows that the Ducks like to recruit smaller, faster guys. On the defensive line, however, this is not the case. Buckner stands 6’7″ and weighs 290 pounds; Balducci stands 6’4″ and weighs 310 pounds; and, Kaumatule stands 6’7″ and weighs 290 pounds. The size is there and, based on last year, so is the athleticism.

Maintaining consistency is key for this unit because, without it, they won’t be able to exploit opposing offenses with their current level of athleticism. A solid linebacker group this year can be complemented by good work up front. As it always has been, and always will be, the success of any defense starts with the guys up front.  If athleticism plays any factor in determining that success, you better bet that Mark Helfrich and staff will have their guys ready.

The Numbers

Last season stats: Pass Yards Per Game (264.3), Rush Yards Per Game (165.4), Points Per Game (23.6).

The offense is poised to be good this year, but there is some uncertainty without having Marcus Mariota under center. If the defense can hold opponents to under 20 points per game this season, then the Ducks will win the Pac-12 and return to the College Football Playoff for the second year in a row. This can all be made possible with good solid play from the defensive line. Gap control, push, and athleticism — the three key success factors for the defensive line in 2015.

Be sure to tune back to this Tuesday for our examination of the offensive line.

Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

Print Friendly

 Volunteer Position Openings:

--Media Management/Supervisor:  We are looking for someone beyond college age who can help manage students and mentor in a number of different departments. Expertise is not required as organizational skills and interest in guiding others.   --Assistant Football Analyst: Love college football and enjoy watching it for hours? We need associates to view games and find the techniques/teaching points we identify for them in advance.  You will be recognized in publications, and could have the opportunity to move to full Analyst.   --College Football Analyst: We are looking for Coaches, or retired coaches to help create analysis videos (we do the video part) that will be viewed by thousands, and will help young football players as well as fans understand the game much better. The national recognition will help your resume' as well as make an impact upon the game we all dearly love.   --Video Specialist: We are looking for help in the Eugene/Springfield area to assist with the shooting and editing of analysis videos.   All Positions: Send a resume' with full contact information and any writing samples you have to  Again, these are volunteer positions donating five hours a week each.

Jason Selby

Jason Selby

Jason is a Junior at the University of Oregon, currently double majoring in Public Relations and Political Science. Jason has been an avid sports fan for his entire life, growing up playing Football, Basketball, and Baseball. Over the last year, Jason has found his love for sports reporting, and enjoys creating pieces that use his love and knowledge for sports to portray his message. In his spare time, Jason enjoys obsessing over Ducks sports, Scuba Diving around the world, and listening to music. Tweet at Jason…. @1seltank. He loves talking sports with other avid sports fans.


    Its all going to hinge on DC Don Pellum who will be in year 2 as the3 Duck’s DC. We all seen how Coach Helfrich and Coach Frost excelled at each position in year 2 as it was night and day. Now Coach Pellum needs to excel at his job in year 2 or be replaced because this is getting tiring watching the Achillies Heal be the Defense and not lacking players either because they are there. TCU recruits 3 star players on Defense yet every year Coach Patterson has them always ranked in the TOP 10 of defenses in College Football and their offense is a spread offense. I’ m tired of hearing that well the Ducks D is on the field longer than any other Defense in the nation. The reasons for this is they are not stopping offenses consistently on 3rd down and this bend but don’t break defense needs to just go away because there’s no excuses for this Defense not to be way better than last years D. No offense to Armstead but Buckner is a better D Lineman and Canton will be better than both. This team needs this Defense to be aggressive every game because if any of that crap happens to what happened in the Championship game then somebody needs to be looking at the Coaching here because it will need a heavy upgrade because nobody want’s to here Bend but don’t break Defense again.

    • arch27

      Well said. It’s getting really tiring watching a team capable of greatness allow such crappy D. Ohio State is a nice team, but you’d think that a program like Oregon – probably a better all-around athletics school – would take more pride in physically manhandling an Ohio State or an FSU. They need to get past legacy coaches and hire the people that get this crap done. It’s idiotic to argue for why this still continues at Oregon.

  • VegasNed

    I’m not as hard on the Dline as Maitai. Wisconsin and Alabama had very good defenses last year and they got shredded by Ohio St. Alabama’s vaunted D gave up as many pts and yards as Oregon did to OSU. And, Oregon took the ball away 4 times in the championship game. It wasn’t Pellum’s fault that the offense couldn’t move the ball except for the first drive of the game and for the Byron Marshall catch and run. I admit that I was disappointed that Oregon couldn’t slow OSU down in the red zone,…I thought we had a chance to stack up the line of scrimmage against the run and make that inexperienced QB beat us with his arm. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

    For the season, Oregon finished 2nd in the pac12 in pts per game allowed (, behind an awesome Stanford defense which finished first. Pretty darn respectable,….and considering our LB crew played inconsistently throughout last year, I’m guessing the DL contributed heavily to Oregon’s success on D last year.

    Finally, lets not forget that Marcus M easily could have left for the NFL after his redshirt sophomore year. If that was the case and Marcus did not play QB for the Ducks last year, I guarantee we wouldn’t be talking about the defense line being the weakness of the team. Our O would have been decent, but no where near the machine it was with MM at the helm. The offense heavily relied on one guy to take them to the next level. One guy. The defense could have suffered a few personnel losses and still be pretty darn good.

    over and out