When someone mentions the Oregon Ducks, most people think of a fast-paced explosive offense that leaves defenders in a whirlwind searching for their own jock straps as the band strikes up “Mighty Oregon” and the Duck starts doing pushups. Lost in the offensive storm is a secret scarcely ever uttered east of the Oregon-Idaho state line: Oregon has a nationally prominent defense as well. While there are some key departures from the 2012 squad, the secondary, led by junior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, returns intact – and that, my friends, is very bad news for offenses on Oregon’s schedule.
The secret of the Duck ‘D’ is starting to leak out as the defense expands its contribution to the Ducks’ wins. The Oregon defense led all of college football with 40 turnovers in 2012, and in the process made a huge statement on the importance of the emerging Duck defense.
But with the departures of top pass-rusher Dion Jordan and linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso to the NFL, there are some questions as to whether the same tenacious defense will return to the 2013 campaign. It is a reasonable concern, yet the Ducks return a loaded defensive line and one of the most talented secondaries in Oregon football history.
Granted there are some holes to fill on the defense front seven, but the entire starting secondary comes back from a squad that led the nation with 26 interceptions in 2012. Whoa! Oregon leading in defensive stats? When did that begin and how many people east of the Willamette Valley actually know of the national prominence of the Duck defense?
One reason for the recent success is the increase in quality of defensive recruits. As a result, over the past two seasons Duck fans have had the luxury of getting a glimpse at a rising star in the world of college football, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
With his ability to change a game in an instant and his impact on big games, the junior from Chino Hills, Calif. has been a favorite at Autzen Stadium. In 2012 he had two interceptions and a touchdown in a 49-0 rout of Arizona, nine tackles and three deflections against USC, and nine tackles, and two forced fumbles with one fumble recovery against Stanford.
His play-making ability and success have propelled Ekpre-Olomu into the national spotlight, topping ESPN’s Rod Gilmore’s list of top corner backs heading into the 2013 season, and working his way toward being a top prospect for next year’s draft.
I had a chance to sit down with Ekpre-Olomu this summer. When asked of his thoughts about being named at the top of the list of the elite corner backs in college football, Ekpre-Olomu responded modestly.
“It’s great to be named one of the top corners, because it shows that people respect my ability,” he said. “It also gives me motivation to keep working harder every day to prove it to myself.”
Ifo is not the biggest, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with quickness, athleticism, and a high level of physicality. This is why he excels in man-to-man coverage, which opens up all kinds of issues for opposing quarterbacks.
His sudden burst and closing speed on routes allow him to bait quarterbacks into making passes through windows they believe to be open, and then he quickly makes a play on the ball. The tactic paid big dividends last season. Ifo’s number’s rose significantly – from eight pass deflections in 2011 to 20 in 2012, and he added four interceptions.
His athleticism and physicality not only help in man coverage and the short to mid-range passing game, but also play a big part in run support. He has a unique ability to shed blocks and make tackles.
What sets No. 14 apart from the rest?
“I think it’s my ability to play the ball because of my confidence; when the ball is in the air, I feel like it’s mine to lose and not the other way around,” he said.
Resiliency is key and it is why Ekpre-Olomu excels at his position and has become arguably the top cornerback in college football.
Leading by example, Ekpre-Olomu promises a climb to new heights for this tenacious defense as they head into yet another run toward the BCS Championship game.
Photo at top from video and stats from NCAA.com
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