Next Man Up: Oregon’s Defensive Loss May Be Key to Rose Bowl Victory

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The loss of All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu hurts, and it hurts a lot, simply because Oregon fans know he has the potential to be great at the next level. Since the Rose Bowl match-up was announced, most experts considered the Rashad Greene vs Ekpre-Olomu battle a key to who would win the game. Now that Ekpre-Olomu is out, Greene running wild seems to be a foregone conclusion with the consensus that FSU just has too many offensive weapons for Oregon to overcome without its All-Pac-12 superstar. Don Pellum and the defensive staff have the overwhelming task of trying to fill the gap left by Ekpre-Olomu’s injury, but sometimes, when all hope seems lost, one just has to look a little deeper for a silver lining.

Devon Allen

Kevin Cline

Devon Allen

The worst answer a coach can give when asked about the opposing team and its schemes is, “I don’t know.” That’s exactly what Jimbo Fisher and the FSU offensive staff will be faced with when breaking down how to attack Oregon’s defense, and more specifically the secondary. Here is what Fisher knows about Oregon’s defensive plans for the Rose Bowl as of today: absolutely nothing, just like the rest of us.

Losing a player with the talent of an Ekpre-Olomu isn’t as simple as “next man up,” even if that’s the mantra we will continue to hear from Mark Helfrich and his staff over the next two weeks. Losing a player of that caliber almost requires pulling out the eraser and starting at the whiteboard from scratch.

Sometimes a complete revamp can be devastating, but sometimes, when the coaches are smart and experienced, they can make magic out of nothing. In the case of Oregon’s defensive unit, Fisher and the rest of the FSU coaches have no idea what Oregon, and specifically Pellum, are going to do. That might actually be a good thing.

Rumors are already buzzing about what changes are happening behind closed doors. Could freshman speedster Devon Allen, known for popping tackling defenders, possibly play both ways? Will freshman Chris Seisay, while allowing two touchdowns in 4th quarter relief against UCLA, show he’s capable of filling Ekpre-Olomu’s shoes? Would Oregon move Tony Washington to the other side to cover Greene?

Could Pellum completely revamp the defensive schemes and show FSU something it hasn’t seen on film yet? If I’m Fisher and FSU, this might be the worst possible scenario. How do you plan for a defense you may not have seen before? FSU, most likely, isn’t going to work too hard on changing up its offense. With 17 INTs and 28 total turnovers on the year, FSU can’t afford to just hand the ball to Oregon with Marcus Mariota and company notorious for making opposing teams pay for their mistakes.

Chris Seisay

Craig Strobeck

Chris Seisay

The challenge for the FSU coaching staff is figuring out how to create an offensive strategy against a defense crazy enough, and desperate enough, to literally try anything. And it is important to mention that Oregon will have had almost a full four weeks to get healthy. Nagging injuries to players such as DeForest Buckner,Arik Armstead and others will hopefully be healed up, and a fresh front seven will be able to put more pressure on Jameis Winston and the Florida State offensive line.

Every Oregon Duck fan would feel significantly better knowing Ekpre-Olomu was on the field covering a future NFL talent such as Greene. However, there is some excitement in knowing that FSU, ‘Noles fans, Oregon fans and college football fanatics know absolutely nothing about Oregon’s defensive strategies and schemes for the Rose Bowl as of today. Healthy? – Check. Hungry? – Check. Crazy? – Absolutely. Oregon’s defense is the key to making the College Football National Championship Game, and sometimes when desperation turns to determination, that can be an impossible thing to stop. The Ducks’ defense is desperate, and the safe bet is that it’s become determined as well.

Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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