After his Week 1 loss, Oregon head coach Dan Lanning said, “The Ducks were out coached by Georgia, and the team didn’t play as well as it can.” Fans saw that the Duck defense got used up. But does Lanning have a plan for how to fix the issues that plagued the defense?
It’s important to keep perspective that Oregon wasn’t going to win this game, and that Georgia was the team with more talent. That said, the Ducks didn’t play up to their talent level. Shared blame goes on the players and coaches.
One of the most glaring problems was that the players are not fully up to speed on Lanning’s scheme. Obviously, learning the new scheme change is part of the problem, but the old system also contributes. Last year’s scheme wasn’t an attacking scheme like Lanning’s; it was more of a read-and-react defense that kept the plays in front of them.
The new scheme requires players to read and react at hyper-speed. The reaction is to kick into full sprint to get into the play and cause havoc. The Duck players seem to still be in the process of learning to hit attack mode right after the read. Lanning brought the Georgia defensive scheme to Oregon, and there was a big difference in how the Dawgs players got into the play after the read on Saturday.
The Dawgs’ DBs are much more aggressive after reading run or screen. They close on the play faster; they fight through blocks harder. The mentality is that they refuse to be blocked! This is the only way they have learned to play the college game. As such, the Dawgs do well flooding defenders into the play early. This takes cutback lanes away or pushes plays to the sideline, so the pursuit catches the play. The Duck DBs will have to work on developing these instincts and the tenacity to fight through blocks.
The Georgia inside linebackers were both new starters, but you would never know by the way they played. They were excellent in knowing where their read was, and then running into the play. It didn’t matter if it was a run or pass. The Dawgs’ linebackers knew their responsibility in the scheme and didn’t blow coverages.
Playing fast mentally and physically is what makes defenses elite. I think the best example of this would be the Georgia free safety in the Ducks’ second possession of the game. The Ducks ran Noah Whittington to the sideline, and the UGA safety was 12 yards deep at the snap. The safety read run, and instantly kicked into a full sprint to the line of scrimmage. The safety locked on Whittington like a missile and came up to make the stop for a loss!
When the defender who starts 12 yards off the ball flies up into a run play to the edge for a loss, you’re an elite unit. We can expect the Duck defenders will read and attack faster as the season progresses.
Another area that needs improvement is knowing assignments and not blowing them. The Ducks blew assignments in the run and pass game that let plays go. I counted seven busts in the first half between the run and pass, and both touchdowns had busts.
The touchdown where three Duck defenders missed sacking Stenson Bennett had a cover bust from the snap. Dawgs WR No. 84 Ladd McConkey came in pre-snap motion across the field to Duck safety Jamal Hill‘s side. Hill didn’t account that he suddenly had a WR to cover. Hill came across the line to play the run, and McConkey was open from the start of the play. Hill ended up being one of the players to miss the sack on Bennett, and McConkey ended up making the wide-open touchdown catch.
Work in the film room should educate the players on the blown assignments. Players will also see they need to react full speed after their reads to close on the play faster. Film also won’t lie in showing who is refusing to be blocked.
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The final piece the defense need to address is tackling. The film will also tell the truth on that. The way to fix this will be in practice drills working on fundamentals, and Lanning is doing that. On top of that, the coaches may set an expectation, or the poor tacklers will play less frequently.
Georgia runs the same defense as the Ducks. There is opportunity for growth by making an honest comparison of how the two units played. I suspect Lanning will ask his players to study the Georgia defenders to provide examples of how to do it right. Lanning has been talking since fall camp started about reading, then playing full “green light,” not “yellow light” speed. Now the players can see what Lanning has been referring to.
While the Ducks have work to do, we can expect there will be a huge improvement from Week 1 into Week 2. That growth will continue throughout the season and the defense will improve tremendously.
Duck fans, what are your expectations for improvement with the Oregon defense? Please share your thoughts in the OBD FORUM!
Top Photo by Tom Corno
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.
I was born a Cali kid and my uncle is a USC Alum. Remember going to an SC game when I was like 5 with him. I moved to Oregon in 77 when I was 6 and became a Duck fan long ago. I remember Reggie Ogburn OB days, so it was before the Ducks got good. I’ve been a sports nut since I was a kid.
I went to Tigard High about the same time as linebacker Jeremy Asher did, and I watched him team with Rich Ruhl on the inside of the Gang Green defense.
Lots of Ducks memories, Danny O’Neil’s passing in 1st Rose Bowl, Kenny Wheaton, Joey’s comebacks early in his career and how jacked up he got!
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