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Oregon Must Ride Its Defense to a Title

Joshua Whitted Editorials

When Dan Lanning was hired as Oregon’s head coach, the assumption was the Ducks’ defense would instantly improve.

Lanning had just spent a couple of years working under one of the best defensive minds in the game, and he was an instrumental part of one of the best college defenses of all time. Besides, Oregon entered 2022 with a boatload of defensive talent, including likely first-round NFL Draft pick Noah Sewell, Brandon Dorlus and breakout star Christian Gonzalez.

But it has actually been the offense that has taken a huge leap forward. Behind Kenny Dillingham’s creativity and Bo Nix’s brilliance, Oregon has been fueled by its third-ranked offense, while its defense has actually regressed slightly.

Now it’s time for the defense to pull its weight. Nix’s injury has significantly hamstrung a Ducks’ offense that was humming at all cylinders. For Oregon to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Title Game, it will have to ride its much-maligned defense past a gritty Beavers squad.

It Might Be Tough Sledding for the Oregon Offense

One of the biggest surprises in all of college football has been the success of Oregon State, and its success is primarily due to its stingy defense, which currently ranks second in the Pac-12. The Beavers have managed to stymie some of the best offenses in the country, holding USC to a season-low 17 points and Washington to a season-low 24.

Facing the Beavers would be a challenge for the Oregon offense even if it were at full strength, but it will be even more of a grind with a hobbled Nix. The Ducks had to completely alter their approach last week against Utah, with Nix unable to move in any capacity. A gimpy Nix is still better than a lot of quarterbacks, but Oregon relied on his rushing ability a ton prior to his injury, and the offense is simply not as potent without it.

Nix’s injury limits Oregon’s offense.

Dillingham will likely have some tricks up his sleeve to generate some offense, but it would be a shock if the Ducks are able to reach their season averages in points and yards. That’s why it’s so important for Oregon’s defense to build upon its success from last week.

Just one game after Lanning’s defense got embarrassed by Michael Penix and the Huskies, it bounced back in a massive way. The Ducks faced a similarly dominant quarterback — Cameron Rising — and they absolutely suffocated him. They pressured him consistently, forcing him into off-platform and inaccurate throws. The secondary kept everything in front of them and made the Utes nickel and dime their way down the field, tightening in the red zone. And they forced turnovers and capitalized on mistakes, picking off Rising three times.

It was the best defensive game Oregon has played all year, and it came when the Ducks needed it most. Now, they’ll have to replicate it.

While Oregon State’s passing offense is a tier below Washington and Utah’s, its rushing attack is better than both. Jonathan Smith loves to stretch defenses out with his wide zone running scheme, and his decisive and explosive runners are masters at following their keys and gaining yards after contact.

Oregon needs to replicate its defensive performance from last week.

Oregon did a tremendous job of bullying Utah at the line of scrimmage last week. Casey Rogers, Dorlus and Sewell showed out in a big way, creating all sorts of disruption in both the running game and the passing game.

With a likely limited offense once again, the Ducks will need the same level of intensity and physicality on defense in order to beat the Beavers and earn the right to play USC for the Pac-12 Championship. The offense has carried its weight to this point in the season. Now, it’s time for the defense to prove its worth.

Joshua Whitted
Grove City, Ohio
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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