Season Review: Lanning and Lupoi Pull A ‘Hoke’ Job

DazeNconfused Editorials

As I’ve followed and written about the Oregon Ducks defense, I’ve been thrown many twists and curveballs from what I expected coming into this year. The expectation was with our roster talent, and the genius defensive mind of new head coach Dan Lanning, our defense would be elite. What we witnessed instead was the Ducks worst statistical defense since Brady Hoke‘s 2016 squad.

I wasn’t the only analyst that had these high of expectations for the Ducks defense. My fellow FishDuck writer Mr. FishDuck (Charles Fischer) expected much the same. During our extensive discussion of all things Ducks football Charles and I were consistently ahead of the other Ducks Media with our analysis.

Early in the season the question on both our minds was “where is the havoc defense Tosh Lupoi talked about fielding

The Riddle Of The Oregon Defense

Mr. FishDuck and I kept our readers informed and educated to what the Duck defense was doing with a series of articles during the season. We were the first to break after the Washington State game how Lanning was employing a Bend-But-Don’t-Break Redux with heavy base Cover-2 defense. Mr. FishDuck explained Oregon’s primary four-man rush using simulated pressures. We explained how Dillingham’s high scoring offense allowed Oregon to outscore teams and let Lanning run that safer Cover-2.

I explained the WAZZU use of a Cover-1 defense that was havoc style, and compared it to the Oregon Cover-2. Mr. FishDuck shared how Lanning was using the high scoring Ducks Bend-But-Don’t-Break to make teams burn clock driving the field. That Lanning was shortening the game and limiting possessions so that teams didn’t have enough time to mount a comeback.

Michael Penix performed against the Ducks as I feared…

Lastly, before the Washington game I shared with our readers how coach Kalen DeBoer can use the strong arm of his QB Michael Penix, and schemes to exploit the Oregon Cover-2. That week I also shared how Lanning could possibly switch up and mix in some new looks other than Cover-2 to try to slow Penix down. Unfortunately, Lanning had no tricks for Penix, and UW exposed the Ducks in the ways I predicted they could.

It was at this point Mr. FishDuck and I had some heated discussions that we didn’t entirely agree on. But we always keep it civil, and we often provoke a thought from the other or take the other’s premise even further. Mr. FishDuck drew the conclusion that Lanning must feel he doesn’t have the personnel to run a havoc Cover-1 scheme.

I made the point his roster is full of blue-chips that are better than the WAZZU players, and they are running a havoc Cover-1 scheme. I also made the point that Lanning keeps saying we have to get better on third down, but he keeps doing the same darn thing. Was Lanning not using his players to their strength in the Cover-2? Noah Sewell was a downhill gap filling, run stuffing, get-after-the-QB type of LB; why weren’t the coaches setting him loose?

After I repeated several things three times–Mr. FishDuck told me he heard me the first time. I was frustrated, and he was frustrated with me beating the same drum. But our exchange as always widened our perspectives, as Charles expressed how Oregon coaches may be reluctant to switch Duck defensive linemen from two-gapping to one-gapping in a short period of time. Bottom line: there was no denying that WAZZU and USC were using more aggressive schemes were creating far more sacks, tackles for losses and turnovers than the Ducks were.

False Hope

Then the next week Oregon reinvented its defense into a heavy Cover-1 team. Nix being hurt, the Ducks assumed scoring would be down, and Cover-1 is a better defense scheme to defend Utah. Many of the changes and different looks I’d been calling to see were run in the Utah game.

Running gaps were plugged against Utah when Oregon ran a Cover-1 defense.

This led to another long talk between Mr. FishDuck and I. Did Lanning have second thoughts on his Cover-2 scheme? Will he stay Cover-1 heavy the rest of the year? Many fans thought DC Tosh Lupoi was in the doghouse, but I did not agree. Being that Lanning green lighted the week-to-week scheme change–it was all hands-on deck and Lanning led the way.

The Utah game saw the Ducks in Cover-1 over 50% of the time. We were now showing five-men and six-men fronts. The defensive line calls were more aggressive with slants or shooting gaps. We showed and ran a 4-3 set, while running more aggressive blitzes and stunts. The Cover-1 extra defender in the box helped create three turnovers. Bennett Williams playing the Star position was named the Pac-12 Defensive player of the week.

The Utah game was our best defensive game of the year and proved we can play aggressive downhill Cover-1 defense. I still wondered if Lanning had made a big mistake when he committed to the Cover-2 Bend-But-Don’t-Break scheme to start the year? I also felt he made a mistake in the UW game by not changing and mixing his looks, and playing cat-and-mouse with Penix.

Let’s discuss this in the forum-with-decorum, and do check for Tuesday’s article as we delve into the next stage of a season review on defense.

Portland, Oregon
Top Photo by Nancy Paiva

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In mid-August of 2024, we will go back to the seven-days-a-week of articles during the football season as we did in the football season of 2023.

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