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.
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.
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.
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 FishDuck.com for Tuesday’s article as we delve into the next stage of a season review on defense.
Top Photo by Nancy Paiva
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!
FishDuck Going to Articles on Monday and Tuesday Only…
Our off-season schedule begins, and we move from publishing articles seven days a week to Mondays and Tuesdays only. Same great group of writers, and we will have an article on other days on occasion.
The Our Beloved Ducks Forum (OBD) is where we we discuss the article above and many more topics, as it is so much easier in a message board format over there. At the free OBD forum we will be posting Oregon Sports article links, the daily Press Releases from the Athletic Department and the news coming out every day.
Our 33 rules at the free OBD Forum can be summarized to this: 1) be polite and respectful, 2) do not tell anyone what to think, feel or write, and 3) no reference of any kind to politics. Easy-peasy!
OBD Forum members….we got your back. No Trolls Allowed!