The Sports Daily > Duck Stops Here
Is the defensive line a fatal weakness for the 2011 Oregon Duck football team?

Special Guest post by Michael Tallia

In the first half of the LSU game Duck fans had to be pleased with the defensive play, especially against the run. The Ducks made stops in the first half with their backs against the wall, showing they could play like last year’s opportunistic defense. Anthony Gildon looked like a shut down corner making plays down the field and coming up to make tackles. They went into the locker room down 16-13 after giving up just one sustained drive.

 The second half however, was a different story.

photo: Jerry Azzinaro puts his defensive troops through another intense teaching session. Can he mold this group into a more effective unit by the start of PAC-12 play? (Mark Yien, Albany Democrat-Herald)

As the game worn on and the time of possession mounted, the Ducks failed to stop the run and our corners were out of place. John Boyett was forced to come up and stop the run and record 14 tackles, which is never a good sign for a defense. The D-line was pushed back and even our corners were forced to stop LSU for minor 3-5 yards gains. Although Oregon turned the ball over and put the defense in a tough position, the failure to stop the run was very apparent.

Coming into the Nevada game it didn’t figure to be an easy task for our defense to stop the run. The Wolfpack have a terrific, prolific schem that produced two 1000 rushers last season in Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua. Nevada Coach Chris Ault is the architect of the Pistol, an attack full of misdirection and multiplicity; they spread you out and make it hard to find the ball. Tailback Taua, now graduated, ran for 1600 yards last year, but replacement Mike Ball looked fast and powerful in limited action last year.

Fresh off the debacle in Dallas, Jerry Azzinaro made some adjustments. Isaac Remington got the start at strongside defensive tackle, which either shows that Hemiuli didn’t have a good week or the Oregon coaches decided to switch it up to find a groove. During warm-ups defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti could be seen getting in the faces of his players, making sure they took warm-ups just as seriously as the game.

 It was a sign for actions to come. Although the score at the end of the game was a blowout, Oregon’s defense seemed to lack intensity or technique up front. They had trouble getting off blocks, giving up 516 yards of offense and 5.5 yards a carry on the ground. The Wolfpack, playing in their first game of the season, put together several long drives that produced no points, stumbling repeatedly with turnovers and penalties.

Nevada ran the ball at will and it began on their very first drive. They drove down the field utilizing the pistol and pushing back our D-line. The ducks failed to get pressure or tackles for loss. I may be mistaken but the ducks finished with only one sack from Michael Clay. One sack and minimal tackles for loss isn’t Aliotti defense. Sure the defense was on the field majority of the game but that was the same case last year and we saw how that defense performed. Boyett came up with a big field goal block but that drive scared me. Where was the push and where were the linebackers hitting the holes and playing aggressive? Terrence Mitchell was forced to come up and make plays against Nevada’s run game, which shows you that not much has changed from the LSU game.

As the game progressed and Oregon scored on nearly every offensive possession, the defense continued to play poorly. Lantrip torched the Webfoots in the short passing game, picking up big third down completions to keep their drives alive. The main focal point of their passing game was Matthews who caught 8 balls for 100 yards, isn’t our secondary supposed to be good? Lantrip also torched us on the ground for an average of 5 yards along with Ball who had 14 carries for 99 yards. Nevada was running the pistol very well so I give them credit but I refuse to give our defense any credit for the minimal 20 points put on the board for Nevada. Nevada could have easily scored over 30 if it wasn’t for costly turnovers and the Autzen environment. Oregon’s defense failed to get pressure and sack the quarterback like last years’ unit. The ducks did force turnovers, which were nice to see, but the ducks failed to really make a stride this week defensively.

The ducks ended with a 69-20 victory, but defensively they lost giving up over 500 yards. I hope Aliotti finds the right combination along the defensive line because this unit has a long ways to go. Balls aren’t being batted down, pressure from the outside isn’t happening, and the linebackers are playing slower than their potential. This unit can be very athletic as seen by Hanna’s interception, but where is the speed to get to the ball? Nonetheless, great win for the Ducks and their confidence but this defense has a ways to go before it can handle the likes of Stanford and Arizona State.

With no sacks and just 2.5 tackles per loss after two games, this unit has a long way to go to match last year’s effective defensive front. The Ducks miss senior leaders and playmakers Kenny Rowe, Brandon Bair and Zac Clark. A solid spring and fall camp hasn’t translated to results on the field. Ricky Heimuli, 6-4 and 320 pounds, was counted on to be a force in the middle for the defensive line. After two games, he has only two tackles.