Sep 7, 2013; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Oregon Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (14) breaks up a pass intended for Virginia Cavaliers running back Khalek Shepherd (23) as defensive back Brian Jackson (12) looks on in the second quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Previewing the Oregon Ducks Defense

Jan 2, 2012; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks linebacker Derrick Malone (22) runs onto the field before the first half in the 2012 Rose Bowl game against Wisconsin Badgers at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody always talks about Oregon Duck’s offense. It’s something that comes up on ESPN, your friends blab about at the water cooler and the hostess at the watering hole you frequent always talks about it. Okay! Cocktail parties, whatever. I know you’re classy. You don’t need to yell at your computer to get your point across. Anyway, the point is: the headliner for Oregon tends to be the offense.

But the defense Oregon features has been good over the last few years, and has been particularly stellar this year through Oregon’s first three clashes. I’d be remiss to say that I knew all things Oregon, but I like to think I am a well informed college football – and specifically a Pac-12 – fan, and I think this could be the best defense Oregon has featured in a long time.

Oregon hasn’t faced three BCS bound teams in their schedule, but they have faced a mid-tier ACC team in Virginia and an up-and-coming Tennessee team out of the overrated SEC, and yet they’re only allowing nine points per game. The defense is also +7 in turnovers, and they have held their opponents 32.7% on third down (18-for-55). That kind of domination is unheard of. I doubt they can keep that up, especially against a deep Pac-12 (which also happens to know the kind of defense Oregon runs), but I don’t think many teams will be able to compete with the kind of fire power the Oregon Ducks have going this year.

Sep 7, 2013; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive end Tony Washington (91) forces a fumble by Virginia Cavaliers quarterback David Watford (5) in the third quarter. The Ducks defeated the Virginia Cavaliers 59-10 at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The defense’s success starts with the pressure they have been able to apply thus far. As a team, Oregon has 16 tackles for a loss and 8 sacks. The leader in the clubhouse in both of those categories is defensive end Tony Washington. Washington, a redshirt junior, had been a contributor on last year’s team, but looks to have fully grown into his potential. He is aided by defensive end Taylor Hart, who has been both a run stopper and has added a sack and tackle for a loss on his end. Both men have been instrumental in holding the opposing run games to a meager 389 yards on 114 attempts with just two scores.

Meanwhile, the linebacker corps features one of the very best linebackers in the Pac-12 in Derrick Malone so far this year. Malone leads the team in tackles, with 27, and had a game-high and career-high 11 stops in the season opener against Nicholls State. His linebacker mate, senior Boseko Lokombo, has been one of the very best (and consistent) contributors to Oregon’s defense over the past few seasons. He’s currently tied for second in tackles with 14 over so far this season. He was particularly good in his first two games, when he made seven stops, including three solo takedowns, during the Virginia game.

The two-some have show the ability to stop the run, as most linebackers posses. However, the talent really lies in the fact that both men have successfully covered tight ends and third and forth option receivers. This doesn’t help Cal’s cause, as we’ve seen them often go to the receiver-heavy sets that they have been able to use to exploit match-ups with slower less athletics linebackers. They will not be able to do that with Oregon.

The youngest member of the starting linebackers is redshirt sophomore Rodney Hardrick. Hardwick has shown the poise and athleticism to compete with FBS athletes, seeing action as the starting linebacker in all three games. Two weekends ago, against the Volunteers, he completed two stops and a fumble recovery he also had his first career interception against Virginia (he also had four tackles and two pass breakups against the Cavaliers).

When it comes to the secondary, the leader (and maybe biggest question mark) is junior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Olomu started all 13 games last season, but is now the heart and soul of the secondary. Now,as the biggest threat in the defensive backfield, he is going to be tasked as the primary defensive back who faces off against the top receiving threat from the opposing offense. He has yet to record an interception, but the 2012 first team all Pac-12 fifth on the team in tackles and has proven that he can take away primary targets when he needs to.

A guy that could really do a lot of damage is safety Brian Jackson. The hard-hitting senior is a sure tackler (who ended the season as the team’s third leading tackler last season with 67) who rarely makes a mistake in the backfield.

The defensive backfield is interesting because it has rotated about 8 different players this season already, including Troy Hill, Dior Mathis, Avery Paterson and Terrence Mitchell amongst others. This unit has been able to pick off three passes and deflect 19 passes so far. They are fast and play rough. And because they have so many guys who can play and make a costly mistake by the opponent into a big opportunity for Oregon, the match-up between the Cal receivers and Oregon secondary will be the one to watch.

This game will basically come down to Cal’s offense, which has been deadly against even some of the best defenses in the nation (Northwestern and Ohio State), taking on a defense that does not make mistakes. The thing is: Jared Goff cannot play like a freshman if he wants an opportunity to make this game close, and Oregon is good at making players like Goff look young.

Tags: Avery Paterson Boseko Lokombo Brian Jackson Cal Golden Bears Derrick Malone Dior Mathis Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Jared Goff Oregon Ducks Rodney Hardrick Taylor Hart Tennessee Volunteers Terrence Mitchell Tony Washington Troy Hill Virginia Cavaliers

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