The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2016 season with more uncertainty surrounding the program than it has seen since 2009 when former coach Chip Kelly took over for Mike Bellotti. UO went 9-4 last season, the program's worst since 2007 (9-4). This week we will take a look at five things that must go right in order for the Ducks to avoid another 9-win season (or worse), win the Pac-12 championship and contend for a national playoff berth.
No. 4: Secondary must achieve lockdown mode.
The situation: Hold up. Someone just scored again on Oregon's secondary and we're five months removed from the season.
Sure, that's a cheap shot. But it fits.
For Oregon to win the Pac-12 and contend for a playoff berth the defensive secondary must make a quantum leap in improvement. It would be next to impossible for the group not to improve on last season's swiss cheese impersonation. But simply improving won't be enough. They need to go from bad to very good in order for the Ducks defense to at least return to its 2014 form given that the front seven lost six starters.
First, let's revisit the horrors of 2015. Oregon ranked 115th in scoring defense (37.5 points per game), 116th in total defense (485.3 yards per game) and 125th in passing yards allowed (306.5 per game). The Ducks (9-4 last season) ranked 95th in passing efficiency defense (139.14) while allowing a whopping 35 touchdown passes with a respectable 13 interceptions. Only seven other programs allowed 30 or more touchdown passes with Rice leading the way at 36.
In contrast, the 2014 Ducks allowed just 21 touchdown passes over 15 games.
That defense included a veteran secondary led by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan and Troy Hill. Their absence in 2015 contributed mightedly to the team's struggles because the new guard proved mentally incapable of continuing their excellence.
A year later, Oregon should expect that senior safety Reggie Daniels, redshirt junior safety Tyree Robinson, redshirt junior corner Chris Seisay (who missed much of last season due to injury), junior cornerback Arrion Springs, sophomore cornerback Ugo Amadi and others, will be much better in 2016.
The signs of improving were present during the second half of last season, especially in wins over California and USC, both armed with quarterbacks drafted in April.
Athletically, the UO's defensive backs are very sound. Several players should end up in NFL camps. If their awareness has caught up to their physical abiliites, the Ducks could have one of the best secondaries in the Pac-12.
Being able to trust the back end of the defense would allow the front seven to take more risks in new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke's attacking defense. This can be accomplished not only with better overall coverage to avoid allowing big plays over the top, but also with improved tackling to keep short completions as short gains.
Passes are going to be completed in a conference typically loaded with good passing offenses. However, Oregon last season made a bad habit out of allowing short passes to turn into long gains thanks to poor pursuit angles and bad tackling.
The Ducks simply can't afford to get into many shootouts if they want to go 12-1, which is what it will take to reach the playoffs. That means the defense must do its part, as it did in 2014.
Next up: Brady Hoke works some magic wiht the front seven.