Oregon Ducks

Oregon's defense improving in time for Wyoming QB Josh Allen

EUGENE - The best thing to come out of Oregon's 42-35 win Saturday over Nebraska at Autzen Stadium was that the Ducks' defense demonstrated legitimate signs of being - gasp - decent. 

The Ducks held Nebraska to 361 yards of total offense, and more importantly, 102 yards rushing. The fact that the Cornhuskers converted on just 2 of 14 third down attempts proved even more impressive.  

“It was great to see our defense step up and make plays,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. 

The defense did so time and time again while the Ducks' offense fell to pieces in the second half after getting the team out to a 42-14 halftime lead. 

Oregon's offense turned over the ball twice in the second half and couldn't muster up much in the way of any offense. That helped put Nebraska in position to score 21 points in the second half. That's still a high number for UO's defense to choke down but the Ducks came up with with numerous stops and key interceptions in the second half (four on the day) to help protect the lead. 

This is a defense that was much maligned the previous two seasons, and deservedly so. One consistent presence on the defense since 2015 has been senior cornerback Arrion Springs, who said Saturday that he hoped the way the defense's performance earned some appreciation from the fans. 

“I guess it was fun that it had to be on the defense’s shoulders this game toward the end,” Springs said. 

The game-clinching play came when senior linebacker Jonah Moi blitzed, ran through a tight end and then forced Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee into a bad pass that lofted into the hands of junior cornerback Ugochukwu Amadi. 

“(Outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie) always preaches that we have to win one-on-ones with the tight end," Moi said. "I just drove him back and I saw the quarterback’s arm come up and I just hit his arm."

The Ducks weren't making such plays last season when they allowed 41.7 points per game. This, of course, is a more experienced defense in many spots but does have its share of youth, including freshman cornerback Thoma Graham who intercepted two passes on Saturday. 

“I’m more proud of our defense for stepping up when we needed them to,” Taggart said.

Oregon is going to continue to surrender yardage. Anything under 400 in this day and age is pretty darn good, especially considering the pace of the Ducks' offense. If you're going to score, or not score, in possessions that last two minutes, one can't expect the defense to completely shut down teams.

“Nowadays in football people are going to get yardage," Taggart said. "I think what’s important is to take the ball away from them.”

Oregon forced just 12 turnovers last season (nine interceptions and three fumbles). So far this year, the Ducks' have taken the ball away six times (all interceptions). 

Next up is Wyoming  (1-1) and junior quarterback Josh Allen. He is being touted as a potential high first-round NFL Draft pick but so far this season has been unimpressive. 

He did light up Gardner-Webb University (Big South Conference) on Saturday for 328 yards and two touchdown passes during a 27-0 win at home. However, The week before he passed for just 174 yards and had two passes intercepted during a 24-3 loss at Iowa.

Allen might certainly be headed to the NFL but he doesn't have much NFL-level talent around him and could experience another tough day against what appears to be a solid Oregon defense. 

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Oregon at Wyoming

When: 4 p.m., Saturday, War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyo.  

T.V.: CBS Sports Network. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 13.

Records: Oregon (2-0), Wyoming (1-1).

Last week: Wyoming won 27-0 at home over Gardner-Webb. Oregon won 42-35 at home over Nebraska.

Past meeting: Oregon defeated Wyoming 48-14 at home in 2014. Saturday's game will complete the home-and-home contract. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (42-45, 2-0 at Oregon); Cowboys' Craig Bohl (119-57, 15-25 at Wyoming). Bohl is the former coach of North Dakota, where he won three consecutive FCS national titles (2011-2013).

Cowboys' impact players: Allen's top two targets are Austin Conway (186 yards) and C.J. Johnson (152 yards). The running game is iffy, at best. The Cowboys have just 124 rushing yards on the season at 2.1 yards per carry. Wyoming gained just 59 yards on 30 carries against Iowa.

Defensive end Kevin Prosser has seven tackles with four for loss, including two sacks.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 2.5. Other than this being a road game, the Ducks shouldn't encounter many difficult obstacles on Saturday. Wyoming lacks the firepower on offense to hang with Oregon. The Cowboys' defense has played well, but hasn't seen anything like Oregon's offense. 

Final pick: Oregon, 44-24. Allen will make enough plays to keep the game entertaining but the Ducks' overall team speed will overwhelm the Cowboys.