Jim Leavitt

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Cristobal begins reshaping Oregon football today with start of spring drills

Today won't technically be the first time that the Oregon Ducks take the field under new coach Mario Cristobal when spring drills begin. But in many ways it will be. 

The actual first time Cristobal led the Oregon football team onto a field of any kind occurred in early December shortly after Willie Taggart departed for Florida State, leaving the Ducks in disarray. 

Cristobal did his best to right the ship in time for the Las Vegas Bowl just 10 days later but he simply didn't have enough time to fix the mess at hand. The players, who lobbied for Cristobal to replace Taggart, didn't successfully make the transition from "Do Something" to disappointment and then back to contentment under their new leader (save for defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt being bent out of shape he didn't replace Taggart) in time to avoid a 38-28 loss to Boise State in Sin City. 

There was simply too much disruption in play, and that included star running back Royce Freeman electing not to play in the bowl game in order to avoid a potential injury before departing to the NFL. 

So, let's give Cristobal, the staff (those who returned) and the players the benefit of that doubt that what we saw in Las Vegas was an aberration and that the new era under a man who won national titles as a player at Miami (1989 and 1991) and as an assistant coach at Alabama (2015) begins today with a clean slate.

What Cristobal inherited was a team that should win at least eight games in 2018 given the presence of junior quarterback Justin Herbert, the return of several key players on what was a greatly improved defense, and a weak schedule that included three non-conference powder puffs. 

Reaching 10 wins, or more, will require maintaining the momentum created by Taggart, keeping Herbert healthy (UO went 1-4 in his absence last year due to a broken collarbone) and flushing the offense's showing in Las Vegas while recapturing the magic that had the Ducks averaging about 50 points per game during the regular season when Herbert was in action. 

"I think last year there was a foundation laid between all of us that gave us a chance to start building upon that but there's a big difference between winning seven games and winning eight, nine, 10, 11," Cristobal said.

To reach those levels the Ducks (7-6 last season) must have success against Washington, Stanford and the Chip Kelly-led UCLA Bruins at home, while also finding a way to win potentially tough road games at Arizona and Utah. 

The problem is that there is much mystery to unravel before anyone can rightfully believe that Oregon is going to find those 10 wins and contend in the Pac-12 North. 

Cristobal hasn't been a head coach since being fired from the same position with Florida International in 2012 after going 27-47. The Ducks are on their third coach in 15 months (Mark Helfrich was fired in December of 2016). Backup quarterback remains a huge issue. Wide receiver is in flux. The defensive line lacks depth. Freeman is gone. 

Plus, Oregon's aura as a dominant force has waned. The conference is not longer chasing Oregon. The Ducks are the one doing the hunting. And there's reason to believe that the hierarchy of conference coaches are not shaking in their boots fearful of the Cristobal era sweeping through the conference and laying waste to opponents. 

None of this is to say that Cristobal won't find success. He very well could. He also very well could not. 

We won't know the results for months. But that process begins today. 

Notes: UO will practice five times in March before taking time off for finals and spring break before returning to the field on April 3 to prepare for the spring game on April 21 in Autzen Stadium...Oregon will hold a practice at Franklin High School in Portland on April 7.  The Ducks practiced at Jesuit High School last spring. 

Oregon extends contracts of Leavitt, Arroyo and Salave'a

Oregon extends contracts of Leavitt, Arroyo and Salave'a

University of Oregon head football coach Mario Cristobal announced Monday that three assistant coaches have signed contract extensions: defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Jim Leavitt, associate head coach/defensive line coach Joe Salave’a, and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks/tight ends coach Marcus Arroyo. Leavitt’s contract was extended through the 2021 season, with Salave’a and Arroyo’s contracts extended through the 2020 season.

“We are thrilled we were able extend Jim, Marcus and Joe’s contracts,” Cristobal said. “All three have been impactful in establishing the direction of our program as both teachers and mentors for our players. They have been key in helping build our momentum, both on the field and in recruiting. Jim led an amazing turnaround on the defensive side of the ball that saw great improvement in all area of the defense. Joe’s defensive line was a big part of that improvement thanks to his ability to make players better. Under his tutelage, the defensive line led an attack that allowed 118 fewer rushing yards per game than in 2016 while accounting for 63 more tackles for loss and eight more sacks. Marcus’ work on offense, and in particular with Justin Herbert, were critical to the offense’s success. Despite Justin’s absence for five games, we finished in the top 20 in scoring overall while averaging nearly 50 points when at full strength.” 

In his first season as defensive coordinator, Leavitt’s Oregon defense produced significant improvement over the previous year in multiple categories, including total defense (from 115th to 46th), tackles for loss (from 102nd to 22nd), third down defense (from 122nd to 24th), sacks (from 61st to 27th), rushing defense (from 121st to 26th), and interceptions (from 81st to 19th). The Ducks also ranked in the top four in the Pac-12 Conference during the 2017 regular season in rushing defense (2nd), third down defense (2nd), total defense (4th) and fumble recoveries (4th).

Salave’a’s efforts with the Oregon defensive line were a considerable factor in the overall defensive improvement, including an All-Pac-12 second team performance from junior Jalen Jelks, who ranked in the top 10 in the league in both tackles for loss and sacks. Jelks also recorded the first game of five or more tackles for loss by a Duck since 2007, on Sept. 23 at Arizona State. Additionally, true freshman defensive lineman Jordon Scott earned Freshman All-America honors from 247 Sports.

Under Arroyo’s tutelage, the Ducks averaged 49.4 points and 516.5 yards of total offense per game in the seven regular season games started by sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. Oregon also ranked second in the Pac-12 in rushing offense and tied for fourth nationally during the regular season with 40 rushing touchdowns, with senior offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors.

SOURCES: DL coach Joe Salave'a has told players he will remain at Oregon

SOURCES: DL coach Joe Salave'a has told players he will remain at Oregon

UPDATE: Oregon officially extended the contracts of Joe Salave'a, Jim Leavitt and Marcus Arroyo on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

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Oregon defensive line coach Joe Salave'a has told Ducks players that he will remain with the team next season, according to sources.

Oregon's defensive turnaround in 2017 can largely be attributed to Salave'a's work with the defensive line.

This good news for Oregon comes on the heels of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt reportedly signing a new contract to remain with the Ducks

Retaining Salave'a means that the Ducks will retain their top four assistant coaches from this season. 

STAYING AT OREGON

Mario Cristobal: Athletic director Rob Mullens hired Cristobal as the head coach eight days prior to Saturday's 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Cristobal, formerly the Ducks' co-offensive coordinator, will continue to coach the offensive line.

Jim Leavitt: He is reportedly signing a contract extension to remain at Oregon. 

Marcus Arroyo: He has been retained as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and he will be the primary play caller. Arroyo was a co-offensive coordinator this season. 

Joe Salave'a: He remains on as the defensive line coach and associated head coach. 

LEAVING OREGON

Donte Pimpleton: He will leave UO to coach running backs at Florida State

UP IN THE AIR

Wide receivers coach Michael Johnson.

Special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie

Safeties coach Keith Heyward

Cornerbacks coach Charles Clark.

REPORT: Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to remain at Oregon

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USA Today

REPORT: Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to remain at Oregon

Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt will remain with the Ducks after signing a new contract, a source has confirmed. 

The story was first reported by Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports. 

According to Feldman's report, Leavitt signed an extension that will pay him an average of $1.7 million per year through 2021. That's a hefty raise over the $1.125 million Leavitt made this season after leaving Colorado. 

Leavitt remaining at Oregon appeared to be in doubt after the Ducks named Mario Cristobal head coach following the departure of Willie Taggart for Florida State.  Leavitt, who was the head coach at South Florida from 1997 through 2012, lobbied for Oregon's head coaching position but was passed over for Cristobal, who was the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Taggart.

Oregon's defense ranks 46th in the nation in total defense after finishing at 128th in 2016.

  

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was all smiles when he met with the media on Wednesday outside of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He was also very anxious to get out to the practice field. About 90 seconds into the interview session, Leavitt moved one foot toward exiting while asking, "Anything else?"

Well, yeah. Can't get away that easily when we get you once a week and the defense is getting lit up as of late. The Ducks (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have given up 143 points (35.6 per game) in four Pac-12 games after allowing just 69 in three non-conference games. So, who could blame Leavitt for wanting to get the practice. Like the Ducks' offense - 17 points in the last two games - the defense has plenty of work to do.

But unlike the offense, which is operating without quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' defense doesn't have an obvious excuse to lean on. The main 11 starters have remained mostly the same with a few depth chart changes and a couple of players missing games here and there. Only inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu has been lost for the season. 

What's happened to the defense is simple. It went from playing very average offenses to facing quarterbacks that can put points on the board. UO has allowed 12 touchdown passes in four Pac-12 games and now faces the challenge of contending with UCLA's Josh Rosen, who has thrown for 17 scoring passes this year. UCLA hosts Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl. 

It's bad enough giving up touchdown passes. But Oregon isn't even intercepting any to balance things out a bit. After intercepting six passes in non-conference play, the Ducks have picked off just one pass in conference. 

"We do it all of the time in practice, we've just got to translate it into the games," Robinson said.

Getting interceptions against scout team quarterbacks is not the same as facing Pac-12 starters. The quarterback foursome of Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, California's Ross Bowers, Washington State's Luke Falk and Stanford's Keller Christ have given the Ducks problems. Even Bowers, sacked seven times, managed to throw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. The one interception for UO in conference came at Stanford on a dropped and tipped slant pass in the end zone that landed in the arms of freshman cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

Maybe the most concerning problem is that those same quarterbacks have had poor games against other teams. Falk threw five interceptions in last week's 37-3 loss at Cal. Bowers threw four in a loss to USC. Wilkins threw two at Stanford. Chryst had two picked off at San Diego State. So, they've given up the ball. Just not to Oregon. 

Back to Rosen. He threw for three interceptions and zero touchdowns in a 47-30 loss last week at Arizona. He now has eight on the season, tied for the second most among conference starting quarterbacks.

He is a bit of a gunslinger that likes to take chances. So, if Oregon is going to pull off the upset, the Ducks must find a way to pluck a few of his passes out of the air. 

"We're always focused on turnovers whether that's stripping the ball out, punching it our, quarterback throwing it and get it," UO safeties coach Keith Heyward said. "We just haven't made plays."

Leavitt pointed out that the Ducks have had chances at intercepting a few more during conference play, but failed to catch the ball. 

"Those are missed opportunities," he said. 

With the offense struggling so badly, the defense can't afford to not force turnovers. The mediocre play of backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, has resulted in too many short drives that result in no points. Oregon's defense was on the field for 37 minutes during its 49-7 loss at Stanford. That's too much pressure to put on a young and rebuilding defense. 

"Obvious we feel like we have to stop the opponent no matter whether the offense is playing like it was before or playing like we are now," Heyward said. "We just have to take care of our own side of the ball and get stops."

Part of the problem is some of the youth of the secondary. The Ducks are have started safety Nick Pickett and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. Lenoir has seen his playing time increase. They represent the future of the Ducks' secondary. Sometimes growing pains can be tough. 

"They're trying," Leavitt said. "They're doing the best they can. They are going to be great players. I'm really excited about them."

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Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m., Saturday, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: UCLA minus 6 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), Bruins (3-3, 1-2).

Last week: UCLA lost 47-30 to Arizona (4-2, 2-1). Oregon lost 49-7 at No. 22 Stanford (5-2, 4-1).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-48, 4-3 at Oregon); UCLA's Jim Mora (44-27).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Oregon should run wild but unless the Ducks get some big plays from Burmeister they won't have much of a chance of keeping pace with Rosen and his fleet of receivers.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson leads the Pac-12 with 7.6 receptions per game over five games. He has caught 38 passes for 489 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews is second at 7.3 receptions per game. He has made 44 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jordan Lasley leads the conference in receiving yards per game (108.4) over five games while catching 54 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. 

Final pick: UCLA 44, Oregon 30.  Burmeister will improve enough to help the offense break 20 for the first time in three weeks but it won't be nearly enough. 

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Previous post: Offensive report card

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The most impressive aspect of Oregon's season thus far has been the dramatic turnaround of the defense under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

Last year, Oregon ushered offenses into the end zone while ranking 126th in the nation in total defense (518.4 yards allowed per game) during a 4-8 season. So far this year, the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 PAC-12) rank 29th in total defense (338.3) and 10th in rushing defense (93.7). 

The Ducks lead the conference in sacks (24) and are tops in third-down conversion defense (24.5 percent) after ranking 11th last year (48.5). 

The Ducks are by no means dominant on defense but have shown flashes of heading in that direction. It's still a very young group with just four senior starters and is playing a lot of young players as starters and backups. 

Here are a position-by-position grades for both the defense and special teams:

DEFENSE

Defensive line - B-plus: The improvement of the Ducks' defensive line, which has benefited from the shift back to the 3-4 scheme, is the biggest key to the unit's turnaround. In addition to being stout against the run, the defensive line has been instrumental in the team's improved pass rush. The line has produced 10 1/2 of the team's 24 sacks while helping to create sack opportunities for linebackers. 

Redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks is tied for the team lead with 4 1/2 sacks, including three at Arizona State. His .75 sacks per game ranks tied for second in the PAC-12. Senior defensive end Henry Mondeaux has rebounded from a down year in 2016. He has four sacks to already matching last year's total. He had 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

Sacks aren't everything, of course. Jelks leads the team with eight tackles for loss and his 1.33 per game ranks second in the conference. 

The return to the 3-4 could have been a disaster if Oregon weren't receiving quality play from freshmen nose tackles Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu. Scott has added two sacks.

Neither is capable of dominating a game or playing every down. However, as a duo, they have been strong enough in the middle to help protect the inside linebackers, and both appear to have the skills to become very good in the future. 

Linebackers - B-minus: Sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye and redshirt junior outside linebacker Justin Hollins have been nothing short of steller. Both use their size, speed and athleticism to be extremely disruptive on every down. Piti the quarterback that has both coming after him at the same time.

Dye ranks fourth in the conference in tackles per game (8.7) and is tied with Hollins for fifth in tackles for loss per game (1.2). Each has seven. 

Hollins has forced three fumbles and has 2 1/2 sacks. Dye has three sacks. Their size and athleticism have made the 3-4 defense scary from all angles. 

However, play at inside linebacker next to Dye has been inconsistent. Kaulana Apelu, out for the season with a foot injury, played hard and fast but his lack of size at 200 pounds didn't play well at that position. Senior A.J. Hotchkins has been in and out of the lineup and the very inexperienced redshirt sophomore Blake Rugraff has been underwhelming when filling in, thus far. 

The outside linebacker spot opposite Hollins (the Duck position) has been manned by junior Fotu T Leiato II and sophomore La'Mar Winston Jr.  Winston lately has been solid with 17 tackles, three for loss. Senior backup linebacker Jonah Moi has been the team's best reserve linebacker with 14 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. 

Defensive backs - C-plus: Gone are the days of woefully blown coverages and mass confusion. The secondary has been solid in coverage and has proven to be good tacklers in space, most of the time.

Senior Arrion Springs, who struggled with catching interceptions, has still been great in pass coverage. His 10 passes defended are tied for second in the conference. 

Freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., who has a shot at being named a freshman All-American, and junior Ugowchukwu. Both are tied for 8th in the conference with six passes defended, including two interceptions. 

Helping make the secondary hum is redshirt senior Tyree Robinson, who has taken a leadership role. That's helped with the maturation of freshman safety Nick Pickett, who surprisingly took over as a starter and has performed well. 

Still, there is room for improvement. Oregon has allowed 11 touchdown passes, tied for ninth most in the conference. The Ducks have allowed nine touchdown passes. Oregon's seven interceptions puts it well on pace to surpass the nine the team had all of last year. However, six of the seven came within the first two games with four against Nebraska. Oregon has not intercepted a pass in three PAC-12 games while allowing nine touchdown passes. For these reasons the secondary fall short of receiving a B grade. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Return game B-plus: Redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James began the season with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Southern Utah. He is averaging 28 yards on 10 returns but that's not enough attempts to qualify to be ranked among the conference leaders. Otherwise, he would be ranked first. Oregon's 24.9 yards per return ranks second. 

Oregon's 7.6 yard average per punt return ranks seventh. This unit has been hindered by the ankle injury suffered by Charles Nelson. He is averaging 17.8 yards per return, which would rank third in the PAC-12 if he had enough returns to qualify. Nelson's replacement, Dillon Mitchell, is averaging a solid 11 yards per return. 

Place kicking - B: Senior kicker Aidan Schneider is once again being used very little. He has attempted just three field goals, making two. He has, however, made all 36 of his extra point attempts and that leads the conference. He ranks ninth in the conference in scoring at seven points per game. The one miss in three attempts prevents Schneider from receiving an "A" grade. But we all know that he is an "A"-level kicker. 

Punting - C-minus: Freshman punter Sam Stack, who has shown great promise, ranks 12th in the conference in punting average (38.3) but has placed nine of his 30 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Again, he's only a freshman. 

Coverage teams B-minus : Oregon's net punting average is 10th in the conference (34.7) thanks mainly to the poor average pe punt. The 1.3 return yards allowed per punt ranks 7th.  The kickoff coverage team has fared much better ranking second in net average at 41.8 yards. 

Oregon at ASU won't reveal much unless Ducks lose

Oregon at ASU won't reveal much unless Ducks lose

The No. 24 Oregon Ducks enter Pac-12 play under Willie Taggart as a mystery team. That probably won't change much come late Saturday night. 

For the first time this season UO will face an opponent capable of putting up numbers on offense and getting after the quarterback on defense when the Ducks (3-0) play at Arizona State (1-2) Saturday night in Sun Devil's Stadium. When the game is over, Oregon should be 4-0 and by Sunday morning ranked as high as No. 20.  Yet, this game probably won't reveal much about what these Ducks are really all about. That is, unless, of course, they were to lose. 

How could that happen?

For starters, unlike previous opponents, Nebraska and Wyoming, the Sun Devils have some pop on offense and they will spread that talent out across the formation seeking mismatches. UO defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said facing such a team loaded with speed on the outside and at running back will be a challenge for UO. 

"We haven't seen athletes like these guys, yet," he said. 

Oregon redshirt senior safety Tyree Robinson said he believes ASU, averaging 412 yards and 34 points per game, will try to establish the run with 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior running back Kalen Ballage, who runs with power and speed.

"We have to gang tackle," Robinson said.

Maybe. Then again, ASU is averaging a weak 97 rushing yards per game on 2.5 per carry.

ASU, according to Robinson, will use a lot of formations and motions in an attempt to catch Oregon's defense napping. 

"We just have to do a good job of communicating and being in the right place," Robinson said. 

Surely tested will be true freshmen defensive backs Nick Picket and Thomas Graham Jr. They have performed very well so far but have yet to see a wave of plays and athletes coming at them over and over like they will on Saturday.  ASU quarterback Many Wilkins is a threat to run and will certainly extend plays better than Wyoming's Josh Allen did last week. Wilkins has thrown seven touchdown passes with zero interceptions. He is certainly a threat to make some plays on Saturday. Enough to win? Probably not. 

Oregon's defense might allow its share of points but the Ducks certainly won't get run through like many teams did to them last season. More importantly, Oregon's offense should have its way with ASU's defense, which has allowed 37.7 points and 505.3 yards per game.  

For that reason alone, UO should leave the state of Arizona with a win. Only a flow of turnovers could derail Oregon. Yes, the Sun Devils lead the conference with 13 sacks. And yes, they will throw heavy pressure at UO sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. It simply won't matter. Herbert gets rid of the ball too quickly, which will lead to big plays against pressure. Plus, let's not forget, that last year he tied a program record with 489 yards passing against ASU in one of his only two victories as a starter last season. 

The Ducks will score a ton of points and win. They might even score a nice chunk of those points in the second half, which would be a departure from the previous two weeks. 

Maybe the most significant fact that will come out of a win Saturday is that Oregon would have matched last season's win total (4-8) four games into the season. By any measure, that's great progress. We just won't know if the Ducks are very good, or simply better than the mediocre competition they would have faced to date. 

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Oregon at Arizona State

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 14 1/2.

Records: Oregon (3-0), Arizona State (1-2).

Last week: The Sun Devils lost 52-45 at Texas Tech. Oregon won 49-13 at Wyoming. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (43-45, 3-0 at Oregon); Sun Devils' Todd Graham (89-57, 40-28 at ASU).

Sun Devils' impact players: Quarterback Manny Wilkins is off to a pretty hot start, averaging 308 yards passing with seven touchdown tosses and has yet to throw an interception. He has completed 68.3 percent of his passes. Wilkins, a redshirt junior, was the No. 6-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation when he came out of high school in 2014.

"This will be the first time we've had a good mobile quarterback that we've had to go against," Taggart said. 

Senior running back Kalen Ballage has rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns but is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. 

Sophomore wide receiver N'Keal Harry is Wilkins' top target. The 6-foot-4 Harry has caught 24 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. 

ASU's defense is led statistically by two freshmen. Defensive end Jojo Wicker has three sacks on the season and linebacker D.J. Calhoun is averaging 10.3 tackles per game. 

Linebacker Koron Crump (knee), who leads the conference with four sacks, is out for ASU. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5.  It's a road game. It's a conference game. It's against what will be by far the best offense the Ducks will have faced this season. There's a lot to be worried about for Oregon. However, ASU is about as bad on defense as the Ducks were last season. If the Ducks take care of the football they would once again surpass 40 points. We will know after this game if UO's defense truly has bite if it can keep the Sun Devils in check. 

Final pick: Oregon, 47-33. 

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Whenever the down marker flips to "3" on opposing offenses, Oregon's punt return team jumps to attention and the offense becomes antsy. It's becoming a pavlovian response.

That's because 79 percent of the time this season, the Ducks' defense has stopped opposing teams from converting on third down, a dramatic shift from last season. And it all starts with attitude and desire. Oregon senior safety Tyree Robinson said he urges the defense on every third down to dig deep for that extra burst of energy that allows them to play harder so they can get off the field. 

“I think guys have really bought into that , which kind of makes us a special defense right now,” Robinson said. 

According to Oregon sophomore linebacker Troy Dye, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt tirelessly preaches the importance of making plays on third down, or, the "money down," as he calls it. 

“We have to go out there and make that money,” Dye said. 

Right now, the No. 24 Ducks (3-0) are filthy rich. Opposing offenses have converted just 21.3 percent of the time on third downs, best in the Pac-12 Conference. Last year Oregon allowed a 48.5 percent conversion rate, 11th in the Pac-12. 

The Ducks' defense has shown dramatic improvement over last season in every category imaginable. A low third down conversion rate for opponents and eight turnovers forced have been two of the most important areas of improvement. They lead directly to the team allowing 23 points per game, down from 41.7 a year go. 

Wyoming (1-2) on Saturday managed to convert just 4 of 15 third down attempts during Oregon's 49-13 victory. Two Saturdays ago, Nebraska converted just 2 of 14 attempts during a 42-35 loss at Autzen Stadium. 

"It's great to see those guys get off the field on third down and get the ball back to our offense,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. 

He credits the success to the defense doing a great job of studying opponents and having an idea of what they like to do on third down. Also, they have done a great job of pressuring quarterbacks. Oregon already has 10 sacks after getting just 25 last season. The Ducks sacked Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen twice on Saturday while pressuring him all evening. A projected first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Allen managed just 64 yards passing against Oregon. 

“When you can get to the quarterback, and he didn’t have time to pass the ball, that’s what usually happens," Taggart said. "And if you can get to him early, he will start looking at the rush and I thought that’s what he did.”

Dye said the defense entered this season with something to prove and a chip on its collective shoulders following such a poor season in 2016 when the Ducks ranked 128th in total defense. Robinson said the experience gained last year by so many young players forced into action has paid off this season. 

“It’s awesome to have a defense that we have so much confidence in," UO quarterback Justin Herbert said.

But will it last? Oregon hasn't exactly faced quality offenses to date. Wyoming's 14.3 points per game ranks 120th in the nation. Nebraska ranks 63rd at 31.7 points per game. Oregon won 42-35 over Nebraska on Sept. 9. The Cornhuskers (1-2) lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois on Saturday. 

The Ducks begin Pac-12 Conference play this Saturday at Arizona State (1-2). There are 11 teams in the conference averaging better than 31 points per game, including the Sun Devils. Most teams have great passing offenses that will challenge the Ducks' Pac-12 leading 89.7 passing defense efficiency rating. 

ASU junior quarterback Manny Wilkins is averaging 308 passing yards per game with seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions. 

The Pac-12 is going to be a challenge, one the UO defense is looking forward to facing. 

“Oregon is not just an offensive school anymore," Dye said. "We play defense, too.”

Why not rest players earlier when games stretch long past 3 hours?

Why not rest players earlier when games stretch long past 3 hours?

A few bouquets and boos from my college football weekend:

  • I've said it frequently, but coordinators make a difference. Oregon was brutal on defense last season and then Jim Leavitt shows up as defensive coordinator. All of a sudden Oregon is bringing a crowd to the football and not missing tackles. There is organization instead of chaos. Now I understand the opposition is going to get tougher, but this is a night-and-day difference. Leavitt knows what he is doing.
  • Portland State drew only 4,442 in its home opener Saturday afternoon and sent those loyalists home with a disappointing 37-14 defeat. That program just can't seem to find a groove. I wish I had an answer. Well, I do have an answer -- winning. But I just don't know how that's going to happen.
  • Oregon State? Offense was much better at Washington State but the defense is awful. As I said, coordinators matter and you wonder if somebody is going to walk the plank on the OSU coaching staff.
  • Oregon's running game is terrific and certainly Justin Herbert is an NFL quarterback in waiting. But against better competition you have to wonder if the lack of experience at wide receiver is going to hurt.
  • What has happened to Stanford?
  • Football coaches have always bewildered me with their reluctance to remove starters -- particularly their valuable quarterbacks -- late in games. Oregon kept a good part of its offense on the field past the halfway mark of the fourth quarter with a huge lead. Washington State kept Luke Falk out there way too long in a blowout. Oregon State was still sending Jake Luton on the field long after the Beavers' chances of winning were long gone. Luton, of course, got hurt.
  • Here's my deal: these college games today are taking forever to play. Instead of looking at the game clock and making a decision about taking players out, take a look at the wristwatch once in a while. Three hours is a long time to stay on the field. I get tired just watching these games and I can't imagine what it's like to keep trudging back out on the field to take more hits as long games crawl to a finish. Resting players is not only a precaution, it's a chance to allow the backup kids who are killing themselves in practice all season to get some game time.
  • One more thought about Oregon: It was an impressive enough win at Wyoming that there was no need to go for it on fourth-and-two in the third quarter with a 42-10 lead. And there was certainly no reason to be throwing to the end zone with 11 seconds left in the game. Yeah, I know -- you want the backups to get some experience. If that's the case, put them in earlier.

Oregon freshmen nose guards Scott and Failou will be tested by Nebraska

Oregon freshmen nose guards Scott and Failou will be tested by Nebraska

EUGENE - We will find out what Oregon freshmen nose guards Jordan Scott and Austin Failou are all about when the Ducks (1-0) host Nebraska Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

The pair saw their first collegiate action during Saturday's 77-21 win over Southern Utah at Autzen Stadium and by all accounts played well despite neither registering a statistic in the game. 

"They didn't stumble," UO defensive line coach Joe Salave'a said. "That's a good thing. You always learn about those things. But those guys have a different temperament about the game and it's refreshing. With that, we'll continue to push and prod those guys to continue to advance and improve."

Both will receive a new education against the Cornhuskers, who return most of their offensive line from last season when Nebraska (1-0) averaged 162 yards rushing per game. The team rushed for 225 in its opener against Arkansas State with sophomore Tre Bryant going for 192 and two touchdowns on 32 carries. 

That Scott and Failou didn't register a tackle isn't a huge concern given that the nose position usually doesn't generate gaudy statistics. The position's job is to command a double team in order to allow the inside linebackers behind the nose to make plays. Sophomore Troy Dye had 10 tackles. Junior Kaulana Apelu made five stops. 

"Without them keeping the center off of me, keeping the guards off of me, I wouldn't be able to make the tackles that I did make," Dye said. "All of those tackles should go to them. They should each have five and I should have zero."

It's a nice sentiment, but one would think that one of the two nose guards would at least accidentally end up with at least an assisted tackle against a vastly inferior opponent. The last starting nose for Oregon was Alex Balducci (the Ducks ran a 4-3 defense last year). He made 40 tackles in 2015 with 7 1/2 for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart, when asked if Scott and Failou were ready to deal with a Nebraska offensive line that might shove them around, took exception to the word choice of "shoved."

"We're not necessarily going in thinking Nebraska is going to shove our guys around, or anything," he said. 

One would think not. However, there will be some shoving and some hitting and it will be done by a veteran offensive line that might not be as impressed with Scott and Failou and Oregon's coaches and players are. That said, Taggart pointed out that the pair has got in plenty of work against Oregon's offensive line. 

"They are young guys, they know how to play football," Taggart said. "Again, they've been competing against our offensive line all training camp and we've got a pretty good offensive line, as well...We feel like those guys are ready to compete and they will be read to compete against Nebraska this Saturday."

In the long run, we could see graduate transfer Scott Pagano (Clemson) become the answer at nose guard. He is working his way back from an injured foot. Pagano mostly played defensive end at Clemson but also dabbled inside. Ideally, he would be at defensive end opposite senior captain Henry Mondeaux. But if push comes to shove, and the Ducks' freshmen indeed are losing most of those shoving matches on the field, it could be time to turn to Pagano.

But, for now, the two freshmen have a chance to prove they can anchor the Ducks' 3-4 defense inside. 

"I thought they showed that they are good enough to play here," Mondeaux said. "Everyone has things to work on but they showed good motors and they ran around and made some plays. I think they did a good job at doing their job."