Coming into this season, the Oregon Ducks defense was on track to be one of the best in the country.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and all went to chaos.
The Ducks lost key members of the defense to opt outs and the NFL Draft: Jevon Holland, Brady Breeze and Thomas Graham Jr all decided to opt out and linebacker Troy Dye began his NFL journey after getting selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Despite losing key personnel, there is still depth and talent in all positions of this defense.
But the past two weeks have been questionable, at best.
After giving up 197 yards on the ground to the Stanford Cardinal and then just 100 the next week to the Washington State Cougars, the Ducks have recorded back-to-back weeks allowing 260+ yards rushing: 267 rushing yards to the UCLA Bruins and then 269 rushing yards to the Oregon State Beavers.
So what went wrong? Was it more of an effort problem or taking poor angles or a tackling issue? Could be all three.
Head coach Mario Cristobal and defensive coordinator Andy Avalos met with the media on Monday to discuss the issue more:
“There is some really good effort and when I say inconsistencies - I know it sounds redundant but it’s going to be the same message - we got to coach it, teach it and play it better together. Technique and fundamentals have really got to improve. The way you come off the football, the way you strike your blockers, the way you maintain gap control, all the things that go with playing great run defense that we have done before, have got to be rectified…”
Like Cristobal said, it’s a collective effort with all 11 players doing their jobs. It isn’t just on the linebackers or one position group to stop the run.
The Ducks defense has another challenge coming up on Saturday against the Cal Bears. Redshirt-senior Marcel Dancy and freshman Damien Moore have carried a majority of the load in the backfield with Moore coming off a 10-carry, 121 total rushing yards performance against Stanford last weekend.
Not to mention that quarterback Chase Garbers can get it done with his feet too and is the third-leading rusher on the team.
Rest assured, after a loss of that nature to Oregon State, there is no pointing fingers at one another. It’s holding one another accountable and responding.
“As in any family, that’s what you do when something happens,” said Avalos. “We have remarkable young men in this program, and that’s the bottom line. Again, we won’t go into any of the details, but we’ve had some great conversations over the weekend where we’re able to shed some light. We’re all able to communicate some things that we need to do better. And we’re all in it together to do that and to work forward.
“To re-establish the blueprint of this program which has made us successful which starts with our mentality. Our humbleness. Our hungriness. And how that affects every single day that the work we do. Our guys are excited to grow forward from this experience that we’ve been through here the last couple weeks.”
Kickoff between the No. 21 Ducks (3-1) and Golden Bears (0-3) is set for 4:30 p.m. (PT) at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, CA.