Rush defense an issue for UO
Defending the run usually has been Ducks' strength, but not now
Oregon may be 3-0, but one problem has reared its ugly head: Can the Ducks stop the run?
It always has been Oregon's strength, because the Ducks always have emphasized it.
But Fresno State rushed for 206 yards against the Duck D and Oklahoma went for 207. Giving up 208 to Arizona State on Saturday would not be good. The Sun Devils, surprisingly, showed the ability to run the ball effectively against Cal, racking up 237 yards behind junior Ryan Torain, despite losing 49-21.
Is stopping the run an issue in Eugene? Are the Ducks too 'soft' to stop it? Even a lousy Stanford team had a respectable 100 yards rushing against them.
'We know where we went wrong, definitely,' safety J.D. Nelson says, looking back at the Fresno State and Oklahoma games, when the opponents gathered strength on the ground in the second half. 'We got guys who know what to do. We're not looking for (ASU) to run - they'll try to air it out - but we'll be ready.'
The Ducks (3-0, 1-0 Pac-10) and Sun Devils (3-1, 0-1) play at 12:30 p.m. at Tempe, Ariz. Oregon won there last year, 31-17, holding ASU to 53 net rushing yards on 25 carries; in three previous games, the Sun Devils' ability to run helped QB Andrew Walter and the passing game dissect the Duck defense in victories.
A defensive line without mammoth Haloti Ngata doesn't scare teams. 'We've had some big bodies in the past, but we don't have that kind of a team,' coordinator Nick Aliotti says.
Simply, Fresno State blocked well on interior 'power' plays for Dwayne Wright, and Oklahoma blocked well on outside, 'stretch' plays for All-American Adrian Peterson. Defensive tackle Cole Linehan bristled at the suggestion that those teams 'overpowered' the Ducks.
'We've been working on getting off blocks better,' linebacker Blair Phillips says.
'People are coming at us from different (blocking) angles, and people will see it on film and try to exploit it. For the linebackers and D-linemen, it's a challenge. People are looking at us as a soft defense.'
For example, the Bulldogs and Sooners faced some second- and third-and-long situations and still chose to run the ball with Oregon sporting five or six defensive backs, Nelson says
Two injuries also change things: Brainy linebacker Brent Haberly (broken arm) will miss the rest of the season, replaced by an even smaller 'Will' linebacker in A.J. Tuitele, and defensive tackle Jeremy Gibbs (sprained ankle) might miss Saturday's game.
The Sun Devils could not handle Cal's speed on defense, as the Bears picked off Rudy Carpenter four times and constantly harassed the quarterback with pressure and blitzes. The Sun Devils don't possess much threat at wide receiver.
'Throwing the ball has been the weakest part of our offense this year,' Carpenter told reporters, perhaps being too critical of himself. 'We have to play to our strength, and right now our strength is running the ball.'
Will it be déjà vu Saturday?