Oregon 'not just another opponent' for Beavers' injury-plagued defense
CORVALLIS - Oregon's warp-speed offense presents nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators on a weekly basis.
It's doubly daunting for Oregon State's Mark Banker, who must draw up defensive schemes to slow Chip Kelly's video-game offensive attack.
Nobody was more frustrated than Banker when the Beavers entered the Civil War with a Rose Bowl berth on the line in 2008 and '09, and lost both times. In '08, Oregon piled up 694 yards of total offense in a 65-38 rout. In '09, the OSU defense was much more competitive in a 37-33 defeat.
'It's not just another opponent,' OSU's defensive coordinator says. 'It's the people down the street who live in the same state. I take it personally, because we had two chances to go to the Rose Bowl, and we didn't go either time.
'(In 2008), we totally embarrassed ourselves on defense. The following year, we gave ourselves a chance to win even though we lost two starters (David Pa'aluhi and Tim Clark) to injuries in the game.'
Last year, Banker wasn't unhappy with his defense's performance in a 37-20 loss as top-ranked Oregon finished the regular season with a 12-0 record.
Oregon had 491 yards on offense, including 145 through the air. The Ducks ran 49 times for 346 yards, with LaMichael James (28 carries, 134 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Kenjon Barner (15, 133, 1) doing equal damage.
Michael Clay added to the rushing total by going 64 yards off a fake punt. But Oregon didn't break open the game until the fourth quarter, despite gaining three interceptions in the first half.
'It was the best we've played (defensively) against them in those three years,' Banker says. 'We kept our team in the game.'
On Saturday, Banker must contend with Oregon's potent offense minus a pair of injured starters (tackle Castro Masaniai and cornerback Brandon Hardin) and with middle linebacker Feti Unga nursing a sore leg.
The Ducks rank fifth nationally in rush offense at 284.3 yards per game. Oregon State's defense is 83rd against the run, yielding 181.6 yards per contest.
Banker calls Oregon's hurry-up offense 'basketball on grass.' He would probably settle for holding the Ducks to less than 300 yards on the ground Saturday.
'They have good athletes running a good scheme,' Banker says. 'You have to match their speed and effectiveness with the way you call your defense.
'You have to get people in their face - at least make them run through traffic. They do some nice things. They want to spot their guys up in places to try to get mismatches. You're trying to stay out of those type of things.'
Mike Riley says that means staying disciplined.
'Gap responsibility, assignment responsibility - covering the quarterback, the running back and maybe a pitch man on the zone read,' the OSU head coach says. 'Pursuit angles are huge. Every (defender) has an angle to take to the ball.
'We're going to have to make good open-field tackles. Eliminating big plays is a major factor in every game, and especially against a team with the Ducks' speed. If (an opponent's) longest gain is 20 yards, you probably win.'
Riley understands that's a tall order against the Ducks' speed option, with quarterback Darron Thomas keeping, handing to James or Barner or pitching to De'Anthony Thomas.
'You pick your poison,' the OSU coach says. 'They know who they want to get the ball. They also know their quarterback is a threat, and you have to account for him. You have to take care of all the parts. They are very capable of making big plays.'
Riley said the Ducks' offense is the best the Beavers will have faced all season.
'They stretch you the most,' he says. 'We have two terrific, dominating running teams in our league (Oregon and Stanford), with totally different styles. That's the beauty of college football.'
Banker has a slightly different take on Oregon's offense.
'It's the best offense at what they do, but Stanford wasn't Swiss cheese, and Wisconsin is really good,' the OSU D-coordinator says. 'This might be the most athletic bunch of them all. (Oregon's) receivers are good, but we've faced good receivers with a lot of teams.'
Unga says the pace of the Ducks' attack poses problems.
'They just keep going and going and building momentum,' he says. 'That's what's great about them. They get plays off in 15 seconds and catch the defense off guard.
'It will be a big challenge for us - getting the call from the sidelines, getting ready for the offense, and they run that offense really well. But we practiced against it last year, and we'll practice against it all week against our scout team. We'll be ready for it.'
Banker has a chip on his shoulder about losing to the Ducks, but that won't have any effect on the preparation of his defense for Saturday's game.
'To play out of vengeance, it's not part of my character,' he says. 'I'd like to beat our arch-rival and to cap off what has been a very tough season with a sweet victory. That would cure a lot of ills.'