Ducks' defense takes command early
- Stephen Alexander
- Portland Tribune - Sports
EUGENE - The Oregon offense did what it does Saturday afternoon, hanging 49 points on Oregon State. But the Ducks' defense also made its presence felt.
The Oregon defense came out with energy and did not let up through the first three quarters. Before the Ducks let go of the Beavers' jugular and put in the backups in the fourth quarter, the defenses swarmed to every play, confused Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion with coverage and was opportunistically ruthless.
Through three quarters of the 49-21 Oregon victory at Autzen Stadium, Oregon State had turned over the ball three times and scored seven points on just 178 yards of offense - 149 through the air and 29 on the ground.
Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti called it the Ducks' best defensive performance of 2011.
'Your rival team, 178 yards at the end of three quarters, three turnovers - we played very well,' Aliotti said.
Linebacker Michael Clay said the key to the Ducks' success was starting fast and flying to the ball.
'We started off faster than we have before,' Clay said. 'And when you start off fast, it's really hard to beat us, especially at Autzen.'
The Ducks' defense asserted itself on Oregon State's first drive. On third-and-12, Mannion threw a pass right to Clay on the Beavers 38.
'I tried showing a disguise,' Clay said. 'He didn't know if we were blitzing or not. I just dropped into coverage and was looking for people to (cover). I don't think he saw me drop down the hash. He threw it right to me, I just had to make the play.'
Clay said the pick gave the Ducks an emotional lift that carried Oregon through the rest of the game.
'That first interception just really boosted us,' Clay said. 'We were able to show more stuff, get after (Mannion), put him on his heels and get him out of his comfort zone.'
Oregon clamped down on the Beavers' running attack by getting a strong push from the defensive line.
'We were able to knock back the offensive linemen off the line, and everybody reacted to the ball a lot better this week,' defensive end Dion Jordan said.
With OSU unable to keep the Ducks off-balance, the UO linebackers were able to anticipate the pass and drop back quicker than usual.
That led to middle linebacker Kiko Alonso's interception later in the first quarter.
'We (the linebackers) could definitely get out there quicker and just try to get people on people and make it hard for (Mannion) to throw it,' Clay said.
Ducks coach Chip Kelly said Alonso's pick may have rattled Mannion.
'Anytime anybody throws a couple interceptions, you're going to start thinking twice,' Kelly said.
On top of stopping the run, the Ducks' defensive line made it almost impossible for Mannion to set his feet and throw. Oregon had six sacks, two each by Jordan and Terrell Turner and one apiece for Ryan Hagen and Boseko Lokombo.
'Our D-line generated a lot of pressure on (Mannion),' Kelly said. 'They didn't allow him to get his feet set and establish the throw.'
Jordan injured his foot two weeks ago against Stanford and played minimally in last week's loss to USC.
'I wasn't helping the team. I was more hurting the team,' Jordan said, of his performance against USC.
After rehabbing his foot in the days before the Civil War, the 6-7, 240 pound junior re-earned his nickname, 'The Praying Mantis.'
'I've been focusing on my rehab and the things I have to do to get back out there and play,' Jordan said. 'I took care of business during the week, and during the weekend I was able to go.'
Oregon's pressure on Mannion limited the plays Oregon State was able to run.
'Getting to him, we disrupted the offense and the timing, and they weren't able to do a lot of things that we saw on film,' Jordan said.
Oregon soon had the luxury of implementing confusing coverage packages in the secondary.
'We were doing all kinds of disguises: strong close middle, open middle, showing two high safeties and just rotating down,' rover Eddie Pleasant said. 'Just getting different looks and being scavengers out there. Showing (Mannion) our coverage, messing with him a little bit, playing mind games.'
Pleasant said being able to focus solely on pass coverage is the fun part of any defensive back's job.
'It makes it a lot more fun because they've got to go to the pass,' Pleasant said. 'Being a DB, you want to get some interceptions or get some pass breakups, so it was fun.'
The Ducks also were able to shut down Beavers' playmaking receiver, Markus Wheaton, by putting redshirt freshman corner back Terrence Mitchell on him. Wheaton had just two catches for 39 yards.
'Our defensive coaches matched Terrance Mitchell on (Wheaton) all over the field, and T-Mitch played fantastic,' Kelly said.
In the fourth quarter, Oregon put in its defensive backups and the Beavers scored 14 garbage-time points. Aliotti was happy to see different players get into the game, though.
'We got the younger guys in, the guys who don't even take snaps, they run the scout team,' he said. 'It became kind of difficult, but it's great that they got a chance to play, because they practice just as hard as anyone else and it probably means a lot to them to be able to play in the Civil War.'
With a Pac-12 championship game coming up at 5 p.m. Friday at Autzen against UCLA, Oregon's defense would seem to be peaking at just the right time. The bad news for the Bruins is that Jordan thinks that the Oregon defense still has room to grow.
'It works from the front to the back,' Jordan said. 'The defensive line has to do their job, linebackers have to do their job and the secondary has to do their job. We all just worked together as a defense to make things happen (tonight). But we still haven't even clicked on all cylinders yet as a defense.'