Ducks’ linebackers set the defense’s needed edge
With just over two minutes on the clock at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 9, Oregon’s defense was trying to hold onto a 42-35 lead over Nebraska.
Cornhusker quarterback Tanner Lee took the snap, faked a handoff, stepped into the pocket and attempted a pass down the right sideline. His pass was tipped by Oregon outside linebacker Jonah Moi and defensive back Ugochukwu Amadi grabbed the ball to seal the victory for the Ducks.
“We just knew the defense had to make a play,” Amadi said. “The offense was struggling.”
Moi, a junior college transfer in his redshirt senior season for the Ducks, is part of a linebacker unit that’s become a tour de force three games into the 2017 season. After a season full of defensive woes, the Ducks’ linebackers are providing stability for Oregon’s defense.
Defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach Jim Leavitt is putting emphasis on the linebacker unit this season.
“I feel comfortable because Leavitt’s putting us in the right places,” Moi said. “I think it’s a really good scheme. I just feel like if I just do my job, do what he tells me to do, it’s going to come out in my favor.”
Moi’s performance against Nebraska earned him a second consecutive start when the Ducks traveled to Wyoming, but he’s listed as a backup behind Justin Hollins on Oregon’s depth chart for the upcoming game against the Sun Devils.
Moi is still a key player in the Ducks’ defense and he’s not going unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“Obviously, our whole key is setting the edge as the defense and he’s actually playing not just more physical, but he’s playing smarter too,” outside linebacker coach Raymond Woodie said. “Obviously stopping the run, setting the edge and then the pass coverage, you know, his eyes are much better than they were in the spring.”
As an outside linebacker, Moi’s primary job is to force the opposition’s offensive players inside to the bulk of the defensive linemen and linebackers. His trust in his inside linebackers, who are led by sophomore Troy Dye, is necessary for the team’s engine to run.
“Troy, he’s a baller,” Moi said. “He just has a good nose for the ball.”
The depth at linebacker gives relief to the players, which helps in practice as players get the chance to rest between reps to simulate game-like functions. The emphasis on energy has been described as “juice” and the coaching staff is seeing plenty of juice in the linebackers.
“Our guys work every day and with [Moi] and Fotu [Leiato II], you know those guys are so similar,” Woodie said. “La’Mar [Winston Jr.] is just actually playing lights out as far as his desire to make every play. His work ethic is unreal … and when you push play with him, he’s always going with fanatical effort. It’s hard to keep him off the field.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow