Oregon football’s defense survives shaky start

It was nearly a nightmare start to the season for Oregon football’s defense.

The Ducks were missing tackles and misreading plays, as Bowling Green got off to an early 10-0 lead. Then, Oregon safeties coach Keith Heyward huddled the defense on the sideline.

“He wanted us to play tighter coverage, continue to wrap up when we’re tackling because that was one of our biggest downfalls,” safety Ugochukwu Amadi said.

Then the Oregon defense came alive, as the Ducks downed Bowling Green 58-24. The brutal start was erased thanks to big plays throughout the second half and quick stops to hold back the Falcons’ offense.

In the first quarter, Oregon’s defense struggled to keep Bowling Green’s offense at bay. The Falcons marched down the field on their first drive of the game until they were stopped on the Oregon 19, where a Nate Needham field goal put up the first points of the season.

The Ducks went three-and-out and the Bowling Green offense pounced on the opportunity to have another go at the Oregon defense. The Falcons took a long drive, over 11 plays and 9 minutes, 44 seconds to punch home a touchdown and take a 10-0 lead over the heavily favored Ducks.

Oregon’s defense was struggling. The unit got a chance to breathe when the Oregon offense drove for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 10-7. Then, the defense finally got a stop.

“We just got locked in,” Troy Dye said. “Got everyone to check themselves and that’s what we did.”

Bowling Green started a drive deep inside its own half and Falcons running back Andrew Clair broke away from multiple tackle attempts by Oregon defenders for a 28-yard gain. The Falcons kept marching but the Ducks stuffed Clair on a 4th-and-2 attempt on Oregon’s 32.

“We have to tackle better,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “We do a lot of tackling drills and we did tackle live throughout the course of camp.”

The Oregon Ducks celebrate a play. Oregon Ducks Football hosts Bowling Green in home opener at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Saturday, September 1, 2018. (Devin Roux/Emerald)

In the second half, Amadi embodied the defense’s turnaround as he intercepted Bowling Green quarterback Jarret Doege and returned it for a touchdown to give Oregon a 44-17 lead. This marks the second straight season that Amadi got Oregon’s first defensive touchdown.

“I knew where they were gonna get to,” Amadi said. “Good thing that I just sat there because it came right to me.”

In the fourth, Troy Dye picked off Doege at midfield to put the icing on the cake as Oregon’s defense squandered any hope the Falcons had at a comeback.

But the Ducks did receive a blow when La’Mar Winston Jr. went down in the first half with an injury and went to the locker room.

Cristobal did not provide an update on Winston Jr. but said that he is getting checked for a concussion.

Oregon will once again be heavy favorites heading into its next two games, and the defense will have to make sure it doesn’t come out of the gates on its heels when Pac-12 play roles around in three weeks time.

Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, acrobatics and tumbling, track and field/cross-country and softball. He also hosts several podcasts, including a soccer podcast, on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.