Oregon’s defense certainly had their pitfalls on Saturday, most notably surrendering a 26-yard game winner, yet overall Duck fans should come away quite impressed with their first performance under defensive coordinator Andy Avalos.
A consistent theme this offseason was the sheer number of contributors Oregon could have in the front seven. This rung true in their first showing; the depth was very apparent throughout.
Oregon was extremely disruptive up front. Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu consistently overpowered their matchups on early downs. Meanwhile, both Bryson Young and La'Mar Winston Jr. brought pressure from the edges. Young always seemed to find the ball.
On passing downs, Drayton Carlberg and Gus Cumberlander replaced Scott and Faoliu. Popo Aumavae, Gary Baker, and Kayvon Thibodeaux all saw reps to a varying degree as well. Thibodeaux’s speed flashed both in the run and pass game.
Like Avalos promised, he brought pressure in other ways too, frequently sending inside linebackers Isaac Slade-Matautia and Troy Dye on stunts—a type of blitz scheme in which a rusher will rotate around the other in a twist formation to find open holes.
Dye and Slade-Matautia led the team in tackles with 15 and six respectively. Sampson Niu and MJ Cunningham both saw reps in relief duty. True freshman Mase Funa also had an impressive tackle for loss.
The defense did a wonderful job of disguising where the pressure would come from, often showing blitz, only to have the inside linebackers drop back into coverage. This forced Bo Nix and his offensive line to play a guessing game. The vast unpredictability and bountiful personnel combinations in the front seven paid dividends as Nix was frequently forced out of the pocket and into inaccurate throws.
Although Nix’s ability to escape the pocket was on display, he showed almost no ability to make plays with his arm in the first half. Oregon’s defensive backs began giving more and more cushion to Auburn's wideouts.
Nix threw 31 times, completing only 13 for 177 yards. He did throw two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions and was extremely close to throwing a third.
One of the two offseason competitions in the secondary seemed to have a clear winner, as Verone McKinley III saw almost every nickel snap. He played near the line of scrimmage at times, but more frequently played deep as Jevon Holland took his place in the slot. The safety battle, on the other hand, seems to be ongoing. Nick Pickett played the majority of the first half, yet Brady Breeze played almost the entirety of the second half.
Mykael Wright appeared briefly at corner. Fellow freshman Jamal Hill also received a few snaps in various places.
Midway through the third quarter with Herbert and the offense sputtering, Oregon’s defense wore down. Their scrappy run stuffing began to slow as running back JaTarvious Whitlow ripped off several chunk plays, which ultimately proved to be their downfall. This in turn opened up the play-action game for Bo Nix, who began to make plays when given more time to throw on the move.
Oregon faces Nevada in week two which should provide a different challenge for the Ducks. Their redshirt freshman quarterback led an outstanding comeback in their opener, throwing three touchdowns, but will face a much more talented defense this week. The Wolfpack have some playmakers, including 6-foot-4 wideout Elijah Cooks and running back Toa Tuau, but if the Ducks can clean up their few mistakes from the week prior, they should stay in control throughout.
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