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Ducks safety Nick Pickett (16) attempts to tackle a trojan. Oregon Ducks Football takes on the Trojans at The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 2, 2019. (DL Young/Emerald)

In the last three games, the Ducks have given up 30 points per game, uncharacteristic for a defense that held teams to just 7.6 points per game the previous six matchups. Nevertheless, the No. 7 Ducks still stand at 8-1 with three regular season games to go.

A weak schedule to begin the season — with the exception of the then No. 16 Auburn Tigers — could be a factor in the Ducks just now showing holes in the defense. Oregon’s last three opponents, Washington, Washington State and USC, are all in the top half of the conference in terms of total offense, with Washington State taking the top spot. 

Whether it is Washington State’s deadly passing game or USC’s highly touted receivers, Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos knows that it’s going to be a challenge week in and week out in the Pac-12. 

“Scheme is scheme,” Avalos said. “It ultimately comes down to how you’re executing those techniques and fundamentals.”

Seemingly gravitating away from the techniques and fundamentals, the Ducks gave up an average of 400 yards of total offense per game in the last three contests, 320 of which came from the passing game. Missing tackles and miscommunications were the biggest areas of concern going into the USC game. 

USC’s talented wide receivers gain a lot of their yards after the catch, but the Ducks secondary did an excellent job bottling up receivers. In the Ducks’ 56-24 victory over USC, not once did the Trojans gain more than 20 yards on a single play. Oregon linebacker Troy Dye praised the defensive backs for doing their job and limiting the wideouts. 

“They have big strong receivers and a lot of guys try to hit them up high, so we tried to hit them in the thigh boards,” Dye said. “I love our DBs regardless who were playing against.”

The loss of Gus Cumberlander also put a dent in the Ducks pass rush. Freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux — who, before Cumberland’s injury, was a situational player for Avalos — has been forced to be an every-down player, along with Miami transfer DJ Johnson.

The defense recovered its first fumble since the Sept. 7 game against Nevada when it recovered two. Safety Brady Breeze, who was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week,  had a career night, recording seven tackles, an interception for a touchdown and a fumble recovery.

The Ducks have been shaky at getting off the field during third and fourth downs all season. Teams convert on 35% of third downs and 47% on fourth against the Ducks. Avalos stated that the Ducks must be aware of the situation, make the right reads and execute.

“It comes down to situational defense and knowing where we’re at in those windows,” Avalos said.

A team traditionally known for putting up monstrous numbers on the scoreboard is performing beyond expectations on the defensive end. With the No. 7 Ducks in the College Football Playoff conversation, defense is going to be a major talking point when the committee assembles to discuss the top four teams deserving to compete for a National Championship.