This Saturday, No. 13 Oregon (2-1) will open its Pac-12 season against No. 16 Utah (3-0) at home. Much of the attention will be on Vernon Adams Jr.’s health — if he plays — and the defense, which has been subject up until this point.
After Wednesday’s practice, Adams vaguely said his finger feels “fine,” giving no real update on his recently broken right index finger.
By the numbers, this defense is noticeably down through the first three games of the season.
For perspective, here’s how the Oregon defense currently ranks in the Pac-12 heading into the weekend: 456.3 yards allowed per game (last), 140.3 rushing yards per game (fifth), 316 passing yards per game (last) and 145.4 passing defense efficiency (last).
To combat their tackling deficiencies, defensive coordinator Don Pellum has been issuing various leveraging drills during practice to hone fundamentals. Whether it be Reggie Daniels getting trucked in the opening drive of the Michigan State game a couple weeks back or giving up 128 receiving yards to Penny Hart (Georgia State) and 246 receiving yards to Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington), Pellum hasn’t been pleased with his secondary’s performance thus far.
Following a week of specified practice though, he’s been encouraged and is excited for the upcoming challenge against one of the most stout offensive lines in the country.
“This is going to be a physical battle,” Pellum said. “We have to do a tremendous job at the line of scrimmage, tackle the running back and the tailback. We have to a great job of wrapping people up and making the tackle. I think it (tackling) has improved. I’m excited to see it Saturday.”
If Oregon wants to start its conference schedule with a win and keep its playoff hopes alive, the secondary will have to improve in a significant way.
“We’re always trying to make plays, so any play that we can make (whether it be) score or get the ball back for the offense, that’s a big part of our role,” Pellum said. “Moving forward the conference is the same: every week is going to be a battle, every week there’s great quarterbacks, great running backs, great everything. Every play is going to be significant. We got to make our share.”
Keep an eye out for Oregon’s front seven as well as it faces off against one of the best running backs in the country in Utah’s Devontae Booker. Booker, who currently ranks fourth among Pac-12 running backs according to total rushing yards, enters Saturday’s matchup averaging 115 yards per game.
“They try to run everything through Devontae Booker and that’s our main goal: to stop him,” Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner said. “They’re a really physical team. We just got to come out ready to play.”
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