Photo by Andrew Giesemann
Oregon Football

Tale of the Tape: Defense

November 22, 2018

I've seen a couple of articles this week suggesting Oregon State can upset Oregon, and I do think that is a real possibility. However, the biggest thing holding the Beavers back is their defense.

OSU has struggled to contain opposing offenses this season, allowing 539.2 yards (96 more than any other Pac-12 team) and 44.8 points per game (12 more than any other team in the conference). Oregon State’s offense has been able to show some promise under new head coach Jonathan Smith, but the same can not be said about the defense.

The best way to describe the Beavers’ run defense is that it is constantly failing. Like most college programs, the Beavers run a nickel base set, but it really hasn’t been working. They not only allow running backs to get past the defensive line, but they also allow blockers to get through the first level, too – and that leads to long gains.

Travis Dye could be really effective for the Ducks on Friday, because the Beavers have struggled to contain smaller running backs who can slip into the second level.

The Beavers’ defensive backs and linebackers have had their hands full trying to contain and clean up a lot of long run plays. They also have had to replace the biggest force on this team, second only to maybe Ryan Nall, in linebacker Manase Hungalu.

Without Hungalu, Oregon State has struggled in all areas. But the one that sticks out the most is tackling in space, which leads to physical receivers or running backs muscling out a few more yards after first contact.

Probably the most impressive defensive group for the Beavers is their secondary – and it is the key to containing a Duck team that relies heavily on the Justin Herbert/Dillon Mitchell connection. While the group has yielded touchdown passes, they have made enough plays in man coverage that opposing quarterbacks have had to make some beautiful passes.

That’s not to say the defensive backs are good all the time; they still get burned for a lot of yards.


Oregon’s defense has had up-and-down performances all season, but last week against Arizona State was definitely a highlight. It was able to apply constant pressure on Manny Wilkins, which helped limit N’Keal Harry’s production.

Both the defensive line and defensive backs had arguably the best performances of the entire season. And the culmination of that hard work came when the Ducks were able to force a fumble to secure the win.

If the Ducks can play like they did last week, there shouldn’t be any issues in limiting the Beavers. That said, it's been a big ask for the Ducks’ defense to stack good games back to back. They also haven’t performed the best on the road – so that's two tendencies they are going to have to overcome.

The ASU win should have been a confidence builder. Plus, the upperclassmen still have that painful memory of losing in Corvallis two seasons ago. Emotion isn’t a problem unless it goes unchecked, so Jim Leavitt is going to have to work hard to keep his defense level-headed in Corvallis.

In the end, I have to give the nod to Oregon’s defense; it has the better overall résumé. And while both teams have struggled to put it together week after week, the Ducks have been able to do it more than the Beavers.

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