This is the third in a four-part series with SBNation's Oregon blog, Addicted To Quack. Each week leading up to the Rose Bowl, David Piper, who contributes to ATQ, will answer five questions for us and I'll answer five questions for them. In our first part, we got a general introduction to the Oregon program. Last week, we took a look at the head coaches. In the third part, we break down what to look for when Oregon has the ball. In our final part later this week, we'll take a look at what to watch for when Wisconsin has the ball.
My answers to ATQ's questions can be found here.
B5Q: What makes Oregon's spread offense so hard to defend?
ATQ: There are really two elements of Oregon’s spread that make it difficult to defend. The first is the scheme itself. By putting athletes in open space, it becomes imperative for the defenders to play assignment football and makes tackles in the open field, especially when you’re playing athletes like LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, and DeAnthony Thomas. The other is pace. While not as fast as they were last year, Oregon runs a lot of plays, and does them at a pace that does not allow for substitution by the defense. By the second half, this wears a lot of teams down, which is one way that the scores tend to get so lopsided.
B5Q: LaMichael James gets most of the attention, but would it be fair to say that Darron Thomas is the most important piece in the offense? What makes him so good? What are some of his weaknesses?
ATQ: Yes. Darron’s best attribute is that he always makes the right read, both on the read option and in the passing game. His mechanics aren’t pretty, and he doesn’t have the greatest arm, both things that he’s be criticized for this season, but Oregon’s problems in the passing game have more to do with having the second worst receiving corps in the Pac-12 than anything being wrong with Darron. You weren’t hearing about it last season when the Ducks had Jeff Maehl. Darron really is a great quarterback for our offense.
B5Q: How good is Oregon's offensive line? At Wisconsin, the O-line is the engine to the offense. Does it take more of a backseat at Oregon because of the spread attack?
ATQ: Oregon’s offensive line is good, but by no means elite. It's worth noting that Oregon, despite leading the conference in rushing offense, total offense, and scoring offense, didn’t have a single offensive lineman on either all-conference team. They run the scheme well, but can be dominated by elite defensive lines, which was shown against LSU, and Cal and Auburn last season.
B5Q: Who are some of the lesser known offensive players that could be x-factors in the Rose Bowl?
ATQ: Everybody knows about LaMichael James. Most people know about Kenjon Barner. DeAnthony Thomas has exploded on the scene this season as a slot receiver/tailback/kick returner and has been a game changer at every position. If he gets an inch of space, he is gone. The other guy I’ll mention is tight end David Paulson, who is by far Oregon’s best receiver.
B5Q: Kick coverage is a huge issue for Wisconsin. Who handles return duties for Oregon and is it an area the Ducks can exploit?
ATQ: This DeAnthony Thomas kid handles kick returns. He averages 28 yards a return and has two scores, so, yep, Oregon can exploit it.