This is the last 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, has answered five questions for us and I answered 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 broke down what to look for when Oregon has the ball. In our final part below, we take a look at what to watch for when Wisconsin has the ball.
My answers to ATQ's questions can be found here.
B5Q: I've already been criticized for underestimating Oregon's defense. Why is the unit better than we might expect?
ATQ: Oregon’s defense is extremely fast, deep, and talented, and runs an unorthodox scheme the does a good job of confusing opponents. The myth is that Oregon isn’t very good on defense because they tend to give up a lot of yards and points but, remember, due to Oregon’s offensive pace, this team routinely sees more plays than any other in the nation. On a per play basis, Oregon has ranked first, first, and second in yards per play given up in the Pac-10/12 the last three years.
B5Q: Schematically, what does Oregon do on defense? Is it considered an aggressive or conservative defense?
ATQ: Oregon is an extremely aggressive defense. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will often put his corners out on an island and then bring big blitzes from all areas of the field. This works because Oregon’s corners are very talented and can hold their own against most receiving corps in the league. Senior Anthony Gildon has been dependable and freshman Terrance Mitchell is a future star. The one time that this broke down was the USC game, where Gildon was hurt and that left two freshmen to go up against Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, two All-American type talents. However, a contrast to that is the Stanford game, where the disguised big blitzes confused Andrew Luck into two interceptions, or the Washington game, where Keith Price threw two picks and was sacked six times.
Oregon runs what we call a hybrid 3-4, with three traditional defensive linemen, three linebackers, and a "drop end." This drop end is usually a linebacker type player who will play upright on the line, and either rush the QB or drop back into coverage. Oregon will mix up man and zone, though zone is more common, and will play a ton of players as the Ducks’ pace causes them to see many more plays on defense than most teams.
B5Q: It's been said that Oregon will need to disguise coverages and blitzes to confuse Wisconsin's offensive line. Do you agree and how does that strategy play into what the Ducks normally do on defense?
ATQ: That plays really well into what Oregon normally does on defense. The Ducks blitz a lot, and I think a good parallel to this is the Stanford game, as a big offensive line with two first round draft picks was made to look foolish against the Oregon defensive scheme.
B5Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Oregon defense?
ATQ: The strengths are depth, of which they have a ton, and speed. It’s a very fast defense, and big plays are difficult. That said, their biggest weakness is something that could potentially play right into Wisconsin’s hands: they struggle with a power run game. Oregon will do what they did against Stanford, Washington, and USC in this game, they will stack the box to try and stop Montee Ball, then, when they (hopefully) start to build a lead, they will unleash the blitzes and try to put the game away. This worked great against Stanford and Washington as Oregon was able to contain the run game while the secondary excelled all alone on the edges. Against USC, it broke down when Marqise Lee started catching everything for big gains, forcing us out of the box, when the run game started gashing us for big gains. Cal and UCLA were able to gash Oregon for big gains in the power run game, but their passing games were so inept that it never really mattered much.
Wisconsin has the QB to make Oregon pay for stacking the box to try and contain Montee Ball. Hell, Oregon could stack the box and Montee Ball could still get some big gains. The question is can the WRs consistently make plays against the Oregon corners?
I have no illusions that Oregon is going to stop Wisconsin’s offense. But Oregon doesn’t have to do that . They only have to stop Wisconsin one more time than Wisconsin stops Oregon. I definitely think they can do that.
B5Q: Who are some of the playmakers on the defense? Which players might surprise?
ATQ: Most of the defense is relatively unknown and underrated, because they are overshadowed by the offense nationally, but let me give you a couple of names. John Boyett, the free safety, is perhaps Oregon’s best defensive player. He makes up for a lot of mistakes in the secondary by getting to everything, and is also maybe the hardest hitter in the conference. Linebacker Michael Clay is the leader of the defense, and it's no coincidence that Oregon’s defense looked shaky at the beginning of the season when Clay was injured, and started to gel mid-season when Clay returned. Fellow linebackers DeWitt Stuckey and Josh Kaddu have also made a ton of plays this season, and Kaddu will sometimes fill that drop end spot and get a clear shot at the QB. Finally, DE Dion Jordan has been Oregon’s primary pass rusher on the season.
B5Q: Bonus question: Ok, here we go. Give us your prediction, including score, offensive MVP and defensive MVP.
ATQ: I think we’re going to see a lot of points. Oregon was shut down in its last two BCS appearances against Ohio State and Auburn. Wisconsin’s defense is solid, but also not in the same class as those two. Wisconsin will get their points but, after seeing some of the things Michigan State exploited against Wisconsin, I think Oregon will get more. I like the Ducks 42-31. I like DeAnthony Thomas for offensive MVP, given that his roles in the slot and on kick returns give him an opportunity to match up against the Badgers’ most glaring weaknesses. I’ll take linebacker Michael Clay for defensive MVP, as he’s going to need to have a big game against Wisconsin’s running game.