You guys! The Rose Bowl is TOMORROW!! It feels like forever since the B1G Championship game that was fun for a half and then, well, you know for the second half. It is time for some more football!
The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (10-3 overall, 7-2 B1G) are set to take on the No. 6 Oregon Ducks (11-2 overall, 8-1 PAC-12) in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl title and it is time for us to get down to some serious previewing.
Here is Part 3, which focuses on Oregon’s defense, of our three-part Q&A series with Addicted to Quack leading up to the Rose Bowl. Part 1 is right here and gives a broad overview of the Ducks and their fan base and Part 2 looked at the Ducks’ offense. There will be corresponding posts on ATQ from our writers here that you may want to check out as well (overall, defense).
Without further ado, here is Adam Chimeo of ATQ to give us a preview of the Ducks defense!
1) What sort of defensive system is Andy Avalos running? Was there any sort of learning curve for the Ducks players?
The base defense is an even-front 3-3-5, with an outside linebacker playing on the line in the “Stud” position. That position is a defensive end/outside linebacker combo made famous by five-star freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux but played by a handful of talented Ducks including Mase Funa and senior Bryson Young. Many defenses say they have a multiple front, but believe me when I say that Avalos’ system is truly multiple and thrives on chaos.
Duck fans were excited when former DC Jim Leavitt took this defense from the PAC-12 basement to a respectable place, but what Avalos has done with basically the same roster has fans begging Uncle Phil Knight to open up the pocketbook and make sure he stays in Eugene for as long as possible. And just like Oregon’s offensive line under Cristobal, the defensive line has completely transformed from Chip Kelly’s bend-don’t-break line into a beefy bully line.
2) I watched the Pac-12 Title Game and I’ll just cut to the chase: freshman DE Kayvon Thibodeaux was an absolute terror. It seems like he really “figured it out” over the last third of the season and is now basically unblockable. What makes him so good? Also, is his hand injury healed?
It’s hard to live up to the hype when you’re a five-star freshman that’s the highest rated recruit in program history, but Thibodeaux has done just that. Like you stated in your question, it took him awhile to adjust to the college level but once he was able to push toward the quarterback and not just blow past him he really started to wreak havoc on the PAC-12. Countless times the pressure brought by Thibodeaux resulted in a bad pass or even an interception.
Another offseason of workouts will make him an even more lethal weapon next season, but his performance in the PAC-12 Championship game (5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a blocked punt) show how quickly he has improved in a short amount of time.
3) Who else on defense should Badgers fans be aware of? Who is an under-the-radar player that will make us sound smart at the bar when we say “watch out for this guy”?
Nose tackle Jordon “Fat Mac” Scott (No. 34 below) is a fan favorite and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His stats don’t jump off the page, but that’s only because he is regularly double-teamed due to necessity. He’s a large reason why Oregon is so effective at stopping opposing offenses on fourth-and-short and is a constant strain on the O-line that makes players like Thibodeaux even more effective.
Sophomore Jevon Holland is another Duck that can surprise some folks. He’s a safety that has tallied four interceptions this season, including a pick six against Wazzu and an inspired performance against Auburn. Deommodore Lenoir is sure to get a lot of TV time, but that’s only because Thomas Graham Jr is not a cornerback you want to throw against unless you absolutely have to.
And finally, Brady Breeze is the ultimate hipster pick, because after a relatively quiet season the junior safety recorded a crucial pick-six against USC and had the game of his life against Utah.
4) In what areas can the Wisconsin offense take advantage of the Oregon defense?
I don’t believe there is an Achilles’ heel of the Oregon defense, just a handful of opportunities that can be taken advantage of when they show up. The Ducks like to attack the QB from many different positions on the field, a talented quarterback could recognize these different pass rushes and hit the hole made by the attacking player. This is one of the best DB classes we’ve ever had, but Oregon’s aggressive style means they are frequently in man-to-man situations and a perfectly placed pass can result in a huge gain (the games against Washington State and Arizona State come to mind.)
Unless you’re a true blue blood, I don’t think overpowering this Duck defense is the way to go, at least not as your primary strategy. It’s best to take advantage of Oregon’s opportunistic pass rush using misdirection and quick passes, ultimately setting up for a handful of haymakers when the time comes. In short, I believe Wisconsin will need to get creative if they want to score with regularity in the Rose Bowl.
5) Since this is the last of our Q&As with ATQ we have to ask: what is your score prediction for the game and who will be named MVP?
Welp, here’s where I lose all credibility with my homer pick. I think that Oregon’s offensive line will ultimately prove to be the best unit on the field, but instead of giving the MVP to the most deserving player - left tackle Penei Sewell - it’ll go to a wide receiver who benefited from a consistent run game by bringing in a couple of touchdowns off play action, my guess would be Johnny Johnson III.
Either way, I’m stoked for the game and respect the hell out of the Badger fan base and program.