The No. 2 Oregon Ducks (5-0, 2-0)return home this Saturday to take on the No. 23 Washington Huskies (3-1, 1-0) at Autzen Stadium.
The Washington Husky defense struggled mightily for most of 2011 culminating with an all-time horror against Baylor int eh Alamo Bowl where the Huskies allowed 777 yards of total offense. Shortly after the disastrous performance, head coach Steve Sarkisian overhauled his entire defensive staff. In the process, Sarkisian brought two former Ducks on to the Husky staff luring Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee to be the new defensive coordinator as well as hiring Peter Sirmon as the new linebackers coach.
With the exception of one game this season, the defensive numbers have been dramatically better than last season making the overhaul of the defensive staff appear to have worked.
Oregon comes into the contest off of their first road game. The Duck defense dominated the Cougar offense for much of the game holding Washington State to just 214 yards of total offense through three quarters and did not let up until the outcome was all but decided.
Today Duck Sports Authority continues our weekly look at the in-depth match ups on both sides of the ball turning our attention now to the defense.
Washington: The Huskies run a 3-4 base defense which leaves them starting one defensive tackle. Getting the nod against the Ducks will be Danny Shelton (6-1, 317) a sophomore from nearby Auburn, Washington. Shelton will be making the fifth start of the season at nose tackle for Washington and his sixth career start Saturday night. Coming into the game Shelton has recorded 16 total tackles. He had a career high 7 of those tackles against LSU earlier this season. Behind Shelton will be Semisi Tokolahi (6-2, 340) a senior from Hawaii. Tokolahi has started 12 games over his career with the Huskies but has missed time with injuries over the past two seasons. Coming into Saturday's contest Tokolahi has 6 total tackles in four appearances.
A third nose tackle, Sione Potoa'e (6-2, 271) has seen time at nose tackle and defensive end this season. He has appeared in all four games for the Huskies notching just one tackle this year.
Oregon: Oregon brings a wealth of experience at defensive tackle. Starters Wade Keliikipi (6-3, 295) and Isaac Remington (6-4, 301) both saw action as starters last season with Keliikipi starting the final 11 games. Keliikipi recorded a career high 5 tackles in the win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl while Remington recorded 31 total tackles on the season. So far this season Remington leads the defensive tackles with 9 total tackles and 3 tackles for loss and one sack. After a great performance against the Cougars Keliikipi has raised his season total to 9 tackles with 3 tackles for loss of his own and 2 sacks.
The real difference for Oregon will come in the reserves as Oregon returns all the defensive tackles from last season. Ricky Heimuli (6-4, 305) showing promise with 22 total tackles in his 14 reserve appearances last season for the Ducks has also recorded 6 tackles in 2012.
Deforrest Buckner (6-7, 265) a true freshman from Hawaii has played well this season notching 8 total tackles and 2 tackles for loss and his first career sack through five game in 2012. The Ducks are also versatile here as Taylor Hart can move inside if needed. The Duck defensive line has been dominant most of the 2012 season.
The Ducks have superior depth and experience at the defensive tackle position. The team easily goes two deep and, when running a 3-4, Oregon has four defensive tackles capable of playing as well as a couple of defensive ends who can move inside and be effective. Shelton has played well early for Washington, but the Ducks just have too much depth and production out of this group.
Washington: The strong side defensive end position will be manned by Talia Crichton (6-3, 264) a senior who has started 16 games in his career. Crichton has not been particularly active for the Huskies recording just 4 tackles in his three starts this season. Behind Crichton is Pio Vatuevi (6-2, 281) a true freshman. Through his four appearances Vatuevi has 6 tackles for the Huskies.
On the weakside will be Andrew Hudson (6-3, 249). The sophomore, who appeared in all 13 games last season has recorded 14 total tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack through the first four games of the season. Behind Hudson will be Potoa'e.
Oregon: Oregon has a first team All Pac-12 defensive end hybrid in Dion Jordan (6-7, 243) who terrorized Pac-12 quarterbacks and coaches last season has looked explosive in early action this season recording 22 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Backing up Jordan will be Tony Washington (6-3, 244) a sophomore who also moved over from defensive tackle. Washington saw action in 10 games as a freshman and recorded 18 total tackles. So far in 2012, Washington has 8 total tackles and one tackle for loss.
The other side has been taken over by Taylor Hart (6-6, 292) a junior from Tualatin. Hart moved over to defensive end after starting 14 games last season as a defensive tackle. Hart received honorable mention All Pac-12 last season. So far this year, Hart has notched 16 tackles with 4 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Hart leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks through five games.
Behind Hart true freshman Arik Armstead (6-8, 297) has made his mark early in 2012. He made the most of his early arrival and has earned rave reviews early on from coaches and team mates alike. Armstead has 11 total tackles and 0.5 sacks through five games.
Oregon has better talent with a bona-fide all Pac-12 player in Dion Jordan. Taylor Hart may be pushing for a spot on the all-conference team as well with his exceptional early season play. The Oregon depth is better as well. The Ducks have better size and speed at the defensive end position. Clear advantage in this category to the Ducks.
Washington: Starting at the "rover" linebacker position is Josh Shirley (6-3, 230) a redshirt sophomore. Last season Shirley recorded 28 tackles, with 12 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Through the first four games of 2012, Shirley has not been as productive with 10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and one sack. Behind Shirley are Connor Cree (6-4, 245) and Cory Littleton (6-3, 212) both freshmen. Littleton has yet to play this season while Cree has seen action in all four games with no statistical impact.
Travis Feeney (6-4, 209) a redshirt freshman gets the nod at a "will" linebacker position. The converted safety started the first two games of the season and has recorded 15 total tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack in three appearances.
Playing in the middle will be John Timu (6-1, 231) a sophomore who started 8 games last season as a true freshman. Timu is second on the team with 24 total tackles. He has also recorded 2 tackles for loss and one sack. The primary reserve in the middle will be Thomas Tutogi (6-1, 242) a junior who appeared in all 13 games a year ago. After an impressive performance against LSU where he notched 12 tackles, Tutogi leads the Husky defense with 29 total tackles to go along with 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack.
At the "Sam" linebacker position, Washington starts be Princeton Fuiamaono (6-1, 242) a 13 game starter a year ago. Fuiamaono had a very good season in 2011 recording 64 total tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. This season Fuiamaono has just 12 tackles and one tackle for loss through the first four games. He is also the primary backup to Travis Feeney. Behind Fuiamaono will be Taz Stevenson (6-1, 215) another converted safety. Stevenson has appeared in all four games and has 5 tackles.
Oregon: Last week, Michael Clay (5-11, 225), the rock solid starter at the "Will" linebacker position, missed the second half due to an undisclosed injury. He has been spotted this week outside of practice and appears to be ready to go for the Huskies. Clay leads the team in tackles with 33 total tackles along with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Behind Clay is Derrick Malone (6-2, 219) the most experienced reserve having played in all 14 games as a freshman. In early action this season, Malone has played well with 13 total tackles and one tackle for loss.
Alongside Clay will be Boseko Lokombo (6-3, 233). After his best game of the young 2012 season, Lokombo now has 11 tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack. Backing up Lokombo is Tyson Coleman who has notched 14 tackles this season including a half sack.
At the "Mike" linebacker position is Kiko Alonso (6-4, 242) one of the most physically gifted linebackers to play for Oregon. Alonso has been a monster in the middle so far this season with 26 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss during the first two games of 2012. Alonso is also tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions through the first five games of the season. The reserve middle linebacker will be Rahim Cassell. Cassell (6-0, 215) has appeared in all five games for the Ducks this season and has 6 total tackles.
Washington plays two deep at all four linebacker positions and plays a lot of experienced linebackers. While Clay and Alonso are the top two tacklers for the Oregon defense, Tutogi and Timu are the top two tacklers for the Huskies. With 70 total tackles, 9 tackles for loss and 3 sacks, the Ducks starting three linebackers have combined for more total tackles and tackles for loss than the starting four linebackers (61, 7, 3) for Washington. The Huskies depth has been a little more active in their appearances than the Duck reserves.
Washington: The Huskies start Desmond Trufant (6-0, 186) at one cornerback position. The senior has started 39 games during his career at Washington. Trufant played well last week against Stanford and has 12 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss with one sack. In pass coverage he has 3 passes defended and one interception. Behind Trufant is Marcus Peters (5-11, 194) a redshirt freshman who has appeared in all four games this season. Peters has 9 tackles with 1 interception and 3 passes defended.
At the other cornerback position will be Tre Watson (5-9, 183) a junior transfer from Central Washington. In four starts this season, Watson has 14 tackles with one interception. Watson also leads the team with 4 passes defended. Behind him will be Gregory Ducre (5-10, 177) a 6 game starter last season. In limited action this season Ducre has 6 total tackles.
At the free safety position will be Sean Parker (5-10, 190) another 13 game starter from a year ago. The junior from Los Angeles has notched 18 total tackles this season with no passes defended. Behind Parker will be Anthony Gobern (5-11, 189) a senior. Gobern has appeared in all four games and recorded 6 total tackles.
At the strong safety position, Justin Glenn (5-11, 214) is the likely starter. The senior has recorded 19 total tackles with 2 passes defended and one interception. The Huskies could also go with Will Shamburger (6-0, 185) a junior from Compton, California. Shamburger, the former high school team mate of Keith Price, has played in all four games but has just 6 tackles for the Huskies.
Though not listed as a starter, true freshman Shaq Thompson (6-2, 215) is listed as the nickel back for the Huskies. The freshman plays as many plays as any of the starters and leads all defensive backs with 20 total tackles and 3 tackles for loss.
Oregon: Oregon returns Terrance Mitchell (6-0, 189) a 12 game starter as a freshman last year. Mitchell, who had not seen many opportunities early this season finally got tested a little last week against Washington State and played well. Through five games Mitchell has has 10 tackles and 5 passes defended. Behind Mitchell is sophomore Dior Mathis (5-9, 182) one of the fastest players on the team. Mathis has 8 tackles in a reserve role through five games and an interception which he nearly returned for a score earlier this season.
At the other corner will be Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5-10, 190) who appeared in all 14 games and started 2 as a true freshman in 2011. Ekpre-Olomu had played well early in 2012, but had a breakout performance against Arizona recording 2 interceptions one of which he returned for a touchdown. He followed that up with another stellar performance against the Cougars last week. For the season, Ekpre-Olomu has now recorded 18 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles. Behind Ekpre-Olomu will be Troy Hill (5-11, 180) a sophomore who played extensively last season including 6 starts as a freshman. Hill also recorded a "pick six" earlier this season returning an interception 29 yards for a touchdown. Through five games this season, Hill has notched 13 tackles with one tackle for loss and the interception.
At safety, Oregon suffered the loss of John Boyett (5-10, 205) earlier this season. Replacing Boyett has been Avery Patterson (5-10, 185) a junior who saw extensive action last season recording 55 total tackles. Last week saw Patterson have a breakout performance against the Cougars returning an interception for a score in Seattle. For the year Patterson is up to 19 total tackles with 2 passes broken up and one interception..
Next to Patterson will be Brian Jackson (5-10, 205), a junior who was a special teams standout last season. Jackson has played well early in 2012 having recorded 21 total tackles as well as 5 passes defended. The primary reserve for both safety positions will be Erick Dargan (5-11, 205) a sophomore who is a big hitter. Though he is a reserve, Dargan currently is fifth on the team with 20 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended and one fumble recovery through the first five games of the season.
Washington has a lot of experience at the starting positions, but so does Oregon. There are a couple of key factors that give the Ducks the edge in this match-up. First is productivity. The Duck defensive backs have been very productive. They are more active in run support and play the ball in the air better than the Husky defensive backs. The other is depth. While both can play 2 deep at every defensive back position, the Ducks use their rotation more frequently and can trust their reserves in key situations.
The only player keeping this close is Thompson who has been stellar early in his Husky career.
Washington: On the surface, the Husky defensive numbers appear very good. The Huskies are giving up just 315.8 yards of total offense and 19.8 points per game this season. This is definitely vastly superior to the defensive numbers that the Huskies put out last season.
The defense plays well in the red-zone and they have a plus 4 turnover margin. These are all statistics that will keep a team winning games. The Huskies do allow, though 148.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.1 yards per carry. Setting aside their win over Portland State, the Huskies have only stopped one team from running the ball Stanford. In the opener San Diego State rushed for 199 yards. LSU put up 242 rushing yards against the Husky defense.
Looking at the statistical averages, Washington holds teams to about 14% below their season averages in the rushing game and 16.8% below their averages throwing the ball.
The Huskies have improved their team speed at linebacker a little and are faster at defensive end this season. Shelton provides good size in the middle for the Husky defensive line.
The Huskies are giving up considerably fewer points than last season, which is a sign of progress.
The rushing numbers, though, could be a concern when facing a team that averages over 300 yards per game on the ground.
Oregon: Oregon, meanwhile, has been playing exceptional defense early this season. You may not be able to tell by looking at final scores, but it has to be understood that a lot of the yards and points that finish the totals occur against players far down the depth chart.
After a defensive masterpiece shutting out a high flying Arizona offense and holding them to almost half of their average yards per game, the Ducks held Washington State to just 137 yards at the half and 214 total yards through three quarters last weekend. For the season, the Ducks are giving up just 19.8 points per game. Though they are allowing 361.2 total yards per game, many of those yards happen in the fourth quarter as teams sling the ball all over the field trying to overcome big deficits on the scoreboard. The run defense for the Ducks has been stout as the Ducks are giving up just 110.6 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry.
After a strong game against the Cougars, the Ducks now have 16 sacks this season.
The Ducks are also third best in the conference allowing just 24.7 percent of third down conversions. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in red zone defense allowing just 60 percent for scores and 33 percent touchdown rate in the red-zone.
The Ducks are deep on the defensive line and have exceptional depth at cornerback position. The safeties have been active for the Ducks early this season while Clay and Alonso are two of the best linebackers in the conference.
Oregon has very good depth at each position as well as a size and speed advantage nearly across the board on defense. Washington has a few key starters that are experienced and talented, especially at linebacker, but their defensive line has been ineffective and their defensive backs have not been active in making plays on the ball. The Huskies do not have as many playmakers on defense as Oregon.
At their core, the Huskies are a pro-style offense and rely on a strong ground game to set up play action passing. Look for the Huskies to try and establish the run game early trying to slow down the pass rush of the Ducks and set up a few quick passes to Sefarian-Jenkins and Williams.
Sarkisian will mix up the play calling and go inside then outside with the running plays to keep the Ducks honest in their assignments. This will play into Nick Aliotti's hands a little as he likes to establish a run defense and make a team one dimensional.
The Husky offense has struggled to open holes in the running game and struggled even worse at protecting the quarterback when he is throwing the ball. Price has been better at not throwing interceptions this year, but he has also been either reluctant to scramble or unable to do so thanks to heavy pressure by defenses. The Husky offense has only played well in a game against FCS opponent Portland State. Aside from that game, the Husky offense has struggled for yards and points this season. Against a strong Duck defense, that will again be the case. The Huskies have struggled to score points in all three of their games against non-FCS opponents. In fact the Huskies average scoring 6.2 popint less per game than their opponents allow on average.
While the Duck defense used their size advantage to shut down the running game against Arizona, they were able to use their height and the defensive line push to close passing lanes and create problems for Washington State last week. Expect the Duck defense to dominate the line of scrimmage early and force Washington to become one dimensional.
On offense, look for Oregon to use the quick passing game that worked so well to open up the second half against Washington State last week. Quick passes should provide a lot of early opportunities to get to the edge for the Ducks. Once they have established the edge with quick passes they will look to use their size, speed and strength advantage to make plays in the center of the field. The quick out passes should open up running lanes for Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. While the Washington defense is improved this season, some of their numbers are misleading as they have been unable to control the running game with the notable exception of last weekend. San Diego State rushed for 199 yards while LSU rolled to 242 rushing yards. The defense will be more disciplined than last season, but depth and speed are still a problem for Washington.
Given that Washington, on average, only holds opponents to about 14% less than the opponent averages, the Ducks should be able to run the ball well. Look for the Ducks to use some different approaches to getting De'Anthony Thomas in space against the Husky defense. The Huskies dodged a bullet against Stanford as the Cardinal quarterback could not find his range on medium depth passes. Do not expect any such luck at a hostile Autzen stadium. Once the Ducks have established the running game and short passes, expect Mariota to look for some mid range passes to a stable of talented receivers.
Final: 42-13 Oregon
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