September 27, 2012

Oregon-WSU: defensive match-ups

The Oregon Ducks (4-0, 1-0) take to the road for the first time in 2012 this Saturday heading to Seattle to take on the Washington State Cougars (2-2, 0-1) at Century Link Field.

Coming into the 2012 season, there was renewed optimism in Pullman about the Cougar program and the direction it was headed. With former Oregon Athletic Director Bill Moos at the helm, the Cougars hired Mike Leach in hopes of bringing his Texas Tech "Air Raid" magic to the Palouse. The results, though, have not met the expectations of many Cougar fans early as Washington State has struggled to adopt Mike Leach's pass oriented spread offense. Last weekend, Washington State had a 31-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter with possession of the football inside the red zone, yet found a way to lose to Colorado. The 35-34 loss has emphasized just how difficult the transition of a new coach will be for the Cougars.

Oregon comes into the contest off of what is by far their best defensive effort of the season; an effort that ranks with some of the best defensive performances in school history. Oregon held an Arizona team averaging 596 yards per game and over 46 points per game to 332 yards en route to a 49-0 shutout of the Wildcats. The performance was enough to move the Ducks up to No. 2 in the rankings.

Defense has never been a hallmark of Mike Leach teams and the Cougars are having their share of defensive struggles again this season. Washington State runs a defense similar to Oregon with a 3-4 hybrid system. In this continuing series, Duck Sports Authority now takes a look at the defensive match-ups for Oregon and Washington State.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

WSU: The Cougars run a 3-4 base defense which leaves them starting one defensive tackle. Getting the nod against the Ducks will be Ioane Gauta (6-3, 305) a junior college transfer in his first year with the Cougars. Gauta has played well early for the Cougars with 11 total tackles through four games including two tackles for loss. Behind Gauta will be Kalafitoni Pole (6-1, 277) a sophomore who started three games last season. Early this year, he has played well in his four appearances notching 7 total tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss.

The third nose tackle for the Cougars is a redshirt freshman who has not yet appeared in a game for Washington State.

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 good performance against Arizona Keliikipi has raised his season total to 6 tackles.

The real difference for Oregon will come in the reserves as Oregon not only returns all the defensive tackles from last season, that depth took a hit with the injury to Jared Ebert (6-5, 260) who was playing well early after redshirting last year. Ricky Heimuli (6-4, 305) showing promise with 22 total tackles in his 14 reserve appearances last season for the Ducks has also recorded 4 tackles in 2012.

Deforrest Buckner (6-7, 265) a true freshman from Hawaii has played well this season notching 7 total tackles and 1 tackle for loss in the first three games of 2012. The Ducks are also versatile here as Taylor Hart can move inside if needed.

During the first three games the two-deep defensive line has been dominant.

EDGE: Oregon

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. Gauta has played well early for Washington State, but the Ducks just have too much depth.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

WSU: The strong side defensive end position will be manned by Steven Hoffart (6-4, 274) a fifth year senior. Hoffart made seven appearances last season for the Cougars as a reserve, but recorded just two total tackles. Hoffart has stepped up his game this season and has 9 total tackles including one sack through four games for the Cougars. Behind Hoffart is Xavier Cooper (6-4, 298) who will be playing close to his Tacoma home. The redshirt freshman has played very well early in the season recording 8 tackles of his own with four of those tackles for loss and one sack.

On the weakside will be Matthew Bock (6-2, 252). The sophomore, who appeared in 11 games last season has recorded 5 total tackles through the first four games of the season. Behind Bock will be Destiny Vaeao (6-4, 270) a freshman who has appeared in just two games this season and recorded one tackle.

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 18 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 2 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 12 tackles and a 2 sacks of his own in early play this season.

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 9 total tackles and 0.5 sacks through four games.

EDGE: Oregon

Oregon has better talent with a bona-fide all Pac-12 player in Dion Jordan and a now 19 game starter with Taylor Hart. 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.

LINEBACKER

WSU: Starting at the "buck" linebacker position is Travis Long (6-4, 245) a converted defensive end. Last season Long recorded 42 tackles, but led the Cougars with 12 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Through the first four games of 2012, the position switch seems to be paying dividends as Long is one of the top pass rushers in the nation having 27 total tackles with 7 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks through four games. Behind Long is Logan Mayes (6-3, 241) the son of legendary Cougar Reuben Mayes is also a former Eugene resident having graduated from Marist High school. Through the first four games of 2012, Mayes has 8 total tackles and 2 tackles for loss.

Across from Long Justin Sagote (6-0, 220), a junior college transfer makes his fourth start for the Cougars. Playing the "Will" linebacker position, Sagote has been active early with 17 total tackles for the Cougars. Behind Sagota is Chester Su'A (6-1, 224) a sophomore who has also played well with 13 total tackles and 2 tackles for loss early this year.

Playing in the middle will be Darryl Monroe (6-1, 228) a freshman from Orlando. Monroe has played very well early this season recording 26 total tackles with three of those being tackles for loss including two sacks. Behind Monroe is Jared Byers (6-0, 218) a junior. Byers, a Pullman native, has started five games in his career prior to this season and has notched 18 tackles with 1 tackle for loss.

At the "Sam" linebacker position, Washington State starts Cyrus Coen (6-0, 215) a sophomore who appeared in 12 games last season starting one game against Colorado. Coen has also been active early in 2012 and has 17 tackles with 2 tackles for loss. Behind Coen will be Eric Ortel (6-1, 210). Ortel has notched 14 tackles and 2 tackles for loss in his reserve role through four games this season.

Oregon: The Ducks will be breaking in two new starters at the linebacker spots. One starter that is rock solid, though, is Michael Clay (5-11, 225) who started 10 games last season equalled a career high with 13 tackles against Arizona last week. His effort earned him Pac-12 defensive player of the week. Clay now leads the Ducks with 25 tackles in limited playing time early this season with 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Behind Clay This year 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 12 total tackles and one tackle for loss.

Alongside Clay will be a player that, though he has not started, has been exceptional for the Ducks. At the Sam linebacker position, Boseko Lokombo (6-3, 233) has been "Mr. Lucky" for Oregon having scored 4 touchdowns as a reserve linebacker over the past two seasons (2 interception returns, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt that he returned). So far this season, Lokombo has notched 7 tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack. Backing up Lokombo is Tyson Coleman who has notched 12 tackles this season including a half sack.

Alongside Lokombo is Kiko Alonso (6-4, 242) one of the most physically gifted linebackers to play for Oregon. The Rose Bowl Defensive MVP, Alonso is no stranger to excelling in big games. Alonso has 19 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss during the first two games of 2012. Alonso is also tied for the team lead with 2 interceptions through the first four games of the season. The reserve middle linebacker will be Rahim Cassell. Cassell (6-0, 215) has appeared in all four games for the Ducks this season and has 5 total tackles.

EDGE: Oregon

Washington State 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, five of the top six tacklers for the Cougars are linebackers. Their starters have combined for 87 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. As a team Oregon has notched just 9 sacks.

Though the Cougar linebackers have better overall numbers early this season, do not expect them to outperform the Duck linebackers in this contest. Oregon's top two linebackers have enough of an edge over the top two Cougar linebackers to overcome the productive depth the Cougars have displayed. In addition, Cougar linebackers will have a much more difficult time stopping the Oregon offense than will the Duck linebackers against WSU.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

WSU: The Cougars start Nolan Washington (5-11, 182) at one cornerback position. The junior has started 23 games during his career at Washington State. Early this season, Washington has recorded 11 tackles and is tied for the team lead with 3 passes broken up. Behind Washington will be Anthony Carpenter (6-0, 190) another junior who has appeared in 23 games mostly on special teams. He has moved between cornerback and safety during his career. In a reserve role this season, Carpenter has 6 total tackles.

At the other cornerback position will be Damante Horton (5-10, 175) a junior who started 11 games last season. An honorable mention All Pac-12 defender last season, Horton has 16 tackles and 2 pass break-ups this season. Backing up Horton is likely to be Daniel Simmons (5-10, 184) a senior with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and one interception this season. During his career, Simmons has started 18 games.


At the free safety position will be Casey Locker (5-11, 192) from Ferndale. The cousin of former Husky Jake Locker, Casey has played in every game for the Cougars over the last two plus seasons. He has made the most of his starting role with 15 total tackles and one tackle for loss. Behind Locker will be Tyree Toomer (5-11, 200) a senior who was the third leading tackler for the Cougars in 2011. This season, Toomer has notched 8 total tackles in four games.

At the strong safety position, Deone Bucannon (6-1, 292) will get the start. Bucannon leads the Cougars with 32 total tackles this season with one tackle for loss. He is also tied for the team lead with 3 passes broken up. Behind Bucannon is Taylor Taliulu (5-11, 184) a freshman with three appearances this season. Taliulu has 16 total tackles in three appearances.

Oregon: Oregon returns Terrance Mitchell (6-0, 189) a 12 game starter as a freshman last year. Mitchell, who has earned the respect of opponents and has not had many opportunities early this season has 8 tackles so far this season and 3 passes broken up. Behind Mitchell is sophomore Dior Mathis (5-9, 182) one of the fastest players on the team. Mathis has 7 tackles in a reserve role through four games and an interception which he nearly returned for a score last week.

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. For the season, Ekpre-Olomu has now recorded 14 total tackles, 2 interceptions, 5 passes broken up 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" last week returning an interception 29 yards for a touchdown. So far this season, Hill has notched 8 tackles with one tackle for loss and the interception.

At safety, Oregon suffers the loss of John Boyett (5-10, 205) a three year starter who is out for the rest of the season for surgeries to both knees. Replacing Boyett has been Avery Patterson (5-10, 185) a junior who saw extensive action last season recording 55 total tackles. After a very strong game against Arizona, Patterson is up to 15 total tackles.

Next to Patterson will be Brian Jackson (5-10, 205), a junior who was a special teams standout last season. As a reserve defensive back special teams stalwart last season. Jackson has played well early in 2012 having recorded 18 total tackles as well as 4 passes broken up. 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 leads the team with 17 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery through the first four games of the season.

EDGE: Oregon

Washington State has some good athletes in the secondary, but give up 346 passing yards per game on 12.1 yards per catch. Compared to the Ducks, who give up just 210.8 yards per game and 8.7 per catch, the Cougar secondary is nowhere near as effective as Oregon. The defensive backs do have to make a lot of tackles, but that has more to do with their allowing so many passing yards and completions more than anything. Oregon has more speed in the defensive backfield and plays the ball better.

OVERALL DEFENSE

WSU: There are some great positives with the Cougar defense. Early this season, Washington State has been effective at sacking the opposing quarterbacks. The Cougars are ranked in the top ten in the nation with 2.5 sacks per game in early play. Unfortunately, that pressure has not seemed to really stop opposing teams from throwing the ball as they allow the third most passing yards in the football bowl subdivision.

The linebackers are athletic and active for the Cougars. Typically, it is a positive sign when five of your top six tacklers are linebackers. Last season, the Cougars allowed 157.2 yards per game on the ground. This season, that number has been reduced to 127 yards per game.

The overall scoring figures for Cougar opponents are down as well. In 2011 Washington State allowed 31.8 points per game to their opponents. That number is down slightly to 28.0 this season. Inexplicably, though, the Cougars gave up 21 points in the last eight minutes of last weeks game against Colorado to blow a late lead and lose the game.

The Cougars are at or near the bottom of just about every defensive category in the Pac-12 with the only exceptions being sacks where the Cougars rank second with 14 and rushing yards allowed where the Cougars are fifth.

Those are not good signs against the most prolific offense in the conference.


Oregon: Oregon, meanwhile, comes off of a defensive masterpiece shutting out a high flying Arizona offense and holding them to almost half of their average yards per game. For the season, the Ducks are giving up just 18.2 points per game and allowing just 351 yards per game. As is usually the case for the Duck defense, they are once again one of the top teams in the conference in pass efficiency defense.

The Ducks are also second best in the conference allowing just 21 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.

Edge: Oregon

Oregon has very good depth at each position as well as a size and speed advantage nearly across the board on defense. Washington State has a few key starters that are experienced and talented, especially at linebacker, but their defensive line has been ineffective and their defensive backs give up a ton of yards through the air. The Cougars do not have as many playmakers on defense as Oregon.

SCORE PREDICTION:

Washington State will do what Mike Leach does; throw the ball; a lot. The Cougars will throw in the run, but they average just 2.7 yards per carry. Expect the Cougars to throw a lot of short quick passes to their three very talented receivers. They will especially look to get the ball to their All-America candidate Marquess Wilson to take advantage of his size advantage and speed.

The quarterback will try to take chances down the field after drawing the defensive backs a step or two closer, but the quarterbacks have not shown that they are capable of taking advantage of those opportunities.

Because the Cougars do not run the ball effectively, Oregon should be able to get pressure on the quarterback and force errors. Cougar quarterbacks have combined to throw 7 interceptions in the first four games of the season and they have yet to face a defense with the speed and athleticism of the Duck defense.

While the Duck defense used their size advantage to shut down the running game against Arizona, they will be able to use their height and the defensive line push to close passing lanes and create problems for Halliday.

Though the Cougars are the third worst pass defense in the nation, do not expect Oregon to simply become a passing team for this game. Look for Oregon to run the ball early. The Ducks will use a plan similar to last week but will likely look to get to the edge early and spread out the defense. The Cougar defense is not as fast as Arizona and the Ducks should be able to make some plays to the outside.

The Ducks will also use quick out passes and bubble screens to help get to the edge and keep the defense running from sideline to sideline. That should set up some inside zone plays that bring the safeties closer to the box opening up mid-range to deep passing opportunities.

The Ducks offense should be able to put up similar numbers to their season totals both rushing and passing. Washington State, meanwhile, though they will get some passing yards, expect them to get much less than their season average.

Washington State gives up five more points per game than their opponents average while allowing teams to pass for over 100 yards more than their averages. On offense, the Cougars score fewer points than their opponents allow while passing for only 74 more yards per game than their opponents allowed. This all spells out trouble for the Cougars trying to contain the Oregon offense and stay close. Expect this to be a large score in Oregon's favor.

Final: 59-17 Oregon

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