South Dakota grades: Defense/ST

Summary Oregon 62 - South Dakota 13: B-. This was an excellent offensive performance, a weak defensive one with mediocre special teams.
Defense C- (13 offensive points against, 370 yards offense against, 19 first downs against, 6 tfl, 1-3 red zone defense)
AJ: In some cases you don't grade a unit down because of the competition they play but this game is one of the exceptions to that rule. Against a powerhouse team giving up only 13 points and pitching a shutout in the second half would be commendable. Against South Dakota it is not. The problem with the defense was front-to-back with no group standing out as a great looking unit on Saturday. 4.4 yards per rush is too high against a team like the Coyotes and was part of the reason the defense could not get themselves off the field easily, particularly in the first half. The big question is whether the flat first game defensive performance is something that will prove to be an aberration or a year-long thorn.
JC: The Duck defense picked up where it left off at the end of 2013's regular season getting shredded by a team that shouldn't be able to do so. As a group the defense tackled poorly. Most of South Dakota's yardage came after initial contact. The front seven once again showed a disturbing vulnerability to the run and a something less than stellar ability to finish despite chasing the Coyote quarterbacks around the backfield regularly. The linebacking corps continues to demonstrate an inability to fill holes in the run game and it was painful watching Derrick Malone get run over repeatedly by just about anyone he grabbed (I use the word grabbed because it would be hard to label anything Malone did on Saturday a "hit."). The secondary was solid despite the relatively short appearance by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but anytime that a secondary leads a team in tackles against balanced attack like the one the Coyotes brought to Autzen, it indicates that a defense has problems.
Defensive line C+ (Buckner 6 tackles, Armstead 4 tackles, tfl, 2 qbh, Balducci 4 tackles, sack, 2 tfl, Maloata 4 tackles, Kamp 2 tackles)
AJ: Overall this was just an average performance by the defensive trenchmen. Starters DeForest Buckner, Alex Balducci and Arik Armstead had their bright moments but in upcoming games they will need to put more pressure on the passer to give the back seven some help. Freshman Austin Maloata gave a solid performance at DT in reserve, particularly in light of the fact he joined fall camp late waiting as the NCAA dawdled over his transcripts. What will be important as competition stiffens is for the second and third strings to start making their presence more obvious. Otherwise there will be some unpleasant fourth quarters against power running teams.
JC: Not a particularly impressive performance by the defensive line. Not much penetration and if gap control was the aim of the unit, they didn't do a great job, leaving gaping holes for the linebackers to fill much of the evening. The first string of DeForrest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci, generally did a good job, contributing sixty percent of the tackles and all of the sacks, hurries and tackles for loss by the unit, but depth is still an evident issue for this unit. Of the backups, only true freshman Austin Maloata showed much of anything with four tackles. The Ducks are going to need more and more consistency from the backups if the Ducks are going to be the kind of championship contender that Duck fans and the Duck fans expect for this year.
Linebackers D (Malone 5 tackles, Hardrick 3 tackles, tfl, qbh, Ragin 3 tackles, Coleman 2 tackles, sack, Swain 2 tackles, Prevot tackle, Walker tackle)
AJ: Considering the Ducks call four of their eleven defenders linebackers, you would think the game book would be littered with chronicles of their exploits. That was not the case against South Dakota. The group underachieved on run support, tackling, and the midrange pass defense was sub-par. Freshman Jimmie Swain could be helpful this year and played a decent game, particularly for having been with the Ducks for less than two months. In the middle Hardrick and Malone did not stiffen the point of attack as they will need to do going forward, though part of that was schematic. Unfortunately the other part had to do with tentative reads.
JC: If the defensive line's performance was average, then the linebacker's performance was bad. The linebacking corps put together a miserable performance. The numbers (18 tackles - including special teams, 2 tfls and 1 sack) aren't awful, but the visuals were. Derrick Malone was the unit's leading "tackler," but his tackles mostly consisted of grabbing onto at Coyote as he was running buy and being dragged for several yards until someone else helped out. Few if any other linebackers did much at all. The linebackers right now - as they were last year - are the Achilles heel of the defense and the only real questions are how long it will take opponents to exploit it as they did much of last November and how long it will take until the coaching staff either teaches them how to play or takes them out behind the Football Operations Center and shoots them to put us all out of their misery.
Defensive backs B- (Dargan 7 tackles, Daniels 7 tackles, FF, Seisay 4 tackles, Robinson 3 tackles, Mathis 2 tackles, Springs 2 tackles, Williams 2 tackles, sack, Ekpre-Olomu tackle)
AJ: The defensive back group was the only defensive unit which delivered a performance that could be considered above average. Safeties Erick Dargan and Reggie Daniels were sure tacklers and overall the Ducks did not give up excessive explosive plays in the running or passing game. A bright spot for John Neal's group is not just the play of the veterans, most of whom saw relatively little of the field. Redshirt freshmen Daniels, Chris Seisay, Tyree Robinson and Juwaan Williams all contributed along with true freshman Arrion Springs. This group will be strong in 2014 and for the foreseeable future.
JC: The defensive backs were the best unit on the Duck defense against South Dakota. They led the team in tackles and kept everything largely in front of them while limiting the Coyotes to a completion rate of about 50 per cent. That's pretty good. The absence of a forced turnover and some poor tackling diminish their efforts. On the plus side, ten different defensive backs contributed and backups like Chris Seisay and Tyree Robinson were among the leaders for the unit in their first outing. The secondary was easily the most impressive unit on the defense despite losing the majority of last year's starters. This isn't a unit that Duck fans will have to worry about much in 2014.
Special teams B- Overall, special teams were unexceptional against South Dakota. Few units or players stood out and the special teams made very little difference in the outcome of the game.
Punting C (Wheeler2-77, 38.5 avg) Ian Wheeler had a successful debut as Oregon's punter. Wheeler doesn't seem to have much of a leg, but he does get reasonable loft on his kicks and gives his coverage team a good chance to cover. Unfortunately against USD they only did that fifty percent of the time, exhibiting the same exasperating inability to tackle that the defense showed through much of the game.
Punt return B+ (Ekpre-Olomu 2-0, Loyd 1-(-4), Nelson 1-50, TD) Nothing special here until Charles Nelson fielded his first punt as a Duck and took it to the house. That play all by itself moved this grade well up into plus territory and made this sub-unit the star of the special teams.
Placekicking B (Schneider 6-7 PAT) This would have been an A if the Ducks and Taylor Alie hadn't botched their second effort at a 2-point conversion. Generally the unit did what it was asked to do, although they did it in an unexceptional fashion. Again, the absence of Matt Wogan is concerning
KOR B (Lowe 1-10, Hill 1-7, Buckner 1-10, Tyner 1-26) Not much opportunity to return kick against USD. The Coyotes only kick off 4 times and most of those were squibs that gave the Ducks good to very good field position. The return guys get a B for the fear they struck into South Dakota and for the average starting position of the 32 yard line when USD did kickoff.
Kickoff C (10-585, 58.5 yards per kickoff, 41.6 net) The performance of the Duck kickoff unit is still baffling. Matt Wogan the putative starter didn't play. Aidan Schneider can kick the ball into the end zone. The Coyotes accepted two touchbacks. However, he didn't bother most of the time. Why that is only the coaches can answer, but given the lack of aggression and the poor tackling that this unit exhibits, the frequent decisions to pouch kicks are difficult to explain. Why Matt Wogan sat is also something of a mystery, but hopefully it's a mystery that will become meaningless as the season progresses.
Coaching B- (9-64 penalties, +0 turnovers)
AJ: Game plan wise it is hard to be to critical. While the real Oregon playbook on both sides of the ball is like Baskin Robbins with a multitude of flavors, the coaches chose vanilla to serve to the Coyotes. On offense it didn't really matter that the Ducks didn't venture past page three of the playbook as they were highly effective anyway. On defense it was less helpful as the lack of blitzing had ripple effects on both the run and pass defense. That was not a bad decision by the coaches though it does not excuse poor tackling. Surely next week against Michigan State with College Gameday in town Mark Helfrich and staff will utilize all the tools at their disposal. Penalty-wise the numbers were on the high end of acceptable but fine for the first game. The coaches would be well-served discussing with their ball carriers the benefits of crossing the goal line prior to relinquishing the football.
JC: The offensive coaches get an A for the overall performance of their unit. They are somewhat culpable for the slop that resulted in nine penalties, including three second half false starts but in general hats off to the offensive coaches. The defensive coaches, particularly coaches Pellum and Chinander, were less impressive. The linebacking corps was weak and the defense as a whole exhibiting many of the same issues that plagued the Ducks last November. Throw in a number of early penalties, including some silly personal fouls, and the nearly 400 yards of total offense that the I-AA Coyotes put up and there is ample reason to be disgruntled by the effort by the defensive coaching. The Duck defense did limit their opponent to 13 points and if they consistently can do that, it's hard to imagine the Ducks losing a game this year given the institutionalized potency of Duck offense.