Oregon's defense has always been underrated simply due to the fact that opponents often put up a fair amount of yards and points, and casual observers ignored the fact that the defense was very good in terms of yards allowed per play. This year, however, Oregon's defense has taken a big step forward.
Albeit playing a fairly easy non-conference schedule, Oregon is only allowing 17.3 ppg, which is good for 12th in country. That alone is impressive, but given the fact that Oregon's defense has faced the 5th most plays in the country, that stat really stands out. Oregon is 8th in the country in yards allowed per play at 4.46, tied for first in the country with 21 turnovers, and tied for 14th in the country in sacks with 20. They've been good against the rush, allowing only 3.25 yards per carry, and the pass, with opponents completing only 55.5% of their attempts for 5.4 yards per attempt.
Oregon's biggest weakness on defense so far has been getting off the field on third down, which could be huge for UCLA on Saturday. Opponents are converting a little over 44% of the time, which places Oregon 45th nationally. UCLA will need to sustain drives and keep Oregon's offense off the field, and they'll have to convert those drives into scores by avoiding turnovers, something Oregon's opponents have struggled with this season.
Up front, Oregon is talented and deep. While not as physically imposing as Stanford's line, they bring a lot of speed and are disruptive in the backfield. Ends Tony Washington (6'3 243 lbs., Jr.) and Taylor Hart (6'6 287 lbs., Sr.) form a good complementary duo with Washington being a speed rusher and Hart being a power rusher. Washington has 6.5 sacks this season and 9 tackles for loss, while Hart has 3 sacks. Inside, Oregon will rotate Ricky Havili-Heimuli (6'4 315 lbs., Sr.), Wade Keliikipi (6'3 306 lbs., Sr.), Arik Armstead (6'8 280 lbs., So.), and DeForest Buckner (6'7 286 lbs., So.).
The linebacker corps lost some talent from last year's squad, but they've replaced the missing pieces are haven't skipped a bit. The middle backer is Derrick Malone (6'2 212 lbs., Jr.) who leads the team with 59 tackles. He can fly from sideline to sideline and tackles well in space, which should match up well against Mazzone's swing passes. On the outside, Oregon has Boseko Lokombo (6'3 229 lbs., Sr.), who seems to have been at Oregon for a decade, and Rodney Hardick (6'1, 243 lbs., So.).
Oregon really stands out in the secondary, which may be the best secondary in the Pac-12. Corners Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5'10 185 lbs., Jr.) and Terrance Mitchell (6'0 189 lbs., Jr.) form a formidable duo, with many considering Ekpre-Olomu one of the top corners in the country. The Ducks use three safeties, SS Brian Jackson (5'10 197 lbs., Sr.), FS Avery Patterson (5'10 189 lbs., Sr.), and backup Erick Dargan (5'11 212 lbs., Jr.). Patterson is a converted corner and very capable cover man who doubles as a nickel back.
That concludes the preview of the Oregon Duck defense. Fire away with additional comments.