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The Challenge Of Containing Oregon's (Explosive) Spread Offense

Let’s dig into the Ducks a little deeper by taking a look at the obvious strength of this year’s team: their explosive offense. And guess what they have one of those vaunted spread offenses (devised by OC Chip Kelly), which DeWayne Walker has had difficulty scheming against in recent years. Sure, last year the UCLA defense shut down the Oregon offense at the Rose Bowl, but keep in mind they beat up on a crippled Oregon offense which was then reeling from devastating injuries to Dennis Dixon (and the back up QB Brady Leaf) and a hobbled Jonathan Stewart. This game I think will represent one of the more interesting tests for DeWayne Walker to fight off reputation of having difficult with scheming against the spread defense.

In terms of numbers Ducks had a frustrating weekend last Saturday against Southern Cal at the Mausoleum.  The line up of Trojans All Americans took out the frustrations from an underachieving loss against the Beavers from week before by throttling the Ducks offense to 10 points and 239 total yards. Yet until last weekend Oregon has been nothing short of dominating on offense, compiling at least 32 points and 460+ total yards in every game. The numbers are pretty intimidating. If you look through Pac-10 stats to date, Oregon leads the conference in total offense (482.8 yds/G) and rushing offense (267.2 yds/G). Despite dealing with serious injuries at QBs (losing Nate Costa and Justin Roper for few games) they have managed at that position averaging about 215.7 yards per game.

The key reason the Ducks have been able to manage despite suffering what would be crumbling injuries at QBs for other teams early in the season goes to their strong OL and running game. From the’s pre-season preview:

STAR POWER: The Pac-10 isn't short on quality centers. Along with California's Alex Mack, the Ducks' Max Unger leads the way. Unger has started 38 consecutive games, including the past 13 at center. It's no coincidence Oregon has led the Pac-10 in rushing the past two seasons.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Though Oregon lost first-round pick Jonathan Stewart, the Ducks feel good about their running back situation. One reason is the arrival of junior college transfer LeGarrette Blount; the Florida native topped 1,100 yards in each of his two seasons at East Mississippi Community College. At 6 feet 2 and 229 pounds, Blount will be the bruiser in the mix at running back, but he could surprise with his ability in space.

IT'S HIS TIME: Oregon has the numbers in the backfield to try a running back-by-committee approach, but senior Jeremiah Johnson could wind up leading the pack. He missed seven games last season with a torn ACL but should be ready this fall. Because of his speed and versatility, he's a good fit in Kelly's spread offense. Johnson has averaged 6.3 yards on 181 carries over the past three seasons.

STRONGEST AREA: Led by Unger, Oregon could have the finest line in the Pac-10. Unger is an All-America candidate, and left tackle Fenuki Tupou smothered USF star defensive end George Selvie in the Sun Bowl. Right guard Mark Lewis also returns. This promises to be an experienced group, as all five projected starters are seniors.

WEAKEST AREA: Receiver could turn into strength if everything breaks right. Senior Jaison Williams has 2,073 receiving yards, but the numbers could be better if not for a penchant for dropped passes. He's the only proven receiver, though. USC transfer Jamere Holland has shown impressive speed as a member of the track team but hasn't played a football game since high school. Converted safety Jeff Maehl showed he could be a factor in the passing game in the final three games of the season.

Well as mentioned above Oregon’s rushing offense has been nothing short of explosive. They lead the conference in rushing thanks to the balanced production of Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount. Both Johnson and Blount have been having outstanding seasons to date as they have each logged in 70+ carries producing 966 yards. Johnson has rushed for 485 yards (averaging 6.2 ypc) and & TDs, while Blount has racked up 481 yards and 8 TDs (averaging 6.4 ypc).

Jeremiah suffered a shoulder injury against Utah State in Oregon's second game, but hasn't really slowed him down too much:

Jeremiah Johnson big run vs. Purdue 9-13-08 (via keeerrrttt1)

And here is video evidence of Blount's sick athletcism:

LeGarrette Blount hurdles a purdue defender 9-13-08 (via keeerrrttt1)

Meanwhile on the receiving end Jaison Williams has been frustrating Duck fans.  However he still leads the team in receptions (24), yards (319) and TDs (3). He is not the only prolific receiver in terms of production on Duck’s roster.  Oregon has 4 receivers with at least 20+ receptions which includes TE Ed Dickson (23 receptions for 310 yards). Given how Bruin secondary has struggled against talented TEs this season (i.e. Pita, Gronkowski and Pascoe), I am sure those numbers have cost Walker some sleep this week.

We have already had discussions re. how to deal with spread offenses this season. I will refer to this post before Tennessee game when we talked about how Walker would deal with the "Clawfense" which was supposed to feature elements of spread offense. Well, this is no way meant to be disrespectful to our friends from Rocky Top Talk, but Oregon is going to present much more severe challenge with the talent level at their skill positions. They have explosive backs and receivers along with QBs who even though are young are lot more proficient than Jonathan Crompton. If Bruins are to have a shot on Saturday, they will need a defense, which will come out attacking, instead of sitting back and giving the Ducks room to slice them up underneath. They will need to put the kind of pressure on Oregon QB so that it at least breaks up the rhythm of that explosive offense. And have we mentioned the need for tackling? If the defense misses tackles like it has been last few games, it will be another miserable outing on the road.

I don’t think we have the personnel right now (because of inexperience and lack of speed (at least from the current starters) at DEs and LBs) to throttle the Ducks offense like it was shut down last Saturday. However, if we come out with a scheme that can throw off either Masoli or Roper off rhythm and if our defense show the same consistency in tackling that gave us results like 13-9 or that Notre Dame game in South Bend (until the nightmarish last series), we just might be able to contain the Ducks and give ourselves a chance. Hopefully our guys are focused, fired up and come out with an aggressive mentality on Saturday night.