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UCLA Football vs. Oregon Defensive Preview: The Duck Defense Continues to Rebuild

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Under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, the Duck defense is looking to bounce back in 2017, and so far, has delivered.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

While Oregon’s offense has struggled, Oregon’s defense is actually faring pretty well under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. They’ve brought back the 3-4 scheme, and their defense was actually credited with the win over Wyoming. They are 44th in total defense (UCLA is 126 out of 129, if you were wondering), and allow their opponents to gain less than five yards per play. Through last week, their opponents have scored 26 touchdowns (seven of those came last week from Stanford). Let’s take a look at Leavitt’s defense and some of the new faces that are making noise on Oregon’s roster.

Defensive Line

This unit has definitely suffered its losses. Scott Pagano was a graduate transfer out of Clemson that is yet to play due to a foot injury, but is supposed to be dominant on the line once he is cleared to play. JUCO transfer Malik Young out of East Arizona College joined the team late in the summer after fielding offers from some notable programs, including Alabama, Florida and Nebraska. He’ll be getting into football shape along with Pagano, both of which we should see on the field some time this season. Additionally, Rex Manu and Rutger Reitmaier were both lost over the summer. Manu has a lingering injury from 2016 and has chosen to redshirt, and Reitmaier transferred and isn’t currently playing. There is definitely a mix of youth, experience, and skill on the line. Defensive ends Henry Mondeaux and Jalen Jelks are both upperclassmen, and Mondeaux leads all 3-4 defensive ends nationally with 12 quarterback hurries according to Pro Football Focus and recorded a career record two sacks versus Cal Berkeley. He was Oregon’s Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman recipient in 2016 and has the most skill and experience up front. Freshman Jordon Scott has played in five of seven games this year, and has made the most of Pagano’s recovery time. He is 6’1” and 333 pounds, but regardless of his size, he is still quick and athletic off the line. He has made a big impression in Eugene since he arrived in the spring, and his high school coach describes him as, “the total package”.

Linebackers

At the outside linebacker position, upperclassmen provide depth and skill. Redshirt junior Justin Hollins has racked up 30 tackles in seven games so far, and redshirt senior Jonah Moi is giving depth to the position after seeing action in 10 games last year and all seven so far this year. However, the big name in this unit is sophomore Troy Dye. He came out of his freshman year with a laundry list of accolades, including the Skeie's Award (Team's Most Outstanding Defensive Player as voted on by teammates), and ESPN True Freshman All-America. He leads the team with 52 total tackles this year and logged ten of those in their season opener against Southern Utah. He was a safety coming out of high school but has filled his new role nicely and can really have an impact anywhere on the field. The offensive line is going to have to guard Rosen with their lives from this guy.

Secondary

Tyree Robinson and Arrion Springs are both the senior leaders of this unit. Robinson had surgery in the spring on his shoulder which made his unavailable for their opener against Southern Utah, but he has started in every game since. His 53 tackles last season tied him for fourth-most on the team, while he bounced between corner and safety. Redshirt junior Mattrell McGraw finally earned a starting job this season after not seeing the field very much the last three years. He has recorded tackles in every game he’s played, but has missed two games so far this year, including last week’s loss against Stanford. Freshman Thomas Graham Jr. has been an amazing addition to Oregon’s secondary this year, as he has started in all seven games and recorded 38 total tackles. One loss to this unit was redshirt junior safety Khalil Oliver, who both injured his foot and transferred after their week one victory against Southern Utah. He told The Oregonian that transferring was something that was considered even prior to his injury, and he hopes to graduate during the winter and play in the 2018 season as a graduate transfer.

Analysis

With such a shoddy showing so far and not enough improvement from UCLA’s defense, Oregon has the upperhand on paper on this side of the ball. The offense is going to have to step up in a big way to cover for the defense’s shortcomings, especially the offensive line. Rosen is going to need protection from the big names on Oregon’s defense and we need to hold on to the ball and keep from committing ridiculous turnovers that put points on Oregon’s side of the scoreboard. No picks, no fumbles, nice clean football.

Go Bruins!