Saturday Nick Aliotti met the media after practice, and a reporter asked him a hard question.
Oregon State had struggled to run the ball all year, but they had a lot of success against the Ducks. Why?
The coach took a long swallow from his ever-present water bottle and answered him (Jonathan Hawthorne/Oregon Daily Emerald Photo).
"We didn't prepare for Oregon State to run the ball. So you can put that on me," Aliotti said, "I didn't think Oregon State was going to run the ball to beat us."
The video came from goducks.com, Oregon's own website, so it wasn't a chop job or hit-and-run journalism. This was Aliotti being Aliotti: frank, direct, always a stand-up guy.
If the Beavers surprised him in the Civil War as he says, it nearly proved costly. Mike Riley's 6-6 squad controlled the line of scrimmage the entire game, and took a 35-30 lead into the last minute and a half. OSU's Terron Ward (former Duck and current Cleveland Brown standout T.J. Ward's little brother) ran wild, with 17 carries for 145 yards, 8.5 a carry. He hadn't had more than 55 in any game all year. Sophomore Storm Woods added 73, 4.9 a crack, also his season high. Victor Bolden added 3 carries for 39 yards on the fly sweep, a play the Beavers have been running for ten years.
In all the Beavers ran for 231 yards and a nifty 5.9 a carry. They not only ran the the ball they nearly ran away with an upset, and it wasn't the first time Oregon's defense had shown an alarming vulnerability to the run this season. Both Stanford and Arizona ran it down their throats. Bishop Sankey of Washington gashed the Ducks swiss cheesy run defense for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yard burst on 4th and 1 that made it 21-14 at the start of the third quarter, and later, a 25-yard td run near the end of the period to keep the Dawgs in reach at 31-24. Marcus Mariota got the Oregon offense going with a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one running and one passing, and Sankey wasn't much of a factor at the end of the game. The Ducks got a big lead, and Washington had to pass.
Yet Aliotti said the OSU game plan surprised him, and took the blame for how easily and consistently it worked.
Part of that is the coach protecting his players. They aren't winning matchups in the running game this season. Their big tackles, Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Havili-Heimuli, have been playing banged up, and the Ducks inside linebacker play has suffered all season after graduating Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. They younger players in the middle haven't progressed adequately. Holes aren't getting filled. Tackles are missed. The big plays and big stops Clay and Alonso could be counted on to make haven't happened. That part isn't surprising: Alonso is tearing it up in the NFL now, with a whopping 137 tackles in his rookie season with the Bills.
While it's frustrating, it's only natural a unit would suffer after losing two senior leaders of that caliber. Add in Dion Jordan, an outside linebacker/defensive end who was picked in the first round by the Miami Dolphins, and that's a serious brawn drain on a defense that has always struggled to match up physically defending 85 plays a game. Oregon's blistering offensive pace puts them in a lot of jeopardy, especially when the offense falters. The Ducks are built to defend a lead, prevent big plays, and give the high-powered offense a chance to win the game. At Oregon, the most talented two-way players wind up on offense. It's always been that way. In the SEC, it's the opposite, part of the reason LSU and Alabama played a pair of snoozefests for the national title in 2011, 9-6 and 21-0.
Aliotti went on to say he's still committed to the 3-4 because he likes the flexibility and the opportunities it provides to attack the offense in a variety of ways. But without the players and experience, Oregon's defense hasn't done much attacking in 2013. Thank goodness UCLA waited until after the Duck game to discover Miles Jack.
Vulnerable to the run
Opponent's rushing offense versus the Ducks, in four key games:
- Huskies 194 yards lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll
- Stanford 274 yards lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll
- Arizona 304 yards lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll
- Beavers 231 yards llllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll
The tally is especially alarming because Texas has a couple of big backs and a stout offensive line. Jason Quick of the Oregonian pointed out that the Longhorns are 81-2 under Mack Brown when rushing for more than 200 yards. Tailback Malcolm Brown is 6-0, 225, and backup Joe Bergeron is 6-1, 230, Quick reports, and the offensive line averages 6-5, 305 across the front.
Bergeron carried the ball 17 times for 102 yards against Texas Tech on November 28th, the biggest game of his UT career. Brown emerged in the second half of the season, putting together 100-yard games against Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech and Baylor, totalling 774 yards after having just 63 in the first five games. He took over in a big way after Johnathan Gray tore his achilles in a 47-40 overtime win over West Virginia.
There shouldn't be any surprise about what Texas wants to do in the Alamo Bowl, especially since quarterback Case McCoy was just 12-34 passing against Baylor, for 54 yards.
Whether 3-4, 4-3 or 5-2, Aliotti and the Oregon staff have to come up with a plan to stop the Texas running game. Nothing they do should be a surprise, particularly after four weeks. Those young and inexperienced backers have had all season to get better.
For next season, the Oregon coaches have been busy on the recruiting trail trying to get them some help. The Ducks are especially pursuing two top defensive players, a physical linebacker in Jimmie Swain from Kansas, and a pulverizing nose tackle from Warren High in San Antonio, 6-1, 290-lb. Trey Lealaimatafao.
This isn't a fire-Nick-Aliotti post. Football is a game of matchups, and this year the Ducks don't have the personnel to stuff the running game the way they have in some other seasons. A 21-year veteran at Oregon, the coach has put together some masterful game plans in big games and particularly bowls, shutting down feared offensive machines in big Oregon wins, notably a pair of Fiesta Bowls.
This year he can't solve what's proved to be a knotty problem; instead he has to mask it. Safeties and corners are making a lot of tackles. Taylor Hart is running clean-up all over the field, making 9, 10 tackles a game from defensive end. The Ducks will continue to struggle against the run until the linebackers mature and youngsters like Alex Balducci and DeForest Buckner put it together on the defensive line.
Against Texas, they'll have to be resilient and resourceful against what promises to be an emotional, fired-up opponent, playing for Mack Brown in his last game as Longhorn coach. The stadium will be a sea of burnt orange. Oregon's defense has to get some stops, and the offense has to find its rhythm early and get their hosts behind, force them out of four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-field-turf-granules. Otherwise, it could be an agonizing night, ending in another round of tough questions.
I may be the minority opinion here but the defense issues start at the top. I respect Aliotti and appreciate his apologies. With that said, the apologies are becoming old.
I think back to 2008 when the ducks finished 10-3. This was the year of the D Boyz. Ward, Walter Thurmond III, and Jairus Bird, and Patrick Chung manned the secondary. Each of these are impact players in the NFL and were on the field at Autzen at the same time.
The 2008 defense also had Casey Mathews at middle linebacker, blue collar backer John Bacon, D-lineman Will Tukuafu, Simi Toeaina, and sack master Nick Reed. Out of 11 starters, there were 8 future NFL players, several who became impact players. At Oregon, this defense is remembered as only slightly above average, and statistically no better.
Unfortunately, I am at a point where I question coaching and scheme rather than the players. There is enough beef on the D-line, quickness off the edge, elite cornerback play, and determined line backing to be much better than they are. The bend but don't break mentality must move on for Oregon to become truly elite.
When you get older, you lose your flexibility. Fresh blood may be necessary. The bowl game will tell us a lot.
Dale, is it just me, or is there a problem with the commenting function of the site? The cursor jumps around as I type, even becoming a single tall cursor at the left side of ALL the lines of text, and/or I get an error message when hitting the post button. That forces me to copy all the text, refresh the page and paste in the text again, then post, sometimes with another error message. It's a challenge. But if I'm the only one mentioning it, maybe I have to fix it on my end.
The key to how well our defense plays is how our offense plays. With Marcus Mariota healthy and a healthy Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner we should be able to score and hopefully keep Texas back on their heels. We know what Texas is going to do. Case McCoy is not much of a threat so Nick you have your marching orders. Stop the run.
1P12, thanks for your thoughts. Looking forward to seeing the defensive plan for Texas, and how the Ducks finish up in this recruiting season.
This is a great coach covering for lack of execution most glaringly at the linebacker core and also on the edge of the defense. In order to stop the run, the middle of your defense and the defensive ends have to function as one unit and if they react with hesitation or fail to stuff and shed blockers at the point of attack, they will continue to struggle with a running attack. I don't believe the core lacks heart but I do question their confidence which could be the cause of momentary hesitation that really makes a difference in a game where 1 second of hesitation is the difference between a tackle for loss and a 15 yard running play. Watching video of Clay and Alonzo, one can see a stark difference in why quick reaction time and tenacious physicality stuffed a lot of plays and gave the ball back to the Oregon offense. You would also see a big drop off at drop end from Jordan to this year's parade of replacements. I honestly don't believe there is a drop off in talent. There is a big difference in attitude, an attitude that says, I'm gonna hit you harder and beat you at the point of attack and confidence that knows if I get knocked back my teammates will be there in force to back me up. That didn't happen this year.
@1pac12fanI agree. I thought preseason that the D would blend in more 4-3 because we are DT rich and don't have 240 lb lbackers. Aliotti is more experienced with it. Coach Aiken's is experienced with both on the d-line. Disappointing/alarming year for run defense. Appeared to be scheme. Difficult to blow up staff chemistry with the ducks having a good look next year on offense, but one more year with no credible run defense, it will be time for change. I would like to see AD take a run at bringing in Wilcox now. Downside is that he is on track for hc job. Qualifier--no lupoi!!!
He was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. Nice work Troy. He was suspended from the Civil War for an undisclosed violation. I doubt we will see him in the Alamo Bowl, this is much more serious than Snowgate. We may not see him next year. The secondary could take a real hit considering the seniors graduating, Troy Hill and the unknown of Mitchell and Ifo.
It would be interesting to know how much of this defensive run game falter is NA or maybe an overblown assessment of the D line, LB and CB core prior to the seasons start. Were our expectations to high?
No, there is an issue and the tech team at Livefyre is working on it. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I switched from Internet Explore to Google chrome and can now post.
Dale, for the past 10 days or so, I am having big problems with the cursor. If I have to hit delete, the cursor moves to the far left side of the screen.
@rgyle Site won't let me make an initial post but can post a reply. Not sure what is going on.
@SonomaDuckCoach Campbell said yesterday that Tyner has a bad hamstring--hopefully he gets better in the next two weeks. Stopping the run absolutely is the key to stopping Texas.
@SonomaDuck I have a lot more confidence in MM and the Ducks O than I do the D, esp. when the O is sputtering with a gimpy MM. As Dale says, the D is set up this year, and in the past, to defend a lead, esp. a 2-3 scores or more lead, which forces most opponents to pass. I don't like having the D dependent on the O's performance. It'd be great to have the D win some games on their own, or at least have that ability.
On Dec. 30th, the Ducks must roll early and fast right out of the gate. That will set up everything else. But damn, it'd be nice to get some Dline and LB help ASAP. Maybe the Texas NT and Hampton? Hopefully Swain? I'd guess the current LB corps, minus Lokombo, will improve by next season.
Very good analysis, Mitch. Danny Mattingly and Tyrell Robinson should be ready for bigger roles next year, and that should help. Really talented additions at linebacker.
I have to disagree with you a bit. A great defensive coordinator not only has to coach but he has to recruit as well. Aliotti is responsible for recruiting the players on the field and if they are not performing then he has to accept a great deal of responsibility for that.
There is a problem with the linebacking crew this year. Simply look at what was graduated and the problem is exposed. Also, I believe there are better players on the practice squad with regards to physical skills. Unfortunately, Aliotti hasn't modified/simplified the scheme enough for them to be effective. Apparently, USC can do it but Oregon can't. So much for a "great coach." One knock on Aliotti has always been the scheme is too complex and I believe it is.
Lupoi is a train wreck in the ethics department, an NCAA sanction waiting to happen. And a better recruiter than coach. This year's defense didn't gel the way we hoped it would. The Ducks do play both 4 down and 3 down, but yeah, it really seemed like this year's personnel fit a 4-3 better. Really hoping they can land Jimmie Swain and Trey Lealaimatafao in the recruiting chase.
There's good young talent in the secondary, but you are absolutely right that the Ducks good suffer some major attrition with Patterson and Jackson graduating, Hill suspended, Dargan suspended for the Civil War, Ifo and Mitchell draft eligible.
@SonomaDuck What is it about Ducks strangling their girl friends? LMJ had the same disorder. Hopefully, this will be the end of the headline making Ducks and we'll have enough players to fill the positions in the bowl game.
Read that comment several days ago. Kinda reminded me of the other troubling comment he made about the run game at AZ. In that he thought about changing the defensive game plan at the 1/2 but didn't know if it would work. Really? Not sure whats going on in NA's head right now but there seems to be no plan B during a game. Is he burned out? Not caring as much? You wouldn't think so or at worst hope not. Texas is going to run it down the Ducks throat plain and simple. Nothing in the last 3-4 games shows any different. Texas, a team that averages 197.? ypg is going to do well. Lets hope we can get a pic or two, because we probably won't stop them enough to get on the field and get into a rhythm.
Okay. It still sucks. I can only reply. So to post I will reply to myself.
Lots of intangibles in this game. Mac leaving after the bowl game, TX power run game and NA not sure about how to stop the run.