Mailbag: Is Oregon a defensive school now?
UO chose not to get the band back together. What does passing on the blur and instead choosing the defensive-minded Dan Lanning mean for the product on the field?
(Eric Evans photo of Noah Sewell, courtesy of GoDucks.com)
The Ducks have a coach. They have a handful of players signed and a bowl game to play. And you, dear readers of The I-5 Corridor, had some questions.
To the mailbag we go.
Oregon had 5 Associated Press All-Pac-12 1st team representatives — all defensive players. With new coach Dan Lanning, does Oregon turn more concertedly now to a defense-first mindset, after decades as an offense-first school? — Reinwald
I mean, it’s kind of been happening already, hasn’t it?
The 2019 Rose Bowl team gets remembered now for it being a coronation of sort for Justin Herbert, but what gets lost from that season was just how good Andy Avalos’ defense was that year.
The Ducks finished ninth in scoring defense (16.5 ppg), were 13th against the run and finished second in the country with 20 interceptions. It was a defense so good, that in November of that year with Oregon sitting No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, I wrote this story:
Identity change: Offensive stars from Oregon’s past discuss defense-minded present.
Not going to lie, pretty great story idea. I had Kenjon Barner, Joey Harrington, Vernon Adams Jr. and Keanon Lowe all talking about what it meant for Oregon to be winning with its defense.
“I think that’s the cool thing we’re watching right now from Oregon,” Lowe said at the time. “This team that we’re watching has a defensive identity, and that identity is that they’re going to play relentlessly and come after you all game long and not let up. It’s impressive.”
Oregon’s defense was never that good again under Cristobal, who replaced the Boise State-bound Avalos last season with Tim DeRuyter. But that year was the prototype, with the Ducks loading up in the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes with 5-star defensive players Kayvon Thibodeaux, Noah Sewell, Dontae Manning and Justin Flowe.
Had Oregon’s defense not been gutted by injuries in 2021, the Ducks might have been able to ride that group to the playoffs. Which sounds ridiculous after watching what Utah did to Oregon, but hell, after seeing Flowe in Week 1 you could have told me he would finish the season with 200 tackles and I would have believed it.
So yes, with the talent already on this roster I see Oregon leaning heavily into becoming a consistent presence in top 25 defensive statistics. But Lanning also knows you can’t be limited on the other end.
“The No. 1 indicator in college football of wins and losses is explosive plays,” Lanning said Monday. “We’re going to be a team that’s built off of explosive plays on offense, defense and special teams. You have to be able to push the ball downfield, you have to be able to attack in the air and on the ground. That’s definitely going to be part of our approach here.”
Do you see a world where the NCAA football coaching carousel ever stops? Or is this just what it’s going to be? The days of having longterm continuity on the coaching staff are likely gone, but if Oregon has to compete for coaches like it does recruits are they ever going to reach the mountain top (i.e. win the playoff)? — Joachim Jacobs
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