Oregon defense needs to “take our medicine” after beatdown
The Ducks’ defense hemorrhaged points in Atlanta with little-to-nothing positive to glean. Can they still become the dominant group they were advertised as?
ATLANTA — Oregon’s defense needs to take its medicine.
That, and some serious film review, is what the Ducks’ defensive leader Bennett Williams has prescribed the ailing unit.
The defense entered Saturday’s matchup against the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs with aspirations to be the next great defense under coach Dan Lanning. They left out-schemed, out-played and outright ineffective.
Oregon lost 49-3 on Saturday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Ducks’ offense sputtered, failing to reach the endzone for the first time in a game since 2017. Had they scored in bunches, it still may not have mattered as Georgia cruised to the most lopsided victory in the history of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game and quarterback Stetson Bennett, a career-best performance, statistically.
"It looks really bad,” Williams said. “It looked terrible. Nobody is going to deny that. But what can we do about it?”
They can start by shoring up their tackling. Williams made sure to note that Week 1 is where teams see the most missed tackles across college football. Still, Oregon was uncharacteristically poor. The defensive backs were liabilities in space. The star-studded linebacking core wasn’t much better.
The tackling was a key culprit in Georgia converting 9-of-10 third downs. Oregon ranked 118th nationally in third down defense last season. New coach, new scheme, new faces. Same result.
“We wanted to do a good job of making sure the ball got outside,” Lanning said.
If that was Oregon’s goal, maybe Saturday went better than the score would suggest, for the Bulldogs lived on the perimeter. The unit couldn’t set the edge, watching Bennett — who completed 25-of-31 passes for 368 yards — dump the ball off to receivers who cut up field with little resistance.
“It was all perimeter screens,” Williams said. “We schemed for a lot of different stuff and when it comes down to it, we didn't play the perimeter screens well enough and they knew that so they just kept going to it.”
Georgia kept going to it and the Bulldogs kept scoring.
Twelve plays, 85 yards, touchdown.
Seven plays, 92 yards, touchdown.
Six plays, 52 yards, touchdown.
Eight plays, 75 yards, touchdown.
Six plays, 64 yards, touchdown.
Nine plays, 75 yards, touchdown.
Nine plays, 89 yards, touchdown.
Kirby Smart’s squad found success on their first possession and it only got easier from there. The Bulldogs were monotonously successful. Oregon either never tried to adjust, or simply it didn’t matter.
“[There was] a lot of stuff today that just kept repeating itself… we started to know what was coming,” Williams said.
The Ducks’ first and only stop came deep in the fourth quarter, already trailing 49-3.
Entering the day, the prevailing thought was that with a talented trove of defenders and the defensive minds of Lanning and coordinator Tosh Lupoi, the defense would pave the way for the Ducks this season. Instead, the defensive performance felt like a residual and unwanted holdover from the final stretch of last season. The gap between the defense of the Ducks' and the Bulldogs’ seems wider than ever in the wake of Saturday’s carnage.
Among the first items carted off the field at Mercedes Benz Stadium after the beatdown were the Bulldogs’ turnover shoulder pads. Adorned with black spikes, the matte-gold pads are granted to defensive players after they’ve forced turnovers — players who shift momentum and who inject energy into the Bulldog defense. They’re a relic of defensive dominance. A reminder that, as talent comes and goes — Georgia had five defenders drafted in the first round of last year’s NFL draft — dominance can remain. Just ask Bulldogs Malaki Starks and Christopher Smith who donned the pads which read “savage” across the back and “attack the day, attack the ball,” throughout the chest, on Saturday.
Gone from last year’s team is Oregon’s kingpin edge threat Kayvon Thibodeaux. Absent too is the Ducks’ cerebral, ball-hawking safety Verone McKinley III. They’ve lost several others since the unit’s 2019 breakout. And that feeling of defensive superiority has never quite resurfaced.
It begs the question: despite a start that inspires little hope, can Lanning and Co. re-establish it? Can this Oregon defense regain its pride and move in the direction of performing like the nation believes Lanning defenses should?
“I'm sure there's guys on the team where doubt starts to creep in,” Williams said. “But that's our job as leaders to help them understand that we are a really good team. We didn't show it today.”
— Shane Hoffmann
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