Who knew Oregon could play defense?
The Ducks demolished previously undefeated Arizona to open up the Pac-12 season. It was not surprising that the team scored 49 points, but it was a shock to many that the Wildcats were unable to get a single point in the shutout.
Oregon's defense played tough the entire game. The unit forced five turnovers, had an early goal-line stand and blocked a field goal to keep the Wildcats off the board. In addition, two interceptions returned for touchdowns helped make the game a blowout in the fourth quarter.
Everyone knows about what the Ducks can do on offense. They use an incredibly fast strategy to get up the field and catch the opponents off guard. Running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas are extremely talented and can score from anywhere on the field.
The offense was third in the NCAA last season with 46.1 points per game. They have not missed a beat this year and are averaging 52.8 points per game, good enough for No. 4 in the country.
However, it is the defense that can help this team win a national championship.
Oregon has been close to reaching that goal in each of the past two years. Two years ago, the Ducks were defeated by Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. Last year, two losses held the team out of contention.
In 2011, the defense was a big reason for the struggle. The unit allowed over 30 points in six different games throughout the year. This includes a combined 78 points given up in losses to LSU and USC. No matter how good an offense is, it is difficult to overcome this type of deficiency.
Fortunately, things look different this year. In each game this season, the Ducks have allowed fewer points than the last. In addition, they are currently in the top 10 in the nation with seven interceptions.
Turnovers are a great equalizer when a team allows a lot of yardage. This is the same strategy that the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots used last year in the NFL to be successful.
In the upcoming game against Washington State, this must continue. Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel have combined to throw for a lot of yards this year, but they also have tossed seven interceptions together. The secondary needs to remain active and look for the pick when there is an opportunity.
If they can shut down another opponent, it will give the team confidence when it faces tougher competition like Oregon State, Stanford and USC.
It is unlikely the defense will suddenly become SEC-caliber overnight. However, those are the teams that have been winning national championships. If Oregon wants to reach that point, it must continue to play well on that side of the ball.
This team is incredibly close to being considered elite. A solid defense would go a long way towards making that leap.
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