How do you stop the high-flying Oregon Ducks offense?
The Ducks are averaging over 550 total yards per game on offense. Are those stats are a little skewed since three of the Ducks' opponents this year have been an FCS school and two non-BCS schools?
Not really. After going through its conference and non-conference schedule last year, Oregon finished the season averaging over 522 yards a game.
The Ducks' offense is for real. But can it be stopped?
Nothing is ever a guarantee, but we've got a blueprint for success against the Oregon Ducks.
First and foremost, keep the Ducks' offense off the field.
The key to keeping the Ducks off the field is to run, run, run the ball. A strong running game chews up the clock. It establishes dominance in the offensive line vs. defensive line battle which is a huge benefit later on in the second half—a worn-down defense will usually elicit a lot of moving-the-chains action for the offense.
The next best thing to a power running game is a West Coast offense style of play. Short passes tend to do fairly well against the Ducks. In Oregon's game against Washington State, the Cougars moved the ball down the field employing a lot of short and under passes in its second possession of the game; that fifteen-play drive took almost six minutes off the clock.
The Cougars kept the game close in the first half down 23-19, but the second half was a different story. Oregon exploded in the third quarter and Washington State imploded. Quarterback Connor Halliday finished the day getting sacked seven times and the Cougars ended up with -8 yards rushing.
If you can't run the ball, you won't beat the Ducks.
In last year's contest against Oregon, LSU found the blueprint to beating the Ducks as well. The Tigers racked up 175 rushing yards which also resulted in the Tigers winning the battle of possession—33:05 vs Oregon's 26:56.
The Ducks have a run-spread offense, but against LSU, they only managed 95 total rushing yards. They were also forced to go through the air to play catch-up. While Oregon's quarterbacks are usually dual threats, they would prefer to hand the ball off to a stable of great running backs first and then catch the defense off guard with a big pass play.
Forcing the Ducks to change their strategy by having to pass more puts more pressure on a quarterback's arm.
Marcus Mariota is a fine young quarterback, but he has made some bad decisions. Against Washington State last week, Mariota only threw for 169 yards yet was intercepted twice. He was pressured at times, but that brings up the second key against beating the Ducks in our blueprint: Pass pressure but don't blitz.
Like all Duck quarterbacks under head coach Chip Kelly, Mariota's got some wheels. Putting heavy pass pressure on Mariota may force him to take off downfield, which will gobble up huge chunks of yardage since the defense will be outside the box defending the pass.
But putting enough pressure on Mariota to force a bad pass or even throwing it early keeps him off-balance. Don't collapse the pocket, just make it a little smaller and make him feel the defense's presence. The defense wants Mariota in the pocket, in front of it, not running through the middle of it.
That is your blueprint for success against the Oregon Ducks offense.