After giving up only 59 points in its first five games, Oregon's defense is about to be tested. Beginning this weekend at Washington, all seven of the Ducks' remaining opponents have winning records.
While impressive against opponents with a combined record of 11-14, including Cal's lone victory over FCS Portland State and Nicholls State's three wins against FCS opponents, the Oregon defense will now face teams with a combined record of 27-7. Of those losses by their upcoming foes, six have come against quality opponents (UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford (two), Washington and Auburn).
The "other" side of the ball for the Ducks has been solid in recent years, but the 2013 unit could be special. Oregon's first five games have been a breeze, but the schedule hasn't been as easy as their detractors might think.
Take Cal, for example. The Golden Bears entered the game as one of the nation's top offenses. The Bears were facing awful weather and played a backup quarterback, but regardless of the circumstances, the numbers against the Ducks pale in comparison to the other four games on their schedule.
If the Cal game doesn't provide sufficient evidence for you, take a look at the numbers the Tennessee offense posted against the Ducks. A deeper look into the Oregon defense shows that it compares favorably alongside a pair of SEC powers.
It took Nicholls State 14 plays to go 45 yards before kicking a field goal for its only points of the game. Virginia broke off a 45-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter to finish off a drive that otherwise had consisted of six plays for 30 yards.
Tennessee took advantage of a busted coverage for a 51-yard pass, which led to the Vols' only score against the Oregon starters. Their second touchdown came late in the fourth quarter against players deep on the depth chart.
With Oregon up 41-0, Cal was able to connect on passes of 19 and 17 yards to get in field goal range in the final seconds of the first half.
In the third quarter the Ducks forced a three-and-out but fumbled the punt to give Cal the ball at the Oregon 25-yard line. It then took the Bears nine plays to finish off a 25-yard touchdown drive. It took the Bears 11 plays to go 61 yards against the Oregon bench for their second touchdown of the game.
Last week against Colorado, the Ducks were caught off guard and allowed a 55-yard pass on the first play of the game. The other seven plays of the drive totaled 14 yards and led to a field goal.
On their second drive, Colorado used a reverse-pass from Paul Richardson for a 75-yard touchdown after getting stuffed on first-down. The Buffaloes' third drive caught the Ducks napping, as they continued to take big shots down the field. After connecting on pass plays of 27, 24 and 20 yards on three straight plays, the Ducks tightened up and forced a field goal.
The final Colorado score came after another big play in which quarterback Connor Wood hit Paul Richardson for 31 yards. The next three plays totaled eight yards, and the Ducks forced another field goal.
In spite of six plays of 20 or more yards on its four scoring drives, CU was only able to reach the end zone once. The bottom line is unless you hit for at least one play of more than 20 yards during a drive against the Ducks, the odds of scoring a touchdown are slim-to-none.
Tennessee's 12-play, 73-yard drive in the fourth quarter against the Oregon bench is the only drive of the season in which the Ducks have allowed a touchdown without the drive containing at least one play of 20 or more yards.
The table below shows the points allowed per quarter by the Ducks through five games.
Now comes the real test for the Ducks. The next seven games will bring matchups against No. 5 Stanford, No. 16 Washington and No. 11 UCLA. Washington State, Utah, Arizona and the in-state battle against Oregon State will all provide different challenges for the Oregon defense.
The Stanford game speaks for itself, as it could be the game of the year in college football. In order for that to happen, both teams will need to run the table through the month of October. For the Ducks, that includes games against two ranked teams and a tilt with much improved Washington State.
No. 16 Washington is up first as the Ducks head to Seattle to face their bitter rivals on Saturday. The Huskies are coming off an impressive effort on the road at Stanford. They lost 31-28 but solidified themselves as a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 North.
Behind an improved offensive line, Washington quarterback Keith Price has regained the form he flashed in 2011. Running back Bishop Sankey is a legitimate threat for the Doak Walker Award, and the Huskies feature a group of dynamic playmakers at wide receiver.
The Huskies have lost nine in a row to the Ducks and want nothing more than to end that streak. Returning home after a tough loss, the Huskies are likely to come out fired up against the Ducks.
The Ducks then get a 4-2 Washington State team at home before a crucial matchup with UCLA. Like Washington, the Bruins have a powerful and diverse offense led by a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Brett Hundley.
If the Ducks survive that three-game stretch, No. 5 Stanford awaits. The Cardinal doesn't have the offensive statistics that some of Oregon's other remaining foes have, but they have taken down the Ducks before. The Cardinal employ the type of offensive system that eliminates much of Oregon's speed advantage by pounding the ball on the ground and running the clock.
In 2012, the Ducks gave up just 14 points to the Cardinal in regulation. Stanford put 31 and 30 points on the Ducks in the 2010 and 2011 matchups, respectively. The Ducks are improved along the defensive front, but Stanford will provide a great test for the Oregon defense.
Both Utah and Arizona can be dangerous on offense, but it is in-state rival Oregon State that is compiling monster numbers in 2013. Despite the season-opening loss to Eastern Washington, the Beavers are throwing the ball all over the field.
Nearing the halfway point of the season, the Ducks have proven to have a defense that ranks among the nation's best in many categories. With the upcoming schedule, the defense will need to play to the best of its ability if the Ducks hope to turn a 5-0 start into a season to remember.
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