I will now turn to Oregon's defense. Specifically I will focus first on Oregon's defensive scheme and personnel. I will follow-up with the match-up with Ohio State.
Oregon plays a defense unlike any Ohio State has seen this year. It is a combination of a "4-2-5" (that looks like a 4-4) and an Eagle defense with some unusual characteristics.
In run-first situations Oregon will play the 4-2-5.
As can be seen, the line plays inside techniques, with none wider than a '5' technique. The two outside linebackers/nickel players play in the 'grey area.' The secondary then plays a 1-high look behind it. An analagous defense is the one Washington St. ran in the early 1990's when they went to the Rose Bowl (H/T: Homer Smith):
Just as often, Oregon will play a form of a 3-4 Eagle defense.
In essence, Oregon simply removes a down linemen but otherwise lines up similarly. In fact, its closest comparison is the OSU's 3-4. The linemen play a strong or weak shifted Eagle, meaning that from the base Eagle below their NG will shift to a '1' technique to the strongside (H/T: Trojan Football Analysis):
The outside linebackers play their same 'grey' area roles, but the secondary has more flexibility and can play a 2-high look.
More so than alignment, though, what defines Oregon's defense is that they are a man-blitzing team. They generally bring 5 or 6 rushers at all times. They also look to give different looks to get pressure, such as overloading the line to one side in exchange for leaving uncovered gaps the other way.
A team playing Oregon must be prepared to face a multitude of blitzes from various angles. Teams can get big plays out of this, though, if they find the open seams Oregon leaves behind.
In the secondary, as the term suggests, Oregon is primarily a cover-1 team. They play as much, if not more, man coverage then any team. Only ocassionally, when they line up with 2-deep coverage, will they play a cover 2, mostly in passing situations. They put a lot of pressure on their corners to play man behind their blitzes. This allows Oregon to bring pressure, but also leaves them vulerable to big plays down the field. Teams can also rack off big run plays when they get to the second level.
Oregon also pretty explicitly telegraphs their coverages pre-snap. This is particularly true with their 8-man front. They have a 1-high safety and are pretty limited to playing man. This is shown, for example, in the clip above. When USC goes in motion, the CB follows. Then, when they go to their 2-high look, it is a fairly good bet that they are going to play zone.
In sum, Oregon plays an aggressive, blitz-happy style that puts a premium on attempting to confuse and overload the offense. The downside of this is that Oregon is vulnerable to getting caught leaving big gaps in the front and giving up big plays in the secondary.
Up front, Oregon is pretty pedestrian. Part of it is scheme--they pack their Defensive linemen inside so their responsibility is to eat up blocks. But part of it is that Oregon is fairly average up front. They generally cannot get pressure with their defensive line only, which probably contributes to their blitz-happy frame of mind. Their line is also susceptible to being overrun in the run game, which is, again, likely why they choose to play 8 men in the box.
As one may expect from a 4-linebacker defense, the linebackers are the main engine behind Oregon's attack. They are all solid blitzers and play well in space. Matthews is a hard-nosed tackler and the defense's leader. They are able to close quickly on rushing plays and take advantage of their aggressive style.
Their secondary is also fairly solid. They obviously have a lot of faith in their corners to play almost exclusively man. They are susceptible to getting beat deep, but play pretty well considering the scheme. Their primary deep safety, is also a solid player who does a nice job of attacking the ball.
In sum, as one can probably tell, I find their defense to be made up of solid, if unspectacular players. They make plays through playing an aggressive style and having good back seven play, but are also susceptible to big plays.
Up next I will focus on how teams have played Oregon's defense this year and how OSU might match-up.
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