Q&A: Oregon D-coordinator Nick Aliotti

Oregon has the No. 1 offense in the nation in scoring and total yards. There are no questions about the Ducks offense. So when folks question the Ducks chances to contend for a national title, they focus on the Ducks defense. Which, by the way, is pretty darn salty, too.

The Ducks defense:

  • Has forced more turnovers (22) than any other team in the country (No. 2 has 18).

  • Is No. 2 in the nation in redzone defense.

  • Ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency defense

  • Ranks 15th in the nation on third downs, with opponents converting just more than 30 percent of the time.

  • Ranks 16th in tackles for a loss.

  • Ranks 20th in scoring defense (16.33 ppg).

  • The Ducks have allowed just 13 total points in the second half (12 quarters)

Sure, Oregon ranks a middling 45th in the nation in total defense (338.5 ypg), but that's mostly because the Ducks offense works so quickly that the defense sees a lot of opponent possessions. Opposing offenses have run 446 plays against the Ducks. No defense ranked in the top-75 has seen more.

The only defenses that have faced a comparable number of plays and rank ahead of the Ducks are Florida State at No. 28 (439 plays) and Auburn at 40th (423 plays).

Ergo: Coordinator Nick Aliotti and his troops are doing a pretty good job. He stopped by for a chat.

Give me your assessment of the defense so far: What are you guys doing well, and what are you unhappy with?

Nick Aliotti: I continue to love the way our kids are running to the ball and flying around and finishing plays. I'm loving their effort. I'm loving the camaraderie. Just the way they're handling themselves. They are fun to go to work with. They care about the game and that makes it fun. I'm not unhappy with a lot of things. The thing I most unhappy with is we, collectively, give up too many plays that, with all due respect, sometimes our opponents don't earn. We just make a mistake here or a mistake there. If you were talking about tennis it would be an unforced error. I think we're smarter than that and should be beyond that. Coaches, you know, always want better. That's the thing I'm most unhappy with if I have to pick a thing I'm unhappy with.

It seems to us DT Brandon Bair is playing great for you guys. Am I correct on that and why such a breakthrough?

NA: Brandon is a great worker first of all. It makes it easy to have a breakthrough when you have his kind of work habits. I think the biggest reason he's having this so-called breakthrough is just the way he works. He works hard all the time. I know it sounds like I'm saying the same thing over and over, but he works so so hard that he's going to have success.

Who else is playing well?

NA:Linebacker Casey Matthews is, week-in and week-out, playing at a high-caliber. Most of the defensive line: [DT] Zac Clark and [DE] Kenny Rowe. They are playing very steady. In the secondary, we're playing so many guys back there. Obviously, cornerback Cliff Harris has had some great success making big plays. But he's also made some mistakes. Also [LB] Spencer Paysinger. So Matthews, Clark, Rowe, Bair and Paysinger -- they've all been very consistent.

Fans love CB Cliff Harris. He's made so many big plays. Why is he not a starter?

NA: That's a tough question. I'll answer it the best I can. He's not a starter now because he needs to learn to go hard and do the things we ask him to do all the time. I think he'll get there. That comes across as negative and I don't really like that. But he's getting much closer to conforming to what we want. He's a really good kid and he really cares. He's getting closer to having a knowledge of what we want and conforming to what he needs to do.

The defense seems to assert itself in the second half: What's your secret to halftime adjustments?

NA: I wish I had some great secret and could pat myself on the back and feel like, 'Wow, I'm really getting this thing done.' We do make adjustments, just like anyone else at halftime. But our greatest secret right now happens to be within the players. We play a lot of guys. And we play hard. And the fact that we practice so doggone hard, and we play a lot of guys, and I think we're in really good shape -- I think that lets us play harder for longer than our opponents. If I had to guess what our secret is, that would be the secret to our success. Now we don't go in there [the locker room at halftime] and twiddle our thumbs either, but as much as I'd like to say it's about this adjustment or that adjustment, the real secret is the kids being in shape. We're fresh and I think we wear people down.

How does this defense compared to the best defenses you've had?

NA: I can answer that much better at the end of the season. I know you don't want an answer at the end of the season. I'll give you the best answer I can give right now. With a little bit more intelligence in the overall defense -- and part of that is our fault, because we need to impart that knowledge to them -- it could probably be a very, very good defense. One of the top ones I've ever had the opportunity to coach. But there's a lot of football left. We have to finish it. That's why I'm guarded to give them too much kudos at this time.

You've been around a long time [this is his 20th year with Oregon]. How do you feel about the Ducks being in the national championship race?

NA: I think it's great. I think it's exciting. And it's nice to be mentioned in that light. But I really don't much attention to it, personally. Because like I said, there's a lot of football left. Until we get to something like the last game and we have a chance to do something like that, then I would feel better about discussing that then. But right now, there is so much football left to be played. We need to continue to take care of our own backyard. Continue to get better. I am proud we are mentioned in that light. I really am. But it doesn't mean a lot right now. How we finish this thing and end up at the end of the season, that's what matters. If that's what we're talking about then that would be fantastic.