With an Oregon defense that still seems to be searching for its identity in Brady Hoke’s scheme and an angry Washington State Air Raid offense coming off a bye week, the Ducks defensive backs know they’re in for a lot of action on Saturday night in the Palouse.
“Their system is their system; they’re so ingrained and entrenched in what they do,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “Coach Leach [Mike] Leach has done it so long and in so many facets.”
And their system, with its many facets, is based on one thing -- throw, throw and throw the ball, to the point that some might worry whether or not their quarterback will still have his arm attached the next morning.
A year ago, Washington State beat Oregon in Eugene with a strange touchdown “assist” in overtime. And though it was that “pass” that stuck with the Ducks and many fans, there were 50 completions made by quarterback Luke Falk that were a huge part of the reason why Wazzu was even in a position to go for it in overtime.
In that game, Falk threw for 505 yards and five touchdowns. In the 2015 and 2016 seasons, only one team has given up more passing yards (Arizona) or touchdowns (Oregon State) to Wazzu. And Falk’s nine pass completions of 20-plus yards against the Ducks were his best during that time span as well.
Oregon recorded seven sacks in that game with a surprisingly low number of blitzes -- the Ducks only blitzed on two of Falks’ 82 dropbacks, which was the second-fewest blitzes Falk saw during all of the 2015 season.
The Ducks aren’t using that game as a measuring stick, per se, but it certainly is a game that sticks out to them as an opportunity to show how far the defensive backs have come in the last year.
“We need to improve upon all the games we’ve played,” sophomore defensive back Khalil Oliver said. “We gave up 500 yards. We never want to do that again. We want to go out, do our job and make their offense frustrated.”
But that’s going to be a tough task. Even though Washington State has lost twice, the defensive backs have seen one consistent theme in film study.
“Their receivers are really smart and they know the system really well,” junior defensive back Arrion Springs said.
“They’ve run all their route concepts hundreds, thousands of times,” freshman defensive back Brenden Schooler added.
Oregon is giving up 258 passing yards per game (10th in the Pac-12), and now they face a group of wide receivers who have years of experience in tough-to-face offense.
Springs and Schooler said it comes down to the defensive backs being precise on their keys and that communication will be the key. Additionally, Springs said he believes the Oregon defensive backs have a bigger arsenal and knowledge of how to play their positions now than they did a season ago, which he hopes will help counteract some of those hundreds and thousands of reps the Washington State wide receivers have run.
Based on their comments, the Ducks defensive backs will also be coming into this game with chips on their shoulders, eager to show that they’re aren’t the Achilles heel of the defense that they were last season, when Falk had his huge game.
“It’s a big show for us,” Springs said. “We can show we can do different things with our coverages and hopefully we can throw the quarterback off a little bit and make some plays.”