This is not an anti-Alotti swipe, however the Ducks will not reach their full potential this season (read BCS Champions) unless they fix their run defense.
Coming into the season, I assumed, like I did in 2008 with the "D-Boyz" that the Ducks' defense would be stellar, and might even keep the team winning while the offense worked out the kinks and break in a new quarterback. They have some players along the D-Line. Their linebackers are better than they've ever been, and the backfield has two guided missles at safety and the second coming of Deion Sanders at cornerback.
However, in each game this year (excluding the NM and PSU glorified scrimages) the opposing teams have ripped off strong runs to start the game, and picked apart lose zone coverages. Six games into the season, I've come to the conclusion that the Ducks' defense just isn't that good. The Ducks have come back in the second half of each game to force turnovers, blunt the opposing running game and make the big play when needed. That said, there is simply something amiss with the defense. I think it breaks down to two things:
First, the Ducks defense is set up to force turnovers so as to give the O more opportunities. This leads to two consequences zone coverage and wide open running lanes vacated by the blitzing LB or DB. Many times the blitz works, forcing a bad throw, a sack or an interception (see Harris's pick six versus Tenn). Other times it leads to 30 yard runs up the gut, where Pleasant or Boyett have had to make far too many touchdown saving tackles. When the blitz is picked up on a pass, the receivers are often open for 10-20 yard patterns nestled in the huge open spaces in the Ducks' zone coverage. This is a risk-reward wager the Ducks have made, and while there are things the Ducks can do to mitigate the negative plays, its something they appear to be willing to live with.
Second, the Ducks' D-Line cannot win the battle at the point of attack. Let me just say that I love me some Brandon Bair. The guy is a beast, and without him things would really be bleak versus the run. Outside of him, against the run, the Ducks simply have no one that can win a one-on-one battle, and force a double team. Because Turner, Clark and Rowe are often overwhelmed in the running game, getting knocked back or taking themselves out of position, the linebackers often find themselves fending off secondary blocks deep into the second level and therefore simply cannot make enough tackles to stop the running game.
One solution, at least on running downs, might be to start Cliff Harris and Anthony Gildon at corners, and play man coverage out wide. Those two seems to be our best cover corners. Give them help over the top with Boyett, and bring Pleasant down in run support. Pleasant is out of position playing 10-15 yards deep, and his destructive tendencies have been minimalized playing so far off the ball. Get him up near the action, and let him go at it. Hopefully his LMJ like speed will allow him to come back and help on the play-action. Another solution is to start Ricky Heimuli on first downs and third-and-shorts.
And to respond the the theory that the Ducks' D is just fine because of the second half results, I say the Ducks have been pretty damm lucky, and the D should be giving huge thanks to the offense. The Ducks' ability to score has put the fear of God into opposing teams, and makes them take chances they normally wouldn't. Got a chance for a field goal, but they end up going to it, because they know they need a touchdown to keep pace. Same thing with going for it on fourth down. Things the team does and should take advantage of in the second half, but this doesn't mean that the Ducks simply flip the switch in the second half and suddenly became run-stuffers. Its simply the fact that opposing teams can't afford to run the ball anymore.
Does anyone here honestly feel that the Ducks' stopped either Tennessee or Stanford in the running game? Or was it simply the case that those teams needed to score points (Tenn) or panicked (Stanford)?
The 2010 Ducks will only go as far as their Defense can take them. Right now, I think that is still the Rose Bowl, which ain't too shabby. That said, this season could be so much more, and I don't think it will happen unless they show the ability to stone-cold stop the run.
Show me the error in my ways, please!