For the first time in recent memory, we're starting the football season with the Oregon defense stealing all the headlines. With the two most recognizable stars gone from the Oregon offense, the Duck defense is being touted as the best since Chip Kelly has been at Oregon, if not the best in school history.
It's easy to see why, the defense is led by 3 stars at each level. John Boyett, Michael Clay, and Dion Jordan are all preseason all-conference players and lead as talented and deep a defense as I can remember.
Now, we've kind of been down this road before. In 2008, we hyped the D-Boyz, a secondary comprised of 4 future NFL players (3 of which would go in the 2nd round of the NFL draft). But that quickly turned into one of the most underwhelming defenses in the country, with a mediocre (at best) pass defense. This wasn't just due to the secondary, but when you have one of the most highly touted pass defenses in the country, and it can barely crack the top half of the country in pass efficiency defense, it doesn't look too good.
I'm confident that this defense is much deeper and more well-rounded, and can perform at the highest level. But it's time for the defense to prove that they deserved all the offseason hype. And Arkansas State provides a great first test for them.
Arkansas State will be a solid offensive team. Led by former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the Red Wolves will come into the game well-prepared to try and go blow-for-blow with the Ducks. This won't be New Mexico coming into Autzen, incompetent in every phase of the game, unable to get a play off without some type of miscue. Arkansas State is going to be focused and ready.
They will be led by returning QB and Sun Belt Player Of the Year Ryan Aplin. He was one national leaders last year in Total Offense. He has good accuracy (completing over 63% of his passes last year) and can make plays with his feet (he was Arkansas State's leading rusher last season). In Malzahn's system, he should excel.
He should have a number of weapons at his disposal with senior receivers Josh Jarboe and Taylor Stockemer returning. Both had over 700 yards receiving last season and will look to replace 1000-yard receiver Dwayne Frampton.
On the ground, the Red Wolves are more questionable. Sophomore Frankie Jackson returns after rushing for only 355 yards last season, and no ASU RB had more than 500 yards. To make matters worse, the Red Wolves are rebuilding their offensive line and must replace three starters.
While Arkansas State will be disciplined and will have the ability to move the ball to some degree, the simple fact of the matter is that Oregon is far more talented. Arkansas State, despite their strong 10-3 record, was a perfectly average offensive team according to S&P+.
Oregon should be at an advantage at just about every matchup. The Red Wolves should have no answer for the Oregon defensive line. While Aplin may have been able to run well against Sun Belt teams, he will have a hard time escaping Dion Jordan and Boseko Lokombo. The Oregon secondary will face some good receivers, but a consistent pass rush should make their lives much easier.
This is a game where the Oregon defense can shut down a solid offense. If the Oregon defense is going to take a step forward this season, it starts tomorrow, by taking over the game from the beginning. They are bigger, stronger, and faster than Arkansas State. Oregon has been a very good defense for a number of years, but they have a chance to be elite this season, and I can't wait to see them prove that on the field.