In week one most people were as excited to see the defense as they were the offense. While the offense was even better than expected (at least for the first quarter and a half), the first team defense was never challenged and played a very conservative first half, electing not to blitz and never getting after the quarterback. In the second half, the second/third team defense gave up a bunch of points, and for the day the team recorded no sacks. Though the game was a total blowout, the Red Wolves still rushed for 226 yards and threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Those stats, although misleading, won't garner many accolades among pundits for a Ducks defense that many expected to be elite.
After the game Nick Aliotti was outwardly disappointed in the second and third team's effort, saying "When you get a chance to play, you gotta play like a man." He later softened his tone, but with so much young talent on the defensive side of the ball, it's hard not to hope and expect for more. I'm guessing the backups heard his message loud and clear. The Arkansas State game provided many teachable moments for the second team defense and more than anything I expect to see increased focus and intensity when they are called upon in game two.
And called upon they will be. Oregon is again expected to put the game away in the first half and is favored to win by 34 points. In addition to that Fresno State plans to run a no huddle, spread offense in hopes of keeping up with Oregon, which will invariably lead to more reps for both the Oregon offense and defense. Oregon will be rotating about 25 players on defense all year and the soft non-conference schedule provides a great opportunity to get everyone in sync and playing with the same degree of intensity and focus, regardless of the points on the scoreboard.
In week one the Bulldogs were successful at dominating an inferior opponent in Weber State and did so without starting receivers Rashad Evans and Josh Harper. However, in the Weber State game they went through a long stretch where they struggled to move the ball due to penalties; during that span they scored just three points in 36 minutes of play. That obviously won't get the job done against Oregon.
Fresno State will have a particularly tough assignment in this game as their spread, no-huddle offense will not catch the Ducks defense by surprise. Oregon practices against the fastest, most efficient hurry-up offense in the country every day.
I'll be really interested to see whether Oregon tries to get after the FSU quarterback in this game, as that will be paramount in showdowns against teams like Washington and USC. The pace of the game should give the younger guys another opportunity to showcase their ability, and after Aliotti's postgame comments last week I expect them to respond.
Ultimately this week will not be about whether Oregon can beat FSU but whether they can dominate an inferior opponent in every phase of the game. In a world where subjective opinions go a long way towards determining a team's ranking (which affects your position in the postseason), winning with style matters. It's time for the defense to look as sharp as the offense and the uniforms did last week. They have all the ability. Nothing to it but to do it.