Oregon Ducks Football: Is The Rushing Defense Really That Bad?

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The perception is that the Oregon defense is a sieve. The statistics? They don't bear that notion out.

Headed into last night's Civil War, one of the storylines of the Oregon State football season was their inabilty to run the football with any kind of consistency. Coming into the Civil War, the Beavers were averaging 72 yards per game on the ground, having only 801 yards on the season with an anemic 2.8 yards per carry. Despite that level of awfulness, Oregon State rushed for 231 yards on 39 carries agaisnt the Ducks, for a whopping 5.9 yards per carry, more than doubling their previous season average. Which, of course, begs the following question:

It's a really good question, and it seems like the obvious answer after the last few weeks must be "a lot." Let us have a look at the numbers:


carries/gm yards/gm ypc carries/UO yards/UO ypc/UO
Nicholls St. 40 198 5.0 37 87 2.4
Virginia 42 161 3.8 39 124 3.2
Tennessee 38 186 4.9 38 178 4.7
California 36 124 3.5 51 149 2.9
Colorado 36 127 3.5 36 94 2.6
Washington 47 243 5.1 42 194 4.6
WSU 17 59 3.1 12 2 0.2
UCLA 44 197 4.5 52 219 4.2
Stanford 41 204 5.0 66 274 4.2
Utah 39 161 4.1 42 116 2.8
.Arizona 50 267 5.5 65 304 4.7
Oregon St 27 86 3.2 39 231 5.9

The actual numbers bear out a different tale than our perception, and show that Oregon State is actually the massive outlier rather than the coninuation of a trend. With the exception of the Beavers, the Ducks held the other 11 opponents to under their season averages in yards per carry. Yet, the Beavers had more than double their yards per carry from their other 11 games.

A number of teams rushed higher than there average in total yardage, but that was because of more carries than normal. Cal rushed for more carries than normal becaue they couldn't hold onto the ball in a monsoon. Stanford and Arizona, obviously, because they had big leads early.

In terms of yards per carry, the Ducks gave up 3.8 ypc on the season, good for 31st nationally (and 0.2 ypc better than last season). They obviously faded late but, in Stanford and Arizona, played two of the three best rushing teams they've played all season, and held them all to below their averages. While I can't say what a film analysis would reveal, the numbers simply don't bear out that this is a 'bad' rushing defense.

Of course, there is a pretty plausible explanation. With the exception of OSU, the Ducks didn't give up a ton of long rushing plays. Arizona and Stanford were able to churn out 4-5 yards pretty consistently, but were able to stay in that mode because Oregon's offense put zero pressure on those teams to try and make plays and keep up with a shootout. A big part of Oregon's defense is that the offense is scoring quickly and frequently, and the mental strain that puts on opposing offenses forces them into mistakes. That simply didn't happen vs. Stanford and Arizona.

The much maligned "problems" with the defense simply don't bear fruit with a look at the stats. That doesn't just work for the rushing stats, but the passing ones as well, where Oregon gives up 5.7 yards per attempt--0.1 yards less than last season. The defense ranks 10th nationally in yards per play at 4.7--better than Stanford.

Of course, the offense is also averaging a full yard more per game this year than last.

Statistically, this team is still elite--nay--more elite on both sides of the ball. The real question is why that hasn't borne out on the field the last month of the season. Whether Helfrich, Frost, and Aliotti can find that answer in the offseason will determine their long-term success or failure at the helm Oregon Football.

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