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GameWeek Preview: Houston Offense vs. Oregon Defense

Yesterday, we previewed what we can expect to see with Oregon's offense against Houston's defense.  I mentioned that there were several questions on offense, chief among them being the quarterback situation and how the running game was going to be used.

Today, I want to look at the Oregon defense vs. the Houston offense.  Its strange, because even with the turnover problems that Oregon had last year, I still feel really confident that this offense is going to be a machine.  But I have a ton of concerns about the defense.  And they all start up front.  Last year, the front seven was absolutely woeful.  Opposing backs gained 100 yards on the Duck defense routinely, even mediocre backs.  We know that injuries won't happen at the same rate this year that they did last, but concerns are legitimate, especially after the transfers of Victor Filipe and Dexter Manley.  In my opinion, the play of the front seven will be the difference between 9-3 and 7-5 this season.

And that group will get a test early, as Houston RB Anthony Alridge ran for nearly 1,000 yards while averaging almost ten yards a carry last year.  While we know that Houston will spread out on offense and run Alridge all different directions, forcing a lot of single coverage all over the field.  Its an offense very similar to ours.  Says Bellotti on the use of Alridge in the offense:

"The distribution of the football is the key to his success, as well as the quarterback," Bellotti said of the Cougars, who use the running game mainly as an element of surprise in their spread-option passing offense. "On every single play, you have to defend the screen, the pass, the option, the power running play. So when the power running play comes, you're not quite as prepared.
"He's a great running back. You're worried about all the rest of it, and he sort of sneaks up on you."

We're not going to be able to stack seven in the box against this team.  There is going to be a lot of one-on-one coverage, and the linemen and linebackers are going to have to move around quickly and make tackles.  Last year's crew would've been eaten alive given this task. The good news is that this year's defensive line has a legitimate two-deep--so fatigue, and oft used excuse last year, will not fly.  Hopefully, it also means that it won't be a factor.  As for the linebackers, we know what we're getting with AJ Tuitele, the question will be if Jon Bacon and Jerome Boyd are ready to handle the load.  Boyd is the fastest player on the corps, so they need him to step up.  There should also be some depth here as Kwame Ageyman, a starter last year, will back up at all three positions.  Its some new players on both the line and at linebacker, and they are talented.  But they are also all new, and it will take some time for everything to fall into place.  I anticipate Alridge getting over 100 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday.  But hopefully they'll get the kinks worked out this week.  They'll have to in order to have a chance against Michigan.

The good news for them is that there is a good chance that the Alridge will be the biggest of their worries.  Even though Houston has always been known for their prolific passing offense, there is legitimate reason to believe that it won't be a huge factor.  Namely, that UH still has yet to name a starting quarterback.  And even when he does name one, its going to be someone with no experience whatsoever.  We could even see both Blake Joseph and Case Keenum.  Now, its bad enough to ask a quarterback to make his first collegiate start at Autzen, but with Houston, it's another thing entirely.  Houston's offense is gimmicky.  They use an inordinate amount of deception and trick plays.  How's that going to work out with a first time QB in the noise at Autzen?  (Be really loud, folks).

Combine this with an offensive line that's average at best, and it could be a long day for Houston quarterbacks.  I expect the coaching staff to really try and pressure the QBs and force them into mistakes.  And this shouldn't be a case of Houston just abandoning the passing game and running the ball all the time.  Their offense isn't really built for that, and I think that the front seven can hold its own enough to make it impossible for Houston to win the game that way.  Expect a variety of blitz packages to make it tough on the quarterback to get off a good throw.

Ironically, in something that's unusual for Oregon, I feel pretty good about what the outcome will be should the quarterback get a throw off.  Oregon's secondary is as deep as its been in years.  And I have confidence that a lot of passes are going to be broken up or picked off by Thurmond, Byrd, and Glasper, or someone is going to get hit really hard by Patrick Chung.  I think that the secondary is going to be quite a surprise in the conference this year.

In all, the Houston wideouts, Jason Harvey and Donnie Avery are good, but can the Houston QBs do enough to get them the ball on a regular basis?  I don't think they will.  So a lot of pressure lies on Anthony Alridge.  And while I think he'll have a good game, he's not going for 200 yards.  And I think that's what he would need to do for Houston to have a realistic shot at this game.  In any case, we should know a lot more about the front seven at the end of the game than we do now.  And we'll know if we have any shot in Ann Arbor next week.

We'll look at the Special Teams in the morning.

Update [2007-8-31 1:49:26 by Dave]:Just know that a new kicker and punter means that there are major question marks in the return game. We just don't know enough at this point for a in-depth preview.

And the Oregon coverage needs to be better than last year. Alridge returns kicks and is extremely dangerous.