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Why Oregon will beat Oregon State

We have a big Civil War coming up, and, you know what, I’m feeling good about it. (Because I’ll be gone over the next few days—Happy Thanksgiving to you all!—I’m posting this a bit early.)

This Civil War should be a great game. The teams are evenly matched, and either could win. But I believe Oregon has a few advantages that will give them an edge for the win.

Here’s why Oregon will win the game:

  • Oregon’s offensive gameplan will neutralize the strengths of the OSU defense—pass rush and speed.

The only real stand-out section of the OSU defense is their pass rush. They have great ends who rival Oregon’s as the best in the Pac-10. Victor Butler and Slade Norris are near the top of the Pac-10 in both sack and tackles for loss, and the entire team is 3rd in the conference in sacks. This strength was how they beat California. The pocket collapsed around Riley all day long, and forced him into many bad passes—he simply had no time.

However, Oregon’s offense will be able to neutralize this advantage with the schemes they run:

  1. They move the quarterback a lot. Because of this, the QB is rarely placed in a position where he can be easily sacked. There are many rollouts and throws on the move that are utilized, which limit the amount that the QB is exposed to pressure.

  2. There are many quick throws. From slants and screens to the seam throws that happened in the Arizona game, the Oregon offense has become about quickness. Masoli can move through his progressions quickly.

Furthermore, Oregon’s pass protection has been excellent. They are 3rd in the conference in sacks allowed, giving up 15 on the season, second to OSU’s 11, but Oregon has given up only 3 more sack yards than OSU. This is again due to the scheme. The number of sacks is slightly inflated because many of the "sacks" occur on QB keepers, or other similar plays, and are not as drive killing as normal sacks. Oregon averages only 5.4 yards lost per sack, which is less than what is typical for most teams.

OSU is also a very fast defense. They run hard and they swarm the ball. This was seen in the Arizona game, but Mike Stoops apparently didn’t like running his successful misdirection plays. Though this defense will work against much of Pac-10, it won’t work against a team that runs misdirection all day. It is a recipe for disaster, especially when you look at how effective Oregon has been at running the spread option since the UCLA game. Jeremiah Masoli has the spread option locked in. They have been running misdirection to backs and receivers, and have even been running their own version of the flysweep.

While OSU will get a big tackle for loss here or there, Oregon will also break a lot of good gains. I assume the Beaver coaching staff will try to adjust, but at this point in the season, that could do more harm than good. It is very hard to change your entire defensive philosophy for one game. Mike Riley will most likely want to come out and do what they do. They will stress assignments, but they have been successful at swarming, and it will be tough for them to be successful against this misdirection. And let’s not forget the last time they faced a spread team. Yes it was a long time ago, but the Oregon scheme should be able to neutralize the strength of the OSU defense, and use it to their advantage, without having to change one iota on the offensive side of the ball.

These problems are only compounded when you consider…

  • Oregon’s offense provides enough of a threat to throw the ball to make their run game devastating.

If you see any Beaver "commentary," you will no doubt see some comments such as "Oregon can’t pass the ball." Now, this would of course be the most intelligent and insightful commentary provided by the Beaver faithful, as it would be both a full sentence and all words would be spelled correctly, but if you use even an ounce of logic, this quickly breaks down.

First, let’s be honest, Oregon has struggled to throw the ball during this season. They have been wildly inconsistent. But if a team were not able to pass, and were truly one-dimensional, moving the ball at all would be near-impossible. And we did see this, during each of the losses, moving the ball was a struggle, and the offense was quite impotent without the threat of the pass.

But in the rest of the games, passing has more or less been there, despite struggles.

They lead the Pac-10 in total offense. Now, this is padded a bit, because Oregon runs so many more plays than other teams, but if we dig a little deeper, despite the struggles that Oregon has had, they are still averaging 6.2 yards per play, good for 19th in the nation and 2nd in the conference.

Whatever way you slice it, that is darn good. While Oregon’s offense has not been where we would like it for much of the season, this has rarely put any damper on the running game. Oregon has averaged a ridiculous 5.97 yards per carry on the ground (4th in the nation), despite passing struggles.

And, as long as you’re moving the chains and moving the ball down the field, I could care less if you do it through the air or on the ground.

And at this point of the season, OSU is going to have to respect the passing game to the degree that it will hurt the run defense. OSU is going to have to play the safeties to watch Ed Dickson and others in the middle of the field. They will have to defend the edges, which can be exploited by quick receivers.

Oregon is not a one dimensional offense as Beaver fans would wish, and Oregon should be able to move the ball effectively for much of the game. If Masoli throws the ball effectively, not necessarily all over the field, but simply effectively, then Oregon State will have loads of trouble stopping the Oregon offense.

  • Oregon has a better rushing defense

If you look at the rest of the OSU defense, it is above average, but far from stellar. Their rushing defense is 2nd in yards, but only 4th in yards per attempt, which displays how well the OSU offense has done at keeping the time of possession in OSU’s favor. This is not to demean the OSU accomplishments, but these stats do not indicate a dominant rushing defense. They indicate a defense that has been given advantages, and taken those advantages.

Another thing to look at is how the rushing defenses have performed versus their degrees of competition. The Duck rushing defense does not have a wide disparity between their run defense performances in their wins and their losses. They have averaged less than 3.2 yards/attempt against both winning and losing teams, and in their wins and losses.

On the other hand, the disparity for the Beaver’s is shocking. In their wins, they have given up 2.67 ypc. Against teams with losing records, 2.77 ypc. Against unranked teams, 2.88 ypc. But in their losses 4.72, against winning teams 3.93, and against ranked teams, 4.70.

The simple fact is this:  OSU is not a great rushing defense. They are not a pushover, but they are far from the rushing defense of last season. If you look at their losses, they lost because they could not run the ball, and had a great deal of trouble stopping the run. They have lived on controlling the ball, and running the ball. When they have failed at this, they have lost. In their losses, they allowed over 190 yards on the ground per game, and less than 100 in their wins. You would normally expect a disparity, but the difference in these numbers in unreal, and show the soft spot in the OSU defense, that can be exploited.

Simply put, OSU will have a lot of trouble stopping the Oregon rushing attack.

On the other side of the ball...

  • The Oregon defense will be able to make the OSU offense one-dimensional

Jacquizz Rodgers will not be playing, and I was more afraid of him than any player we have faced pretty much all season. He is astounding, and does not go down easy. He always seems to get 2-4 more yards than he should, and has been devastating defenses. He would have eaten Oregon’s defense alive.
Instead, we get to face Ryan McCants. As much as the Beaver faithful want to say this is OK, and say how highly touted and strong he is, I don’t buy it. He isn’t half the back that Jacquizz is. He has not had one average game all season, against anyone of consequence.

On top of this, Oregon has feasted on the larger, slower backs. They have stopped cold the likes of Ian Johnson and Toby Gerhart, while they had trouble with Anthony Kimble and Jahvid Best.

Without Jacquizz, the OSU offense will lose much of their ground game, and will be left with the flysweep. Against Arizona, that play gained over 2/3 of the OSU rushing yards after Jacquizz went down.

It will be tough to stop this play, but I actually feel that the Oregon coaching staff will be ready for this. They were burned by it last year, and have had time to stew on it. They have studied the play, and have learned much more about it since the loss last year. The Oregon defense has been seeing a form of the flysweep all year. Granted Terrence Scott is not as fast as James Rodgers, but he’s no slouch. Though we’ve had our problems with defensive coaching, this is one instance where I feel they’ll be ready.

As far as the passing game….

  • Oregon’s passing defense is not as bad as advertised

Yes, the passing defense gives up 250 yards per game. But they are also typically having 39 passes thrown on them per game. Now, Oregon’s pass defense is not the top-notch shut-down pass defense we thought they’d be. But they aren’t the Oregon pass defenses of the post-Joey years. Instead, they seem to be fairly average. Oregon is 7th in the Pac-10 but 52nd in the nation in pass defense efficiency this season. This is very average. In the early going, to USC and Boise State, they gave up efficiency of 189.91. In all other games, it has been 108.77. They give up 6.5 yards per attempt. In comparison, OSU gives up 6.3 yards per attempt.

This is not a "roll over and die" pass defense. They fight hard, hit hard, and have grown a lot in the past few games. OSU is going to get some yards, and is most likely going to get a big play or two. The Oregon passing defense has also grown a great degree since the USC debacle. Responsibilities were shifted, and decision-making for the safeties (specifically young TJ Ward) have been made easier, and this has paid off.

I don’t believe that OSU will simply throw the ball all over the field. Their quarterbacks are far from perfect. Whichever one is playing will most likely make a mistake or two. This is not an offensive passing team, a la Texas Tech or others, that will be able to do whatever they want. They will have specific things that they can do, which will fail some of the time, and which will work some of the time.

Thus, the maligned Oregon secondary will be able to put enough of a clamp on the OSU passing game

  • All the pressure is on Oregon State, and Oregon is rested

Oregon State has everything to lose from this game, while Oregon has nothing to lose.

Oregon had a week to rest and recover after a long season; OSU did not.

Oregon will come out ready to hit somebody, and ready to push around the Beavers. Will it work? I’m not sure, but they will have a distinct psychological edge.

This is going to be a very good game. OSU is going to make some plays. Oregon is going to make some plays. But I think they have significant advantages on both sides of the ball. OSU has gotten big explosion plays in recent games, but so has Oregon.

If mistakes and explosion plays are equal and Oregon can run a similar number of plays as Oregon State, Oregon should win this game.

Nothing is for certain of course, but I’m feeling good.


All statistics can be obtained at