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Where I Come From: Expectations on the 2010 Oregon Ducks Football Season

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This is the last of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011

In our final installment of our sponsored series, we're gonna stop looking back, and take a look forward at the 2010 season. We'll take a look at both the offense and the defense. Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Offense (jtlight):

Oregon goes into the 2010 season in a bit of a strange position. Despite losing only 2 players off of the offensive two-deep, the offseason turmoil has caused many to question the effectiveness of the Oregon offense.

Unfortunately, those questions are incredibly legitimate. I honestly don't know what to expect from the Oregon offense. For most of the last 3 years, we have watched an offense that has had incredible success on the ground, led by Dennis Dixon and then Jeremiah Masoli, QBs that could make opposing offenses pay dearly for failing to respect their running ability. 

Unfortunately, that time may be over. Whoever wins the QB position, Nate Costa or Darron Thomas, will not have the speed of these previous QBs, and will be much closer to Justin Roper than Dixon or Masoli. Yet, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

With Jeremiah Masoli leading the Oregon offense, Oregon would not have won a national championship. On the offensive side of the ball, the Ducks were simply not consistent enough. When the Ducks were rolling, it was a thing to see, but how many times did the Oregon offense sputter to a halt? Oregon had poor offensive showings against Arizona and Oregon State for long stretches, couldn't do much against Ohio State, and you can even put a large portion of the blame of the Stanford loss on the offense, which couldn't get going early, and failed to convert late. An offense that is contending for a national title cannot go from putting 47 points on USC, and then at the end of the season put up 17 against Ohio State. 

In 2010, Oregon will lose some level of its explosiveness. The last 4 years, Oregon has ranked in the top 5 nationally in PPP+ when running the ball (For those that don't follow advanced statistics, here is a good primer on the subject). This is a very good way of measuring the explosiveness of an offense. Under Dixon and then Masoli, this team could score just about any time it ran the ball. That will change. We will no longer have QBs that can take it to the house on every play.

But we will have QBs that can be successful running the ball. Over the past two years, Oregon ranked 14th in the nation in rushing success rate, while they were 2nd and 1st in 2006 and 2007. If the QBs can make the right choices, this will not drop. The QBs have the ability to make strong gains when taking the ball, but they may be 5-10 yards as opposed to 10-20 or more.

In the passing game, last season, Oregon did not even rank in the top 25 for passing success rate. Luckily, we have two possible QBs that will be passing game improvements over Masoli, who was simply too inconsistent, and good teams made that apparent. The passing game success rate will likely rise as Oregon receivers are more experienced and more accurate QBs are brought in.

Where I hope this puts the Duck offense this season is in a less explosive, more consistent place. Oregon has the talent and experience to be one of the top offenses in the country. The have speed all over the field, strength on the offensive line, and QBs that can (hopefully) distribute the ball effectively. We may not be seeing huge plays at every turn, but we will hopefully be seeing a lot fewer three and outs.

Defense (Matt Daddy)

With this being an EA NCAA 11 sponsored post, I’ll start off my expectations of the defense with this:  I am so excited to play with Oregon on my PS3 and set the defense to base 3-4 and finally have the right personnel to play it with.  If you think I’m that excited just think about how Aliotti must feel.  This Oregon defense is LOADED!!!  There is speed everywhere, and not just 1 deep, but at most positions 2 deep and some positions 7 deep.

Personnel:

The Ducks return 9 out of 11 starters from last season on defense.  The defensive line is going to take the brunt of the reloading bringing in Terrell Turner and Zac Clark to support returning NT Brandon Bair.  All three guys saw extensive playing time last season, and I expect that Azzinaro will have his guys ready.  Plus, with the additions of Ricky Heimuli and the change of Dion Jordan to DE the D-line will have plenty of weapons to attack gaps and create holes for the most talented group on defense, the linebackers.

All 4 starting linebackers are returning and 3 of them are seniors (Pleasant will move to safety, but more on that later).  Even with Kiko Alonso out for the season (first on suspension and later with injury) the linebackers still go seven deep (Rowe, Paysinger, Matthews, Kaddu, Clay, Lokombo, and Littlejohn).  Also look for Anthony Anderson (RFr) to play a similar hybrid role like Rowe (plus, I expect Dion Jordan to be doing a lot of the same work by the end of the season).

If the linebackers are the most talented and experienced, the secondary is easily the deepest part of the defense.  Harris, Mitchell, Mathis, TJ3, Gildon, Peppars, Patterson, Boyett, Lewis, Johnson, and now Pleasant.  That’s 7 corners and 4 safeties to play 4 positions.  While at first the move of Pleasant to safety seems odd considering how much depth Oregon already has in the secondary, as we look at expectations for the scheme, I think you’ll understand a little more clearly why the move was made.

Scheme:

I highly expect Aliotti to continue his progression of the 3-4 Hybrid defense we saw installed last year, but to an even greater degree.  With so many guys returning that have experience (19 guys saw time on defense last year), it stands to reason that Aliotti will make a concerted effort to build on some of the fundamentals that we saw.  Confusion, misdirection, angles, and blitzes will be a part of that.

One area specifically that I think we will see a lot more of is bringing confusion from the secondary.  I think Pleasant was moved to safety to allow Oregon to bring more safety blitzes and let him truly roam the field.  A lot of the blitzes we saw last year were from the linebacker positions and even when Ward returned he played around at the line of scrimmage for run support, but rarely to go after the QB.  Pleasant has just as good if not better coverage ability than Ward, and he played all last year as a linebacker, is still one of the fastest guys on the team, and knows the blitz schemes and how to get after the QB.  Plus, Lewis and Boyett have shown they are more than sufficient at covering the pass and supporting the corners.  I expect to see Pleasant lined up on a slot receiver and then come on a blitz, or have Paysinger drop into zone deep coverage as Pleasant shoots up the middle after the QB.  Just like moving Rowe into that hybrid DE/LB position allowed the defense to add another layer of confusion and attacks, so will the move of Pleasant to safety.  You could see a time where there are 8 guys in the box on defense all moving before the snap as if they were going to blitz, and only 4 of them are actually coming and the offensive line has to be able to pick this up and protect the QB (just watch the Rose Bowl again, they did this a couple of times).

Predictions:

I think Oregon’s defense will be better than their #1 ranked defense in the Pac 10 last year.  They have more experience, more depth, more speed, and guys who now have a full year plus under Aliotti’s new system.  The one weakness for this defense is a power running game behind a huge offensive line, and Gehart is gone (thank god).  The "Pro Style" systems  are going to have a hard time picking up where the blitzes are coming from and getting to the edges against all the speed Oregon is going to have on the field.  The 3 toughest QB’s in the Pac (Locker, Luck and Foles) all have to come into Autzen to play this year.  You think reading the blitzes and this defense is tough?  Try doing it when you can’t hear your QB.  Good luck with that guys.  

All in all, I expect great things from this defense this year.  How about you?  What are your expectations?