It was almost a year ago when Oregon Football notched its biggest win of 2017 (no, not the 69-10 Civil War revenge drubbing, although that was immensely satisfying). It was after the departure of head coach Willie Taggart when the Ducks managed to sway defensive guru Jim Leavitt into staying put in Eugene rather than following Taggart to Florida State.
Having completely revamped the Colorado Buffaloes’ defense the previous season, Leavitt again worked his magic at Oregon in 2017, taking the Ducks from 126th in total defense to 46th. Players like Thomas Graham Jr. and Jalen Jelks began to flourish under Leavitt’s tutelage, and the presumption was that the defense would be the catalyst for Oregon in 2018 with the departure of record-breaking running back Royce Freeman and a thin receiving core.
After a statement win over Washington in which the Oregon defense harassed quarterback Jake Browning all day the Ducks suffered a 27 point first half barrage from Washington State’s “Air Raid” attack. However, Oregon made the necessary adjustments and the defense held the Cougars to only 7 second half points.
Then came a completely baffling performance against Arizona in which the Wildcats threw 44 on the board after only being able to surpass 40 once before the entire season against Southern Utah. In that game Arizona had five drives of 75 yards or longer.
Oregon bounced back against UCLA and with the remaining schedule had a prime opportunity to position themselves for a higher-tier bowl birth and a potential 10-win season. Utah, though a tough team playing at home, was without their starting quarterback and running back. This seemed to be a situation which the Oregon defense could take advantage of, but instead the Utes compiled nearly 500 yards of total offense, continuously gashing Oregon with passes and runs through the middle of the field for large chunks of yardage at a time. Even after battling back to finally take the lead in the 4th quarter Oregon allowed Utah to march right back down the field not once, but twice. Granted, there were a few very questionable calls mixed in but a disciplined defense can overcome that with its play afterward.
Leavitt is currently earning $1.7 million annually, a salary matched by only two other defensive coordinators in the country. He has a bevy of talent to work with in players such as Jelks, Ugo Amadi, Troy Dye, and Jordon Scott. An investment such as that needs to yield better results on the field than what we’ve seen lately.
Arizona State has scored 30+ points in each of its last three games heading into Saturday’s matchup at Autzen Stadium, all in wins. The temperature is expected to dip into the 30s by game’s end, and Oregon will be looking for a measure of payback after the Sundevils defeated them last year. All signs appear to be pointing to an advantage on the Duck’s behalf.
With the salary Leavitt is pulling in from Oregon, it’s time for a money performance.