Studying films of the Oregon football game against San Jose State game, you can see an alarming weakness. The Spartans completed several long passes against the Ducks’ secondary and you can bet the Stanford coaching staff noticed them as well.
Jim Leavitt, Oregon’s defensive coordinator, has put together a stingy run defense, which is allowing only 1.96 yards per carry. Facing Heisman Trophy candidate running back Bryce Love, the Ducks are going to find it impossible to maintain that average throughout this game. But Love can’t beat Oregon by himself. Stanford will need a stellar game from quarterback K.J. Costello.
Oregon’s most glaring weakness is the play of its defensive backs, which have been beaten many times by long passes. It seems the corners stay in their backpedal too long, allowing the receivers to get too close before turning and running with them. The turning part takes time and the receiver gains one to two steps on the defender and gets in good position for the quarterback’s throw.
Worse, there were several instances of the Duck corners maintaining their cushion (the space between them and the receiver), turning and running at the proper time and still getting outrun by the receivers who were faster. Leavitt appears to favor man coverage rather than zone most of the time, but unless the corners playing man-to-man get help over the top on deep passes, they could be eaten alive.
The coordination of pass defense between corners and safeties is an issue. Watch the safeties and note their depth — the deeper they play, the more they can help the corners on long passes. The trade-off is the coverage on shorter crossing routes may be weaker but, so far, the pass defense of the Duck linebackers and defensive ends has been a strength that aids safety play.
When the corners line up, watch where their feet are relative to the receivers’ feet. If their inside foot is even with the outside foot of the receiver, they have conceded room for an inside release, which can be OK if you have safety help inside. If the corner doesn’t have help, look for a barrage of bombs, like in the San Jose game.
Perhaps the corners might change up their alignments, like lining up their outside foot to the receiver’s inside foot making it easier to force the receiver to release outside. The problem then is the defender will have his back to the ball and have to outjump a receiver who is 4 to 7 inches taller than him. This is where the pass rush becomes so important; the Ducks must prevent Costello time to make an easy throw.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.