After proving it has the power and aggressiveness to engage a conference favorite on equal terms, the Oregon football team must now prove it can make the big plays, especially on defense, in crunch time that determines the winner.
Against Stanford, the defense gave up 31 points in the second half, allowing touchdown drives of 65 yards (three plays, completions of 11, 32 and 22 yards that covered 1 minute and 11 seconds) and 79 yards (three plays, completions of 49, 20, and 15 yards that took 1:29). The secondary also allowed the Cardinal to hurry 32 yards in 51 seconds with completions of 16, 16, and 9 yards to kick a field goal that sent the game into overtime, which the Ducks lost.
Against Cal on Saturday, watch if Oregon can mount a better pass rush and defend passes downfield. Consistent weaknesses demonstrated by the defense are the lack of “big play” players in the secondary and a mediocre pass rush.
The cornerback position is one of the most important on the team — corners need to be fast, agile and aggressive. Corners should be among the fastest players on the team. One fundamental required (and currently missing for the Ducks) is jamming the receiver. They need to get their hands on the chest of the receiver attempting to get downfield, slow him down and disrupt the timing of the pass play.
The corner should have a solid stance. Feet should be shoulder width apart, allowing the defender to get some power into his thrust. A proper jam can knock a receiver off his feet; at the least, the receiver’s focus is disrupted. Jamming is allowed anywhere before the ball is thrown. In college rules, receivers are considered blockers until the ball is thrown, unlike in the NFL where receivers can only be jammed up to five yards from the line of scrimmage.
If the corner fails to contact the receiver, he is usually flat footed and in poor position to defend any pass. Worse, receivers who get free releases stretch the secondary and put themselves in a position for big plays, as in the San Jose State and Stanford games.
The easiest way to line up is slightly inside the receiver and the ball. In this way, the corner denies the receiver an easy inside release and higher percentage passes. For some reason, Duck corners line up slightly outside the receiver and don’t jam, and are constantly beaten on deep routes, without safety help.
Oregon’s corners need to jam the receiver and slow him down. In the past two games they have allowed free releases, haven’t slowed the receivers and have given up large gains on pass plays. Against Cal, look to see if anything has changed against a dangerous Bear passing attack. Failure to do so puts the Ducks in jeopardy.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.